Driving and racing games have, so far, been relatively well represented on the 3DS in its early lifespan, with Ridge Racer 3D and Asphalt 3D competing for the affections of driving fans. Ubisoft has now joined in with Driver Renegade 3D, an exclusive title in the franchise for the handheld. Does it provide a high-octane adrenaline rush, or crash off the road?
To avoid any confusion, it should be clarified that this title is entirely different from the home console entries in the Driver canon, with an exclusive storyline and setting taking place in New York. The plot revolves around John Tanner, a regular protagonist in the franchise, who has become embittered and left the NYPD. A chance meeting with the city’s Senator, Andrew Ballard, gives Tanner an opportunity to pursue the crime lords of the city without pesky restrictions such as law and order.
All of this takes place in the title’s Story Mode, with 20 missions to complete, each with cinematics to progress the storyline. The plot itself is presented well in stylish still scenes, but the writing at the core of the story is average, with predictable twists and turns that many gamers will see coming. The cast of characters also seems to have been constructed ‘by the numbers’: the mysterious combat veteran, cold-hearted arms dealer and the hooker with a heart of gold are a few examples. Tanner himself is a complete jerk: a psychopathic killer on steroids, he spends most the story killing and destroying with impunity. He’s also incapable of completing a sentence without swearing, which is tiring rather than ‘edgy’. Dialogue as a whole can be a bit cringeworthy, but the overall storyline just about gets the job done, albeit without any finesse.
If you ignore the story and take the welcome opportunity to switch off Tanner’s in-game dialogue, then you have a mixed gameplay experience. On the positive side, the controls and handling of vehicles is excellent, on the strict understanding that this is an arcade-driving experience. Combining a solid frame rate with comfortable controls, the driving experience is enjoyable: the Circle Pad is perfect for steering, while all four face buttons are used to accelerate, use the brake or handbrake and activate Tanner’s ‘rage’, which acts as a turbo boost and increases the destructive power of your car. The shoulder buttons act as ‘car attacks’, ramming your car into an enemy on either side.
The environment in which this takes place is an impressive — and large — recreation of New York City. The scale isn’t on the same level as would be found in a console title, but the sense of driving through a genuine city is gratifying. Most barriers and obstacles are destructible, though occasionally you may get carried away and attempt to smash through a gate that, unfortunately, cannot be broken. The inconsistencies in destructible objects are rare, but the setting is let down by some noticeable ‘pop-up’, where the draw distance isn’t quite long enough. It’s also very much like playing in New York after the city has been evacuated, with very few civilian cars and absolutely no pedestrians; whether this was due to system limitations or lack of development, it's a shame that the setting feels so desolate.
The negative side of the gameplay is the variety, or lack thereof, of objectives and challenges that you face. Within the first hour of play in the Story Mode you’ll have seen all of the missions on offer: follow a car, destroy a target car, destroy a number of cars or escape a chase in one piece. While it may seem strange to complain about a lack of variety in a driving game, the simple fact is that repeating these objectives multiple times in two-to-three minute bursts becomes grating. The main culprit is the relatively easy difficulty: with options of ‘Easy’ or ‘Hard’, we opted for the latter, particularly as the only way to unlock cars from Story Mode is by completing levels in this difficulty. In our experience the level of challenge varies wildly, with the majority of levels being cleared first time. Only in the final few stages were multiple attempts required; that didn’t prevent us from beating the Story Mode in under three hours.
The brevity of the Story Mode is compensated by the far superior ‘Career’ Mode on offer. Cars already unlocked are available, and progression through the seven event categories adds more vehicles to your garage, with a total of 50 available. With 12 levels in each category, there are 84 levels to work through, adding plenty of play time to the experience. Whether you will complete every level and unlock every car is dependent on your level of patience.
The categories are a mix of good and bad: ‘Rampage’ is easily the worst, with the task of destroying a number of respawning enemies within a time limit being completely redundant. On the other hand ‘Freedom Racing’ allows you to race to the goal taking any route you please, allowing a nice sense of freedom as you and your opponents take divergent paths. Throw in checkpoint and elimination races, along with stunt and damage challenges, and there is a good amount of content. Issues with the difficulty remain, with some modes beaten far too easily, while others, such as ‘Time Attack’, demand precise near-perfect laps. The fluctuation from ridiculously easy to teeth-grindingly difficult curbs the fun on offer.
Beyond Story Mode and Career, there are no further significant game options. There is a StreetPass function that allows you to compare career records with others, but there's no multiplayer of any description. This seems like a missed opportunity, considering the quality of the driving experience and the inclusion of some enjoyable racing events. As a single-player release, this is a title that, once beaten, is unlikely to inspire much replay time.
In terms of presentation, Driver Renegade 3D performs fairly well. Graphically the title looks good but the environment is too empty, with the smooth frame rate serving as some compensation. Playing with the 3D setting on can help when playing the game; the effect is impressive, with a noticeable depth that allows you to see upcoming corners clearly. Audio is acceptable, though the voice acting, particularly Tanner, is as clichéd as the script. The music is an undoubted bonus however, with a variety of excellent tracks sounding particularly good on headphones.
Driver Renegade 3D is an average title overall. Qualities such as smooth driving controls and an impressive open setting are let down by inconsistent levels of challenge, a city lacking in population, repetitive gameplay and, unfortunately, an irritating and clichéd main character. It is a pity, as there are moments of enjoyment when the opposition are on the chase and the sensation of chaotically driving through New York is intoxicating. Alas, they’re just fleeting moments, so this purchase is only recommended for dedicated fans of the genre or the Driver franchise.