Driver: San Francisco Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.

John Tanner is back in the driver’s seat as he takes to the streets of the Baghdad by the Bay to hunt down Charles Jericho, wanted fugitive, gangster, and the man who put a bullet in Tanner’s back.

Six months after the events of Driver 3 (Driv3r), Jericho is being transported from lock down to a local courthouse to face sentencing for his transgressions. As Tanner and his partner, Tobias Jones, watch from the freeway overpass, the convoy explodes from a rocket fired from overhead. Jericho frees himself from his shackles and makes his escape in the police van carrying him. With Tanner and Jones hot on his tail, Jericho flees, during which a semi broadsides Tanner’s car landing him in the hospital.

Lying unconscious, Tanner continues the chase in his dreams with a newfound ability to Shift into the body of any driver on the road. He takes control and finds himself once again behind the wheel to take Jericho down once and for all.

Ubisoft Reflections has really taken the Driver franchise back to the roots of what made the original so much fun. Driver: San Francisco is a game about driving, and driving prowess. The game takes you through an open world with over 200 miles of road, 120 cars, over 100 challenges, and tons of good old-fashioned fun and mayhem. Also, the developers have added a bit of a twist with a new game mechanic, the Shift ability, to keep things fresh.

The Shift ability allows you to leave your body and view the world from one of two vantage points; either low to the ground or high in the air to get a better view of the environment around you.  A targeting reticle allows you to home in on another vehicle to Shift into. While the vehicle is in your sights, basic details of its make and model as well as its performance capabilities are displayed. Once you’ve found a suitable target, you Shift into the body of that driver and assume their role. This makes for some interesting, and oftentimes hilarious, one-liners as you Shift into bus drivers, police officers, cabbies, or street racing teenagers. “Let me teach you something about defensive driving,” one officer quipped as you take over his partner, with an enthusiastic Tanner replying, “Yes sir!”, while you spin the car a full 180 and chase down marked hoodlums.

Beyond the missions that further the story’s progress, Driver: San Francisco has an array of Challenges, Activities and Dares to break up the monotony from following a linear campaign.  Challenges, which are unlocked by purchasing different garages or picking up Movie Tokens that are scattered about the city, test your driving prowess in tasks such as checkpoint races or drifting.  During Challenges, obstacles and distractions such as traffic and pedestrians are removed from the area, as these tasks are timed against the clock with points awarded for performance.  Your points’ scores and times are tracked at the end of a run, and are posted on a global leaderboard to see how you rank against other players.  You are also awarded Willpower Points, which can be used to unlock items such as power-ups and cars in the garage.

Activities, however, are a different beast, as they take place in the city’s full hustle and bustle.  Activities, which are unlocked by completing missions, include races, cop car chases and stunt trials.  These activities can be found all over the city and can be replayed for additional Willpower Points, if you so desire.  By completing Activities you can also unlock special vehicles to be purchased from the garage.

Dares are essentially mini-challenges that can be found all over the city.  Willpower Points are awarded for completing Dares such as driving over a certain speed while in first person mode, or smashing X number of objects within a given time limit.  Beyond granting you Willpower Points, completing Dares will unlock ability upgrades, such as increasing the speed at which your ability bar recharges or adding a multiplier that increases the amount of WP you get for a given task.

Ubisoft really did a fantastic job of taking a page or two from the books of McQueen and Bronson in making this game. Tanner and Jones take on the persona of every great protagonist from the classic ‘70s car shows, down to the cars, the clothes, dialogue, and brought it up to the modern day. Muscle cars of every generation from the ‘70s, like the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T and ultra-rare Lancia Stratos to the modern day Camaro, are found on the streets just begging to be raced. The gruff, yet light-hearted demeanor adds to this with superbly written banter between Tanner and his (at times unsuspecting) passengers.  Additionally, the hilarious one-liners as you careen through the streets of downtown San Francisco make driving around town an even more enjoyable experience.

One thing that the developers did to add to the classic car TV show feel is the addition of the “Previously on…” segments that come up whenever you reach a new chapter or continue the game from the main menu.  These cutscenes are a nice touch to the game and provide a quick refresher on where you’re at before you jump back into the action.

Driver: San Francisco also features an online multiplayer element.  As you play and win races, you gain experience which is used for unlocking abilities such as boost or ram.  These abilities will be useful as they give you an edge over your opponents in various gameplay available.  Among the favorite modes is Tag – a game where you tag the “it” car.  When you do so, you try to hold on to being “it” for as long as possible to accumulate points.  The first person to reach the points goal wins.  Checkpoint races are also a big favorite among many, as well as objective races such as performing jumps in a race or ramming objects for points.  There are a ton of modes that have been packed into the game and it’s assured that there’s a little something for everyone.

Driver: San Francisco is most certainly an exceptional racing game with plenty of modes to make everyone happy, but it misses the mark in a few crucial areas, keeping it from achieving gear-head glory.  The ally AI during chases can be absent-minded at times.  This is most notable with the cop car chases, as partner vehicles will oftentimes do a far better job of taking your car out than the perpetrator’s.  Also, joining a multiplayer game can sometimes seem like you lost a match of Russian roulette, as it can drop you at the starting point of a timed match, pretty much assuring that you’ll be receiving another notch in the loss column.  Furthermore, the lack of customization of the purchased vehicles is a noticeable omission.  While the game has a plot beyond the cars, they are the most visible characters in the game, and not being able to have any way to give them some kind of personal flair takes away from the motivation to purchase many of the vehicles.

While Driver: San Francisco has a few blemishes on its finish, the final product overall is highly enjoyable. The game may not be on par with similar open-world driving games such as Midnight Club in the customization department, but it still offers plenty of entertainment for the street racing or car enthusiast.

This game receives a 4.0/5.0

Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

September 22, 2011 - 8:30 am