When you think of the Driver series, chances are you think of '70s muscle cars, tyre-smoking burnouts and wild handbrake turns straight out of Hollywood. In other words, you probably don't think of sailing in speedboats.
And yet here we have Driver: Speedboat Paradise, a bizarre free-to-play mobile spin-off silently soft released on iOS and Android by Ubisoft earlier this month in New Zeland and Australia.
Seriously. This isn't a premature April Fools joke. I guess you could say this is the Speed 2: Cruise Control of Driver.
While it's certainly a very misplaced use of the license on Ubisoft's part (apparently it's very loosely based on the speedboat segments from Driv3r), there are still a few loose connections to the land-based Driver series. Series veteran and undercover cop John Tanner returns, Miami is one of the key locations, and, er, the yellow and black paint scheme on the speedboat in the artwork is likely a reference to Tanner's Dodge Challenger in Driver: San Francisco. Apparently Ubisoft Reflections were also consulted throughout the development.
But I digress: branding this as a Driver game is like calling a golf game 'FIFA'. Instead of cars, you have boats. Instead of free roaming real world cities, you have enclosed water race courses and time trials. And somehow they managed to tie it all together with a criminal storyline in-line with the car-based Driver franchise.
Perhaps I'm overreacting: afterall, Driver holds a close place in my heart. Mini Martin has very fond memories of being utterly mesmerised by the expansive, fully explorable 3D cities long before GTA III revolutised the genre as we know it, and it's clear that the movie car chase fanatics which make up the passionate development team are on the same wavelength as me. I was besotted with it. But you can't argue that Speedboat Paradise is an unexpected and ill-judged use of the license that will rile long-time fans of the series who will now fear the worst about the future of the franchise.
The last we saw of Driver was the underrated Driver: San Francisco in 2011, which revitalised the franchise after the dismal Driv3r and mediocre Parallel Lines with its innovative Shift gameplay mechanic and keeping the action firmly behind the wheel instead of shoehorning cumbersome on-foot sections with character animations that resembled a constipated crab.
The fact that Ubisoft is still utilising the Driver brand gives me faint hope that we may still possibly see a true Driver sequel on the current-gen, although it seems unlikely considering that the Edmondson brothers, who co-founded Reflections Interactive to work on the Driver series, left Ubisoft Reflections to start up mobile games developer Thumbstar. The more likely scenario is that they needed an established IP to market their boat racing game, which happened to be Driver.
Words fail me right now. RIP Driver.