The Driver series has certainly seen its ups and downs over the years. The premise has always been a good one, and outside of the harsh difficulty of the games, most of them are considered classics. Fast forward to today and Ubisoft is hoping to bring Detective Tanner and his elite driving skills back into the fray. With a brand new mechanic that you will definitely have to take with a grain of salt, San Francisco is easily one of the more unique entries in the series. It also re-established the franchise with positive results. If you are a fan of the previous games, you will undoubtedly find plenty to enjoy here.
Taking place a few months after the events of the ill-named Driv3r, San Francisco once again follows Tanner and his partner Jericho as they pick up after the shootout at the end of the previous game. Jericho is about to be prosecuted, but at the last second he escapes with some help, and Tanner is involved in an accident. This is where things begin to get weird.
The rest of the game takes place entirely inside Tanner’s coma. From here, Tanner goes on thinking he is awake and continues to solve crimes around the city while trying to track down where Jericho has escaped to. This is where the Shift mechanic comes into play. This crazy game design is only possible because we are not actually in the real world. Tanner has the ability to switch in and out of bodies at will, giving him access to any car in the city at any time. As you can imagine, this opens up some truly unique gameplay experiences and possibilities.
At first, the mechanic seems cut and dry, but after getting accustomed to it, you really begin seeing things from another perspective. Instead of simply shifting in and out of cars, you can also opt to shift into oncoming traffic to take down your opponents or simply block intersections. The entire methodology of racing/chase gameplay is re-written thanks to the mechanic. Sure, it is goofy how they work it into the story, but it is such a unique and fantastic game design, you can forgive the cheese.
The world is laid out like most open-world games; with icons littered all over the map that represent various missions and stunts to perform. The game lets you choose which events to undertake and when to take them on, and having an instant restart makes failing not such a chore, unlike most games of this type. There is plenty to see and do, and of course, just free riding around the city, switching in and out of cars at will, is pretty fun. Missions range from your standard race affairs to chase sequences that slowly become more involved to take advantage of the shift mechanic. For instance, some races have you controlling two cars at once, and you need to finish first and second to win the race.
Much like previous games, Driver San Francisco is all about the chase and handbrakes. You will fishtail around every corner and crash into more stuff than you probably care to. This is further emphasized by the thrill camera, which you can purchase later in the game. Everything designed for filming in the director mode for uploading to the Ubisoft servers. It is a cool, if not limited, feature that is bound to spawn some really enjoyable YouTube clips.
The missions are a nice mixture, but I did have issue with the way the story unfolds because of it. You are required to complete city missions, and at times, they become frustratingly difficult because of the nature of the game. For example, when trying to control two vehicles at the same time in a race, your AI partner is likely to completely ruin your progress any moment you switch cars making that mission a lesson in repetition. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could simply substitute that mission with another, but more often than not, you are forced to complete what the game deems necessary before moving on with the story.
There is a lot here to make up for the frustrations, though, and that includes a rather solid multiplayer aspect. Offered in both cooperative and competitive fashion, these modes definitely give the game legs. You have your standard co-op missions, where you are trying to take down racers or lawbreakers as the cops. Then you have a competitive mode of tag, where opponents are constantly shifting into other vehicles, making for an insane display of fun. The game works great in these modes, and they are available both online and off, which is always a nice bonus.
There is plenty to do around the game world, but the best parts are definitely shorter than you would hope. The best missions progress the story, and the side stuff that pads the game time simply falls short in comparison. There is plenty to unlock, such as cars and upgrades via the garage, but once you finish the main story, there is little that will keep you coming back outside of the multiplayer. That isn’t to say the game isn’t long enough. In fact, it will clock you around 10-12 hours to complete it, but I wish there were more of the main missions as they definitely used the game’s strengths the best.
One of the things that stood out for me was the presentation. I loved the boxed cut scenes that showed the game running in one screen while the CGI actors were conversing in another. This is used really well and really draws you into the world. The actual in game San Francisco is also nicely detailed with plenty of cars and pedestrians to make it believable. Destruction is at a minimum, but it still looks nice. Voice acting is done well enough to get by, but the real star here is definitely the cut scenes. This is some truly outstanding CGI, and deserves to be noted.
Driver: San Francisco is a great return for the series and a nice diversion from the typical open-world driving games. The Shift mechanic is definitely something that changes the game, and I hope they get a chance to use it again in future sequels or even other games. If you have been a fan before, this is the game to bring you back into the fold. There is plenty to see and do here and the multiplayer is definitely not just tacked on. You will most certainly get your money’s worth if you decide to take Driver: San Francisco for a spin.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.