When I first heard that Ubisoft was reviving the Driver franchise, I was skeptical but after playing through Driver: San Francisco, my doubts were extinguished. Instead of opting for the typical choice to completely alter the core gameplay when reviving a franchise, developer Reflections stuck to the fundamentals of the original Driver and added a completely new mechanic to change the way that the game is played.
The story of Driver: San Francisco follows San Francisco detective John Tanner and his partner Tobias Jones as they work to capture Charles Jericho, whom you might remember as the villain from the previous Driver games. After he escapes early in the story, Jericho hits John’s car with an armored car resulting in John slipping into a coma, but John continues solving the crime inside of his head. He encounters situations in his imagination that he is hearing from the television in his hospital room. While the Driver’s story has never been that great, Driver: San Francisco does a good job of trying to create something that somewhat explains why John can do everything that he does.
In his comatose state, John discovers the ability to “shift” in to any vehicle and embody the person that was driving it. This is where the game really shines and this ability brings a whole new layer of depth to the gameplay that makes Driver: SF truly fun. Having the ability to shift between cars at any time altered the approach that I took to the missions and made them almost strategic in the steps that I had to take to complete them. Shifting between cars is accomplished by zooming out to a larger view of San Francisco and then choosing any vehicle; the entire process feels very smooth. During races and other activities, it is often essential to shift into a vehicle in oncoming traffic to take out opponents. In order to progress the main story, John must shift into vehicles to take on optional side missions that require him to do everything from disarm bombs attached to the bottom of semi-trucks to race for two brothers who have entered an illegal street race to pay for school. These missions are often very repetitive but do feature some creative dialog and situations that make them worth the time required.
While John does not spend much time in an actual police car, opting instead for an orange 1970s’ Dodge Challenger, there are times when he must take over for the struggling San Francisco police force and stop criminals. I found these missions to be exceptionally fun, quick-shifting between supercharged police cruisers before finally deciding to shift into oncoming traffic was intense and reminded me of my awesome memories of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2.
There are enough team racing missions, stunt missions, dare missions, and other races in Driver: San Francisco to keep you occupied for a long time. As much as I enjoyed the singleplayer, the multiplayer is what occupied most of my time. There are seven or eight modes in total but only two unlocked from the start, Tag and Trail. In Tag, players must “tag” the car that is “it” and then they become “it” while all the others try to tag them. The goal is to be “it” for a total of 100 seconds. Trail has all players trying to stay in the draft trail behind a Delorian requiring some precision driving as the car swerves all over the road. I found Tag to be the most intense and extremely fun with four friends.
While it isn’t deep on the story premise, it certainly is interesting and gives a reason not to completely discount everything happening. The extremely polished nature and terifficaly fun multiplayer component of Driver: SF set the game apart from its predecessors and alongside my favorite games of the year.
A copy of Driver: San Francisco for Xbox 360 was provided to us for this review by Ubisoft.