Every thought about driving across the Golden Gate Bridge at 100+ miles per hour, against traffic? How about drifting down Lombard Street? Grab your keys, we're hitting the streets in Driver San Francisco.
Driver San Francisco picks up where Driv3r left off. You are Detective John Tanner, back in San Francisco, helping escort Charles Jericho to prison. Jericho though has other plans. One guard pay off later and he has commandeered his prison transport. Tanner and his partner, Tobias Jones, give chase. After a good chase across town, it ends when Tanner and Jones' car is T-boned by a semi truck. Jericho gets away and Tanner ends up in the hospital in a coma. End of story right? Wrong.
While in his coma Tanner dreams. In his dream the accident was a minor fender bender and they were able to drive away. While driving back to the station Tanner discovers he has acquired a power, he calls it Shift. Shift allows him to leave his body and enter the body of any other driver in San Francisco. He retains his personality and knowledge, but looks and sounds like whoever was driving the vehicle at the time. Using the Shift power Tanner starts to infiltrate Jericho's gang and help other people around the city.
While I would like to reveal more I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say it's one of the more interesting uses of the "it was all a dream" story devices I've come across. Especially when they link it back to the real world.
Controls and Gameplay
Driver San Francisco is an action arcade driving game. I played the game on the Xbox 360 and the controls fall into the familiar positions for most driving games; triggers for gas and brakes, B-button for emergency brake and the left thumbstick for steering. The controls felt really good for each car or truck, they all handled about the way you would expect. Trucks were slow to accelerate and turn, "super" cars were quick and nimble.
The gameplay for Driver San Francisco really focuses on driving. Developer Ubisoft Reflections went back to the drawing board and made driving the only thing you do. No getting out of the car, no running around, no shooting, just driving. This translates into a lot of things, races, chasing down criminals, getting away from cops, and pulling off all manner of stunts. Driver San Francisco is a smorgasbord of driving fun.
Multiplayer can be done on the same system with a split screen or online with friends. While there is the plain old racing to be had the real fun is in the games that involve using the Shift ability. Tag takes on a whole new strategy when the car next to you can suddenly be possessed by another player.
Graphic and Sound
The graphics for Driver San Francisco hover close to the realistic. They are good and crisp, but you are able to tell they are a video game. Pedestrians have a generic look, all the cars look like they just drove out of a car wash and it is always a clear sunny day in San Francisco. These are not knocks on the game, but it becomes noticeable after playing a while.
The one graphic problem I do have is the cut scenes. It's like Ubisoft Reflections couldn't decide what to use. They would have these gorgeous prerendered realistic graphics and then intersperse it with their in-game graphics engine. The differences between the two are pretty drastic. I think they would have been better served with just sticking with the in-game graphics engine, it is good enough for it.
On the sound front special effects and voice acting were done well. All effects such as the rev of an engine or the squeal of the tires were good. I did not hear a stiff line uttered at all by any actor and would have to say the gentlemen doing the voices of Tanner and Jones sound like they could have walked out of 70's cop movie.
I think the real treat is the soundtrack itself. Seventy-six songs spanning genres from funk to soul, blues to rock, and hip-hop to electronica. As eclectic as the soundtrack is, it sounds like a 70s action movie soundtrack. It's like whoever was in charge of the choices picked songs that were great to have while flying down the road at breakneck speeds.
Driver San Francisco is fun. When I say fun I mean FUN. Ubisoft Reflections wisely looked at where the series was going, what it was doing then decided to take it back to what the Driver series was all about, recreating that cool driving feel of the action cop movies and TV shows like Bullitt and Starsky and Hutch. Even with its fantastical element of the Shift power it still feels like a great action movie. "Tanner and Jones, two cops who deliver justice in a bright yellow Dodge Challenger!"
While the main story has a serious tone, the side missions tend to take a more light hearted approach. For example one of the running side stories involve two brothers who's family are in deep with organized crime. To keep themselves from entering the family business they enter a street race with hopes that they will win enough money to go to college. Because Tanner Shifts into the brother who drives, they win. You find out later that the other brother is so impressed with his brother's new found driving abilities the he gets them involved with more races, after each he promises his "brother" that this was the last race.
Another great element in Driver San Francisco is the car selection. You have your token selection of exotics, super cars and classic Detroit muscle cars, but mixed in there are some fun, but odd choices. A 1980 AMC Pacer, 1974 Dodge Monaco, 1965 Volkswagen Camper Van, and a 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon are just a few of the oddballs you can drive, race, jump, and do everything you can with the normal selection of cars in a driving game. I personally tried to do many of the side missions with some of these odd ball choices just because I could.
As fun as the game is there is a certain amount of frustration with it too. Racing through a busy city will present its own problems, chief among them are the other drivers. Just like in the real world you have no control over them, so you never know when at the last second someone will change lanes in front of you and cut you off. This is what you have to deal with when you have random AI. So be prepared to fail missions often. Most you will be able to get through in two or three tries. Some may take more tries, but that kind of depends on your skill and remembering that you have Shift power. Even though there is frustration I felt the overall difficulty never spiked or ramped up dramatically, it kept a nice even pace.
I did notice one problem that literally popped up. Occasionally cars will spawn out of thin air. I had one blink in and out as it skittered across the road in front of me, causing me to wreck. A little frustrating when you are at the three minute mark of a roughly six minute race.
The good, though, heavily outweighs the bad so I give Driver San Francisco a good 4.5 out of 5.
Driver San Francisco is rated T for Teen for Drug Reference, Language, Sexual Themes, and Violence by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. It is available now for Windows PC, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3. There is a Nintendo Wii version, but it is a prequel story with different gameplay elements. For more information check out the Driver San Francisco web site.
As an added extra here is a link to a free bonus car, a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.