Driver San Francisco

To say that Driver San Francisco is a bit of an odd game would be an understatement. Anyone who has played the demo will realise that it is not your ordinary driving game, and this is all thanks to a game mechanic that Reflections call “shift”. Shift allows your character, the same John Tanner from the other Driver games, to literally have an out of body experience at will, and possess other drivers in the city around him. This, as I’m sure you realise, is not normal for a driving game.

Fortunately, the story fairy quickly reveals this mechanic to you, as during a chase which ends up in a huge crash, Tanner is seriously injured and falls into a coma. The San Francisco game world, then, merely exists inside Tanner’s head, as he fights for his life. The great thing about this bizarre, Life on Mars like story line is this: at any point in the game that you start thinking “This is ridiculous!” then there is an excuse for it. And Reflections have taken that and run with it. Why make things make sense, when they can make things fun?

Aside from the primary storyline of Tanner hunting down the master criminal, Jericho, who put him in the coma in the first place, there are hundreds of side missions and challenges littered across the city. They range from the traditional, like checkpoint races and time trials, to the wonderfully, deliriously insane. A mission where you have to escape the cops in a big rig and then hunt down and destroy a fellow big rig owner was particularly bat shit crazy, but a lot of fun.

A divisive point amongst people who played the demo was the handling of the cars, and at first, I agreed. You jump into the game, floor it down a road, get to the end, and there it is, the enemy of the American muscle car – the corner. You try to turn, overcook it and spin, or undercook it and spank straight into the wall. However, it didn’t take me long to learn to be a bit more careful with the throttle, and suddenly the handling made a lot of sense. The cars have a good feeling of weight to them (except the lighter ones, obviously!) and the different types of cars all feel quite unique. You’ll know the difference between a four wheel drive Audi and a muscle car with hundreds of horsepower ripping through the back wheels. It adds a real challenge to the game, particularly as you will frequently be jumping into other random cars around the city.

The city itself is a real charm. The representation of San Francisco here is the San Francisco of the movies, with huge hills for jumping, alleyways conveniently stacked with cardboard boxes and loads of traffic to dodge (or Shift into, of course). The graphics are very nice, and the game moves very smoothly indeed, which is no small feat considering the vast amount of traffic on most of the roads. The only time I saw any noticeable frame rate slowdown was playing the split-screen co-operative mode, when both players were being swamped by angry police. Split-screen co-op is a nice touch, with so many games forgoing it in favour of online play these days.

Online play is a lot of fun, and here Shift makes even more sense. You know that frustration you get in an online game where the tag car you are chasing is so far away you can never catch up? Not in Driver San Francisco. Simply hit RB (or R1) and jump into a civilian car right next to the target. It means you are never out of the action, and the player you are after can never stop to think. It makes the online multiplayer a real blast. A particular favourite of mine is the Getaway mode, where each player takes it in turns to collect checkpoints while all the other players try to stop him as cops. With all the shifting going on, it frequently becomes like the amazing highway chase scene from one of the two crap Matrix sequels. And that’s good. Not realistic, but good.

The negatives? Well, some won’t like the handling. The main story is really quite short, but that is relatively unimportant as there are still many other fun missions, challenges and dares to keep you going for some time once it is complete. You can only take a party of four into a public online game, so bigger groups can not collect XP and level up to unlock further cars, etc. Some of the optional challenges frustrated me so much I found myself inventing new swear words, but if you like a challenge they’ll be right up your street.







Leave a Reply