Driver: San Francisco - Review

Shifting perspectives

In a medium where developers seem increasingly obsessed with recreating gloomy reality, Driver: San Francisco (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii) is a breath of fresh air. Breaking away from the franchise previously super-serious world, the game outlandish plot sees petrol-head detective John Tanner plunged into a coma following a brutal midtown collision. As he lies fighting for his life in a hospital bed, events jumps back in time to just after Tanner's crash, throwing you into an imagined version of San Francisco in which our hero must thwart the devious plans of his mobster nemesis Jericho. The majority of Driver: San Francisco literally plays out inside Tanner's head, which is an odd premise but one that allows for plenty of creative fun to be had.

The rules of the road are very different in Tanner's dream state. At any moment, a tap of a button initiates 'Shift', an out-of-body experience that lifts you high above the streets, allowing you to glide around the city, target another vehicle and swoop in to possess its driver. It's a unique, innovative and generally very well implemented mechanic that's the basis for loads of exciting gameplay. Your ultimate goal is to track down Jericho, hunting peripheral members of his gang before finally coming face to face with the big cheese himself. To do so, you need to complete a series of side-missions, invading citizens' lives and completing objectives that earn you 'willpower' to unlock the next part of the story.

Dangerous driving

The game's wit and charm shine through in the often humorous side-missions. You'll take control of a teenager and engage in an illegal street race to pay for his college tuition, scare the hell out of an instructor as a crazy kid on a driving lesson, go for a high-speed joyride to frighten a car salesman into giving a test driver a discount, and race an ambulance to hospital so your spider-bitten patient in the back can receive a much-needed shot of adrenaline. All the genre staples are accounted for, with cops versus robbers missions, stunt runs and races, and the game consistently messes with perspective. You'll take on the role of a cop on a fugitive's tail, play as a fleeing criminal and become a civilian caught in the middle of a pursuit. It's all very colourfully written and acted and never takes itself too seriously.

The game features 200 miles of road to tear around, including ridiculously steep inclines, winding hills, snaking overpasses, loads of sharp corners and busy streets. It a great location and driving is a blast, with a line-up of 100 lovingly recreated, licensed 1970s cars that largely feel distinct from one another and really give you the feeling of being in a classic car chase movie. The handling is weighty and responsive, and it feels great drifting around corners and hurling down busy freeways.

The wheel deal?

However, on a few too many occasions the game wrestles control of the wheel away from you. It's so eager to show you slow motion, cinematic cutaways whenever you total an opposing car that you lose control of your vehicle following major crashes, which can leave you swerving off into scenery as you watch sparks fly and vehicle parts splinter. Occasionally too, the challenge level veers from one extreme to the other. The ability to Shift can make it a little too easy if you're falling behind your target, for example, because you can simply use it to jump forward a few cars to get you back on track. On the other hand, it can be frustratingly challenging at times, the game deciding you haven had enough punishment and spawning new waves of aggressors right in front of you.

When a game is this much fun though, such infrequent issues are easily overlooked. The story is absolutely daft, but Driver: San Francisco embraces the madness, runs with it and takes the franchise in a new direction. Imaginative, eccentric and one of the most surprisingly enjoyable games of the year to date, it represents a long-overdue and triumphant return to form for the series.

GAME's verdict

+ Unique Shift mechanic.
+ Cars look and feel great.
+ San Francisco is a brilliant racing playground.

- Storyline might be too ridiculous for some.
- Occasionally veers between being too easy and too challenging.
- Not a game for ultra serious driving simulation fans.


Review by: Tom 'King of the Road' Ivan
Version Tested: X360
Review Published: 31.08.11

SKU: Reviews-148316
Release Date: 30/08/2011