The Driver series has seen its share of bumps in the road. While the first game wowed fans, the sequels were not quite the same caliber as the original. Many fans are still awaiting that singular experience that will put the franchise back on the map. While I won’t delve into the entire history of the brand, the first game was really a revolutionary step. To be able to drive a car in a large-scale 3D environment was, at the time, spectacular. To me, without Driver, GTA 3 may have been considerably different from the smash success we received back in 2001. Although it did break new ground, the installments to follow were not very well received by fans and critics alike.
This brings us to Driver: San Francisco, a sort of resurgence of the franchise as this is the first time we have seen it on this generation of platforms (the last of which was ‘76’ on the PSP in 2007 and Parallel Lines on consoles in 2006). And honestly, what a way to bring the franchise back! Driver: SF really boils down the main essence of what the franchise really is, an action-packed driving game. It tries to innovate the somewhat familiar sand-box driving genre by borrowing greatly from games like Burnout Paradise and Need for Speed:Hot Pursuit, while still being interesting and fun on its own and remaining true to the spirit of the franachise. Fans, you will not be disappointed.
Set a mere six months after the events of Driv3r and taking place in San Francisco (obviously), you again play as John Tanner, a detective for the local police department. Also returning is your partner, Tobias Jones, and Charles Jericho, the big bad that has plagued Tanner since Driver 2. While trying not to give a lot of the story away, the gist is that Charles Jericho is being transported to a prison facility, when suddenly all hell breaks loose. Jericho escapes, over-powers the guards in the armored truck and ram’s Tanner’s car, setting off a domino effect that leads to Tanner’s car being nailed by a large tractor trailer. This kicks things off with an exciting bang, however, it nosedives shortly after that. The story really isn’t interesting, and sometimes it’s downright weird and confusing. It was disappointing to see it devolve so quickly, but there’s a lot more here than Tanner and Jericho’s long-running game of cat and mouse.
The most innovative thing that Driver: San Francisco does is the “Shifting” feature...and no I don’t mean shifting gears. Shifting in Driver: SF is where you can gain control of any car in the entire city via shifting from body to body (i.e. driver to driver). This is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed the game. Shifting really brings a new perspective on how you can approach the behind-the-wheel action, taking down street racers and getting away from other cops. You can literally just shift to another car in the other lane and just charge head-on onto one of your opponents. It turns linear missions into unpredictable and often-times exciting excursions into the mean streets of San Francisco. This one mechanic alone is really what makes Driver: SF stand out from the rest of the crowd. It tries to innovate and add a whole new layer of strategy not typically found in racing titles.
Naturally, cars are also a big part of the Driver: SF package. Ubisoft really outdid themselves this time, getting a slew licensed vehicles to cruise around in. Featuring at least 50-100 licensed cars, from the Aston Martin and Chevrolet Camaro to the Volkswagen Beetle, everything is very well presented, including each with a first person view where you can see the dashboard and all it’s detail. The accuracy is very close, as I even drove my own car and found the interior to be spot on. Although, I did find that most cars tend to be a little less grippy on the road, something I attribute to the more arcadey aspects of the game.
The visuals as a whole look really good too, with the same level of detail applied to the cars being carried over to the city itself. There are moments where the sun just hits your car and you can see the reflection and the glare, just as you would if you were really burning rubber through the coastal California town. While its not perfect, there are some occasional texture lag and such, but it does not take away from the overall experience. And the scale of the entire city is truly something to behold. Initially, only a small section of the city is open to you. But as you progress through the story, the whole city becomes unlocked, allowing for you to fully explore it in its entirty.
Now let’s talk about the gameplay. As I said above, the game borrows considerably from Burnout Paradise. You will notice a lot of similarities when you first get behind the wheel. Although, it’s purely superficial as soon after, you will feel the difference between the two games. Yet, I really have to gripe about the controls a little bit. They were just a bit too loose for my tastes. Whenever I would drift or turn at a corner, I always ended up bumping into something. Switching out vehicles didn’t help things none either as they all felt and controlled the same. While its not deal-breaker, it is an aggravation, especially for a game where the primary action is set behind the wheel. The controls just needs a little bit of getting used to...ok...A LOT of getting used to. The missions often gets repetitive, but with the inclusion of shifting, things become varied enough that you will hardly notice the repetition. One thing about the mission structure is that you have to do at least 2 side missions to unlock the next story mission. It came across more as a way to artificially increase the play time instead if actually feeling compelled to deviate from the main story path. The game roughly offers about 8-10 hours of gameplay, provided you just do the bare minimum to get to the end credits. However, there are plenty of Challenges, Stunts, and places to explore just on the single-player side alone.
Now, if single player doesn’t offer enough for you, the multiplayer certainly jumps in guns-a-blazing. I should point out though, you will need a Uplay account to access the online MP. But once you are in there is ALOT of fun to be had, from Trailblazer, where you just follow the trail of an AI car and acquire points, to Tag, a sort of King of the Hill variant, where one player has a cup and once you bump them, you gain possession and the longer you have it, the more points you get. There is the standard race mode, along with Shifting! Imagine a race where every car could be your opponent. Imagine Tag where every car could be you opponent just waiting for you to pass by and tag you. Adding Shifting to the MP throws a whole new spin on the typical racing genre multiplayer. Accumulating XP points unlocks both powers (Boosting and Ram) and new cars. Combining this with the good times found on the solo side and you have one of the best entries in the franchise to date.
Driver: San Francisco puts the franchise back on the map. It’s fun, innovative, expansive, exhilarating and has a lot of things to do. The single player is great, aside from the simple and sloppy storyline. But the innovative Shifting mechanics, the cars and the city itself will keep you on the couch for quite some time. Multiplayer is another home run, fun, exciting and very unpredictable. Even once you’ve taken in all the single player component has to offer, multiplayer is something that will keep you coming back again and again.
Release date : 2011-09-06
Publisher : Ubisoft
Developer : Ubisoft Reflections
Gameplay : Racing
Here we are. The next generation of consoles is among us and it is finally time to start thinking about finally unplugging our beloved current-gen systems. Could there be a better swan song for one of these systems than taking a trip back to Rapture?
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