Reviews normally start with a tease or a question like—can Driver San Francisco bring the series back from the dead? Well, I’ll spare you the clichéd opening and get straight to the point, Driver San Francisco does bring the series back to life, and if you can overlook the story, you’re in for one of the most enjoyable driving games of 2011.
The story really isn’t worth mentioning because it’s completely over the top. Basically you’re in a coma induced dream (or something like that, I don’t even know) and you’re trying to track down Tanner’s arch nemesis Jericho. The story is an excuse to introduce the shift mechanic, so you shouldn’t get too bent out of shape about it. After all—this is a driving game, the genre isn’t exactly known for its award-winning plots. Once you jump into the missions, the plot will be the last thing on your mind.
About those missions, there are many different types, standard races, races where you have to race two cars, tailing missions, stunt missions, and many more. One minute you’ll be scaring a high school driver’s education instructor, and the next you’ll be a news van looking for reckless drivers to film. Also besides the main missions, there are a ton of random missions marked on the map with blue icons. These missions earn you willpower, this helps you buy cars and upgrades.
The only missions that suck are the timed ones that decide it’s a good idea to force you to use the back roads. This means you’re working against the clock and a meter that goes up if you stay on the main roads too long. They’re absolutely dreadful and the game would be better without them. Okay, enough about the bad missions, things really become exciting when shifting is introduced.
But before we get into shifting, let’s digress for a moment, and talk about how the cars control. They all handle differently, some can’t turn to save their lives, and others offer the total package, and have speed and control. Just don’t come in expecting cars to handle like they do in simulation racers, this is basically an arcade racer. If you accept that, you’ll have a good time.
One more thing, you can’t run over pedestrians. Honestly, I have no idea why anyone would want to do this in a purely driving game, this isn’t GTA. If you want to commit vehicular manslaughter, this isn’t the game for you. On that note, now might be a good time to go see a shrink since you demand mindless violence from every game you play. Or you know… there’s a game coming out next year called Twisted Metal that can fulfill your vehicular bloodlust.
Now let’s talk about shifting (finally), for those of you that haven’t been following this title, shifting is the ability to instantly take control over almost any car on the road. In missions you’ll use this to wreck your foes in a race, stop a getaway car, or to protect a vehicle. Once you get the hang of it you’ll wish every racing game had it. Sure some will say… why can’t I take control over the enemy’s car and end the race? Well, here’s your answer—it’s still a game, there has to be some challenge involved! Now stop being a smarty pants, and keep reading.
Shifting is a great feature—but there are times when it can become annoying. Since you’re taking control of moving cars, there will be times when you shift into one, and your target will go flying past you. Also incoming traffic mysteriously becomes scarce when it’s time to stop a crook with a head on collision. Then there’s the races where you have to control two cars, once you shift out of one the A.I. becomes brain-dead, and you fall back into fourth place. So you’re forced to rapidly go between cars are risk losing the race. It would have been nice if once you got one racer in first, if they could at least hold their own for a minute, instead of slowing down instantly.
Shifting is also present in most of the multiplayer modes, there are 11 of them (plus co-op and split screen) and they actually add a lot of value to the game. Over Labor Day weekend my 11-year-old nephew and I lost countless hours to these modes, most notably the tag mode. You have to hit a certain car and then you’re it, but you’re goal isn’t to tag someone else; it’s to stay “it” as long as possible. Avoiding the other players becomes tricky because they can easily shift into a car behind you and ram you.
If you don’t feel like playing children’s games, you can always jump into a standard race or follow a speeding Delorean to gain points, or try the eight other modes that are sure to keep you entertained. One thing that I should note is, to unlock the online modes you have to enter a U Play code (it comes with the game). It’s not ideal, but I imagine this is a way for Ubisoft to get some money out of gamers that will buy the game used three months from now.
Alright, I’m sure you want to know about the graphics; after all you didn’t buy an HD console for nothing, right? Graphically the game is impressive, especially the cars. They’re all licensed and they look like their real life counterparts. The cutscenes are also nicely done. Even though they seem to be CGI and not actual in game graphics, the city is also impressive, you don’t really start to appreciate it until you start shifting and looking at the buildings from the sky. Oh and did I mention this game runs at 60 frames per second? Well, it does and it’s buttery smooth (except in split-screen where it can come to a crawl).
Let’s talk audio real quick, the music is soulful and straight out of a 70’s cop show, and the voice acting is solid, but cheesy (this might be intentional). I enjoyed shifting into vehicles just to hear what the passengers would say. Like one time after I started driving crazy my passenger (wife) confessed that she cheated on me, and now she was afraid that I was trying to kill her with my reckless behavior.
One other thing to note before wrapping this up are the “previously on Driver San Francisco” cutscenes you’re greeted with when you load up a save game. This makes you feel like you’re inside a cop drama, and it’s a nice touch that keeps you informed about the absurd plot.
At the end of the day, the flaws don’t come anywhere close to ruining the overall expérience. It would be unfair to subtract major points for the story because like I said at the beginning, this is a driving game. Hell, most of them don’t even have plots, and I actually prefer this more than being an undercover cop that has to compete in street races.
Here’s the bottom-line, this is a highly enjoyable game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Shifting actually feels like a real innovation, and a feature I can’t wait to see mature in future titles. Don’t miss out on this one, it won’t run you over, and back up on your lifeless corpse like its predecessors.
[box_light]Driver San Francisco was provided to us by Ubisoft at our request, and tested on the Xbox 360. [/box_light]