Review: Driver: You Are the Wheelman (Game Boy Color)

In this review, we drive down the center line in the Game Boy Color game Driver: You Are the Wheelman. We find out how well this action game plays.

This game was released in 2000. We have some experience with this series. We’ve previously reviewed the Playstation version of this game. The gameplay is what really made that one a great game to play. We then tried Driver 2: The Wheelman is Back. While there were a few enhanced features, that game only got a mediocre score. So, we once again return to this franchise to see how well it is handled in the portable environment.

You once again play the role of the main character in this series. Like the Playstation version, you are an undercover police officer. Your goal is to join up with local gangs, infiltrating them in an investigation. Unfortunately, for this game, the storyline is much less clear as to why you are doing so and where you are in your investigation as you progress through the game.

The main mode of play is Undercover. In this mode, your missions stretch through three cities: Miami, L.A., and New York. For those who are familiar with the Playstation version, San Francisco is completely removed from the game.

When you enter into your first mission, you’ll notice this game takes a top down approach to the action. It’s the same perspective as found in Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto 2.

A crucial aid in your missions is the city map. This map is found when you pause the game. In the pause screen, you are also given the option to restart a mission as well. This is where the similarities finally make their return to the gameplay.

As you drive around town, you’ll notice that there is an arrow that points in the direction of your objective. This arrow only points in 8 different directions. As such, it can be a little misleading. It doesn’t take into consideration natural or physical barriers. That’s why players may find themselves relying on the pause menu map more because it pinpoints the exact location of where you need to go as well as showing the entire network of roads in town. Still, it can offer a general idea of where to head to if you have multiple points you need to get to within the mission.

One of the immediate things you’ll notice is that this game simulates momentum and limited turning. As such, driving takes on a more realistic look and feel. As such, you’ll have to take this into account when you make hairpin turns at intersections. This is also something to take into consideration when you make contact with other cars.

Along the bottom of your screen are three critical pieces of information. On the left is your damage meter. This meter tells you how much damage your vehicle has sustained. If you take on too much damage, then the round will be over and you’ll be forced to restart.

In the middle is your timer. When it counts up, it means you can take whatever time necessary to complete your mission. In most circumstances, though, it will count down. In this case, you’ll have a limited amount of time to complete your mission. If the time is up, then you’ll fail your mission.

On the right hand side is the felony meter. This meter tells you how aggressive police will be in trying to stop you. If you have nothing in this meter, the police won’t pursue you – even when you fly past them in the wrong lane on the freeway. If police see you crash into things (or even them for that matter), you risk increasing your felony meter. In this case, the police will give chase, making the game more complicated. If the meter reaches full, then the police will even go into a head-on collision just to stop you. Some missions will automatically give you some felony from the start to make things more challenging.

When you reach your destination, the goal will be marked with a large “X”. If you have police chasing you, then it may change to an exclamation mark. In that case, the game will ask you to lose the tail. This often can be solved by taking a trip around the building (assuming you have the time of course).

The missions will vary a fair bit as you progress through the game. Some missions are merely point “A” to point “B” type missions. Other missions ask you to ram things like buildings, another vehicle, and even a parked vehicle at one point. A few involve you trying to make it from one point of the city to another while taking as little damage as possible. In a few missions, you can also find yourself being chased by other gang members. Suffice to say, the variety of missions is certainly there in this game.

When you are done with being undercover, this game also features a variety of other modes of play. One mode is called “Take a Ride”. In this mode, you can select which city you want to drive in and drive around. You can get chased by police and even wreck your car in the process. There is no missions or timers to worry about, so you can do whatever you want in this mode.

In addition to this, there are various driving games. In each mode, you can select the mission (which also notes which city you’ll be driving in) and try and post the top time for completing the mission.

The first game is called “Checkpoint”. In this game, you have 6 flags strewn about the city that must be driven over in order. Collect all six flags to complete the mission.

The second game is called “Get Away”. In this mode, you start somewhere with a police officer right behind you. The faster you lose this tail, the better your time.

The third game is called “Pursuit”. In this mode, you need to “ram the car”. Fill the other cars damage meter as quickly as possible to stop the timer. Don’t lose the other car or you’ll fail the mission.

Finally, there is the famous survival mode. You start somewhere surrounded by police officer cars. The goal is to keep yourself alive for as long as possible. Like the Playstation version, the police vehicles drive faster than yours. Also, there are loads of cop cars around if you manage to lose the initial batch. Surviving for very long can prove to be very challenging because of this.

When I hit the intro screen, I was very surprised to see that it is almost identical to the Playstation version. With the exception of the police cruiser, everything is selectable. Once I actually began to play the game, I immediately saw just how such a massive game can be compressed into something with such limitations compared to the previous console I played on.

The big thing for me with this game is the fact that it starts off difficult. As a result, failing the first few missions becomes a regular occurrence. Getting used to traffic patterns and how the car handles is a big part on how well you do in the game. This goes on top of figuring out the map system. So, as such, the difficulty curve and learning curve is quite steep from the get go. As you get used to things, though, he game does open up. So, really, the question for most players is if they are willing to sit through, failing numerous times before getting used to how the game works, or will they give up part way through. That really determines whether players find this game good or not, really.

If you do manage to stick with this game, the game does become easier. In fact, I found that the hardest levels were, ironically, the first few. I failed the restaurant smashing level the most, though there are a few other Miami levels that came close to this. Once I became skilled enough, I was able to get through most missions without much problem. In fact, I beat the final level (considered by some to be the hardest in the game) on my second attempt.

What I do like about this game is the huge variety in the missions. A lot of the variety can be found in the main game, but also in the start screen as well. You can easily spend hours playing through some of the driving games alone.

A downside, however, is the general length of the game. A particularly sore spot in terms of quantity is found in L.A. where there is a grand total of three missions. Not the most impressive thing in the world. It would have been nice to see more missions in the undercover mode.

Generally speaking, this is a surprisingly well conceived translation from the Playstation to the Game Boy Color. There’s really not a lot more that can be done to take what is found in the Playstation version and put it into such a restrictive platform. In spite of the restrictive platform, the variety is quite impressive – both in undercover and in the driving games mode. Having said that, the length of the undercover mode is a little on the short side. The worst part about this game, however, is in both the difficulty curve and learning curve. It’s way to steep in the beginning if you ask me. While the game does improve from the beginning, it’s questionable if some players have the patient to stick with this game for so long.

The graphics are a little hit and miss. The cars are very basic and only have basic animations. The smoke trails from skidding are decently done. The settings, at first, are OK, but nothing huge. The settings do improve later on in the game, but it isn’t all there at the beginning. It would have been nice to see a day and night feature in this game.

The audio is OK. The intro tune is a pretty good translation from the Playstation version. Still, the in-game music is only passable. There isn’t even alternate music to indicate that police are chasing you. The subtle honking horns, the sirens, and general mayhem that comes from the sound effects are pretty good. As a result, audio is pretty decent, but nothing huge.

Overall, this is one of those games that requires a certain level of patient from players. Not all players will be willing to sit through learning the physics of this game, let alone figure out the map system and understand the traffic patterns. The game does get better with time, but it takes a pretty severe stumble out of the gate with the learning and difficulty curve. The graphics are OK in the beginning and improve somewhat as you progress through the game. Decent, but nothing huge. The audio is passable. The music isn’t all that memorable save for the intro, but the sound effects are pretty well done. An overall decent game, but if you had a choice, I’d say to stick with the Playstation version.

Furthest point in game: beat the game and completed at least one mission in all the driving modes (attempted a round in survival, but only got 28 seconds on that).

General gameplay: 16/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 66%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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