Why the Driver Franchise died.
The rise and fall of an iconic Car Franchise
Imagine this, it's 1999 and you're playing with your Playstation, your dad comes up to you with a new game, the cover just says Driver, and after it loads, you're stuck on the tutorial, without any way of passing this part.
That's how many remember it, the original Driver game was a very fun way to drive around in 4 cities crashing into oncoming traffic, if you could beat the extremely difficult tutorial under 60 seconds, the gameplay was just fun basics of a driving game, get from point a to point b, throw in some following missions, some action pursuits, and you get yourself an instant classic, reminiscent of the action/chase movies of the 60's and 70's.
Because of the great mechanics of the original, and massive success both critically and on sales, a sequel of course was planned, the follow-up, Driver 2 was launched the next year, and put some effort into expanding the formula of the original, besides adding more cities and expanding the size of the maps, the game also included a new feature that allowed you to control the main character on foot and take other cars besides the one previously assigned, giving it a more sandbox playstyle.
Like the previous one, Driver 2 became a financial success, however, critically, it fell short, many criticized the minor changes as minimal effort, nevertheless, it still was a fun game to play, as a driving sandbox, it was a good option.
Then came the infamous Driv3r, a sequel everyone was pumped up for, and let's give credit, where credit is due, the game was fun, however, given the comparison against Rockstar's recently released GTA III, of course this felt like an imitation, it was heavily criticized for controls and hard to drive vehicles, however, it was praised for the more ambitious Sandbox world, for its cities and the engaging story, it sold over 300,000 copies.
After the mixed Driv3r, two titles were released almost at the same time, both Parallel Lines and '76 were part of the same story arc with '76 being a prequel and a PSP exclusive. Both titles again were received with mixed reception being accepted as an overall improvement on the previous installment but still compared and disregarded as another GTA Clone. The story from Parallel Lines, was again engaging and and the changes between eras; 1978 and 2006; although not groundbreaking definitely made gameplay more interesting with many changes on the world, including buildings, weapons and obviuously vehicles.
It is after these two titles, that the identity crisis became more apparent as developer Reflections struggled to give the franchise something to stand out from all the other Sandbox titles dubbed GTA Clones, and it would be obvious at this point to end the series, after a series of consistent disappointments one after the other. With each title the franchise just suffered more and of course fans of the original just craved for something that really reminded them of the original driver back in 1999.
Driver: San Francisco was launched in 2011 and was received as the worthy succesor of the first games, again playing as John Tanner now driving a Yellow '70 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Six Pack with black Stripes, and instead of the sandbox GTA style everyone expected, the gameplay had a clever twist, you could swap between your car and any other in the map just by hovering like a ghost in the air and choosing it, a "possesion" like feature that although seemed like a gimmick, ended up being the gamechanging mechanic that the franchise needed, this allowed the pacing of a chase to never break even when you totaled your car or had stuck it behind a semi-truck, your could just simply change to the fastest nearest car, and go on with the game.
The roster finally made sense for a driving-focused games, as more than 140 licensed cars were available for the player to drive, crash and even total them, which in an uncommon thing of its own for any type of game featuring licensed vehicles and constant abuse of chases. The game also had many easter eggs, including an entire mode devoted to famous movie chases recreated for you to play, bringing the inspiration of the original full circle.
Driver: San Francisco was a very welcome surprise for all gamers, as it exceeded sales expectations and was praised for its originality and clever spin on the "Shift" mechanic as a way to change between cars, a multiplayer both local an online was featured with some surprising variety.
That was the last main entry of the franchise, as a couple of games have been released, with Driver: Renegade 3D being a sequel/prequel to both the original and Driver 2, respectively, being panned by critics as just mediocre, and Driver: Speedboat Paradise, a spin-off free to play game released for mobile devices focused on speedboats, which just by the description alone, you can assume is not a good game. All of these failures again proved the franchise had lost its momentum briefly after gaining it just a couple of years prior.
Driver: San Francisco Tanner's Challenger vs Jericho's RAM SRT-10
With no releases on the outgoing PS4, XBOX One, or even the current Nintendo Switch, the future seems uncertain, as no announcements have been made, and even Ubisoft pulled San Francisco out of online stores, that has many fans worried that it will remain dormant, for good this time.
Many franchises have died out, but the one that started a whole generation of petrolheads all the way back in 1999, deserves a better future than to be forgotten, as it was ambitious, clever and gave all its best when even fans were critical, it wasn't your average racing game, but something more dramatic and action driven, it was Bullitt on a videogame, and it sad to see that pretty much like Bullitt, it will remain on glory in the past, on the Streets of San Francisco.