Review: Driver: San Francisco
Get behind the wheel as Detective John Tanner once again as he shifts from one person's body to the next... Wait, what?
- Worth The Time?Definitely, there is no time wasted while patrolling the streets of the beautiful San Francisco.
- Things LovedThe innovative and highly entertaining shift system, massive city to explore, fully licensed vehicles, tons of content to play around with, beautiful visuals, incredible soundtrack, highly enjoyable multiplayer modes, ludicrous and over the top story.
- Things HatedStory is confusing and convoluted, stiff voice acting, environments could have been better, missions become repetitive near the end, insanely frustrating final battle.
- RecommendationAny fan of the Driver series should pick this up on day one. Newcomers will not be disappointed either, as they will experience probably the best offering the Driver franchise has ever had.
- Name: Driver: San Francisco
- Genre: Mission-based Driving
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: 1-2 (Splitscreen), Online
- Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Price: R300.00 (PC), R550.00 (Xbox 360, PS3)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Driving down highways at break neck speeds, performing Hollywood type jumps across intersections and busting criminals has become an ordinary day for long time Driver protagonist, Detective John Tanner. The infamous Chris Jericho has finally been apprehended, thanks to Tanner, and now faces judgment. While en-route to trail, Jericho’s transport is attacked and he escapes, leaving it up to Tanner to take pursuit in his classic Dodge Challenger. However, Jericho is able to get the upper hand on Tanner this time, leaving him in a comatose state after being rammed by a massive armored vehicle. And so starts your adventure in the city of San Francisco, inside the sub-conscious mind of Tanner, as he imagines events described by news reports on a TV in his hospital room.
By now you should be thinking “What the hell were those writers on when they thought of this?”, and I would completely agree with you. However, only a few minutes into the game you should come to a revelation. Driver: San Francisco has a story that is over the top, ludicrous and downright unbelievable, and it just works. You may be disappointed to hear that the game and story rarely take themselves seriously, and this becomes extremely apparent as the story and plot progress, though that is not entirely a bad thing. This type of freedom gives way to the Ubisoft brainchild that is Shift. It almost seems that this mechanic was thought of first, and the story was then built around it in order to make some sort of sense as to how John Tanner is able to instantly take control of any other driver in the San Francisco Bay area.
By using Shift, you are able to detach Tanner’s psyche from his physical body, sending you soaring up above San Francisco. Your view can shift from a Google type street view, all the way up to a bird’s eye view of the entire Bay area, allowing players to instantly ‘shift’ into a vehicle that could be on the exact opposite side of San Francisco. Speaking of San Francisco, it is massive. Think Burnout Paradise’s map, except bigger and more bustling with activity. Cars are everywhere, accompanied by pedestrians that litter the sidewalks, all with the uncanny ability of being able to avoid every and any oncoming vehicle. Missions, activities and dares are everywhere, and this is where the Shift ability comes in handy as well, allowing you to instantly transport to any event across the map, keeping you in the action and reducing any unwanted downtime. Sometimes, though, it is utterly refreshing to shift into the nearest supercar and take a cruise down the nearest highway, especially when you have an awesome soundtrack to accompany you.
Missions come in all sorts of styles and flavours. Even straight-forward race events come in different variations, with some just being traditional racing, while others force you to smash objects in order to keep the timer ticking, and, probably the most interesting of all, team racing, which puts you in the shoes of a racing team of two, forcing you to constantly shift between both cars in order to get a one two finish. Police missions have you chasing down criminals, using your ram ability or shifting into oncoming traffic and causing head-on collisions in order to take them down. Some missions even involve over the top circumstances, such as having to disarm bombs located under moving trucks. Then there are also classic stunt events, giving you objectives like reaching certain speeds for an allotted time, or even making seemingly impossible jumps over moving traffic.
Each mission has an incentive attached to it, either relating to the main plot or developing into their own side stories. However, these stories are never really engaging, and this is mostly due to the weak voice acting and cheesy plots that they develop into, though the game does a good job of letting you know that these instances aren’t always meant to be taken seriously, with references to previous Driver entries and 1970’s car chase movies littering the scripts. In order to progress in the story you will have to complete these missions, aiding San Francisco citizens in the process, until the next “Tanner” mission is unlocked, which will push you through the narrative. Completing missions and dares rewards you with “Willpower Points”, which will also be awarded when performing specific driving maneuvers such as drifts, overtakes, jumps and speeding.
There are numerous garages around San Francisco that you are able to purchase using these points, unlocking new cars for purchase, as well as special challenges. There are a range of cars to choose from, starting from traditional everyday cars like the Fiat 500 or a VW Beetle, all the way up to supercars such as the Audi R8, and even the McLaren F1. You will also be able to burn points on upgrades, such as an increase to your ability bar, its recharge rate, your radar and even your willpower point income. Special challenges present you with specific goals and events that can be completed for massive point rewards and Leaderboard supremacy. These range from extended drifting events, to full length highway races with supercars.
Since Driver is first and foremost about the racing, it is good to see that every single car in the game is fully licensed and exists in the real world today. Another thing to remember is that this is not a simulation racing game, meaning that cars won’t handle like your favourite ride in GT5, but rather with a more arcade style to vehicle control. Drifts, handbrake turns and even driving under trucks becomes a breeze, though you will be able to notice a few differences between different cars. American muscle cars will still slide across the street like it’s ice, while Lamborghinis and Aston Martins combine speed and control to produce a graceful ride. There are even off-road buggies and Baja cars for those of you who love driving in the dirt.
It would be a shame if all these licensed vehicles were put to shame by sloppy visuals though, wouldn’t it? Well, thankfully, that is far from the case, with each vehicle being recreated to accurately showcase each lovely curve, reflecting the sunlight on its fresh new paint job. That is, until you encounter traffic and the inevitable happens. Luckily, when you do eventually hit a truck head on, it is just as spectacular to watch as it is when speeding down a highway. Windshields will shatter, paint will be scratched and dents will appear everywhere, and you may even shed a tear at the mere sight of it. However, crashes and collisions are handled well, and the physics behind them is top notch, if not a bit on the unrealistic side. The same cannot always be said about the environments though, with surrounding textures sometimes looking bland in comparison to the beautiful vehicles you are flying past them in. This is not a really big issue though, as the action is so fast paced you will hardly notice such things, especially if pieces of an SUV and Ford GT are flying around your screen.
So, if you’re like me and not an achievement whore or completionist, then single-player can only hold your interest for so many hours. You’ll be glad to know then that Driver: SF has a fully fleshed out and wonderfully realised multiplayer, consisting of both online and split-screen play. Both share the exact same modes, with split-screen offering additional co-op races and free roam modes, allowing you to cause mayhem on the streets of San Francisco with a friend. Online play has an experience based reward system, where earned experience is used to purchase upgrades and icon packages, as well as unlock new events for you to participate in. At first, only two events are available. Trailblazer has 6 drivers following a DeLorean, while it leaves a glowing trail behind it that players must stay within in order to score points. Secondly there is Tag, which is basically what it sounds like. One driver is essentially “it” while, scoring points until tagged by an opponent driver. Other modes include standard races, cop chases and even co-operative team races, which combine teamwork and precision on the fast paced highways.
This may sound like nothing new, but that is until you realise that the Shift system works in the exact same way here as it did in the singleplayer portion of the game. At any point, you are able to shift into a brand new car, whether it be because you took a corner horribly wrong, or just to slow down the opponent ahead of you with a head-on collision. This leads to frantic and highly entertaining driving duels, with you often not knowing what to expect from the opponent that could suddenly be right next to you, granted the freedom you are given. In order to balance this godlike power, each player is given an ability bar, which depletes gradually when performing shifts, boosts and rams. Another interesting feature is the inclusion of qualifying events, which are short objective based events before matches in order to determine grid position and the amount of ability power you begin with. These are frantic competitions on their own, with the victor usually gaining an upper hand for the first few moments of the upcoming match.
While Driver: San Francisco is certainly not without its flaws (repetitive mission types, insanely unbelievable story and an incredibly frustrating final boss fight), there is nothing substantial enough to deny that this could be the revival that Driver fans everywhere have been waiting for. It may not be the most serious entry into the series, but it is without a doubt the most entertaining and fun to play. The Shift mechanic makes a groundbreaking debut, though I don’t see how it could be implemented in future sequels. Regardless, it does its job, and does it well, making Driver: San Francisco an absolute pleasure to play.