Driver: San Francisco Review
- Posted August 30th, 2011 at 14:30 EDT by Steven Williamson
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Cool cars, an interesting new 'Shift' mechanic and impressive multiplayer makes the streets of San Francisco worthy of a visit.
- The 'Shift' mechanic adds a new dynamic, particularly online
- The impressively-designed city of San Francisco and its rolling roads
- The instant pick-up-and play appeal. Picking and choosing your favourite type of events
- The rubbish characters and corny dialogue.
- The drifting lacks 'oomph' and aggression
- Slamming an opponent takes you crudely out of the action
With so many developers striving for such diversity in their videogames, it’s refreshing to see that the latest title in the Driver series wears its heart loudly and proudly on its sleeve. In Driver: San Francisco, Ubisoft Reflections celebrates the arcade racing heritage of its long-running franchise by delivering a game that is almost exclusively about your time behind the wheel. In fact, apart from the time you spend floating outside your body, you’ll be chasing down the bad guys, careering through the bustling streets as if they were German autobahns at rush hour and drifting around corners like Starsky & Hutch.
If you were paying attention during that opening paragraph, you would have notice we wrote: “apart from the time you spend floating outside your body.” That’s right; the Driver series has gone all weird in this latest iteration - so much so that the major twist to the familiar blueprint is utterly surreal and actually rather silly. After quite a poignant introduction, which gives you the impression that you’re going to be treated to a gritty narrative full of great characters and high drama, the story sadly fizzles out quite quickly. From the moment you discover that the game’s main protagonist, John Tanner, lies in a coma and has the ability to shift into the body of a driver of any car in the game, you won’t take anything else the game throws at you seriously.
Nonetheless, from the second you slam down the brakes and veer in and out of traffic like a teenager who’s just borrowed his dad’s Audi Coupe, it feels much like you’ve taken a step back in time to when the franchise was born. The preposterous narrative concept brings to the forefront the ‘Shift’ mechanic, which comes into play by pressing X, instantly giving you an eagle-eyed view over the city. You can then control the camera and move it above the city, and by zooming in and out you can warp to any vehicle on the street, or pick and choose various missions across the city. It feels like the storyline was penned around the new mechanic rather than the other way around. With some ridiculous scripting - and a story that has no bearing on the majority of objectives you carry out in the game - it all quickly becomes fairly irrelevant and takes a passenger seat to what actually turns out to be the real star of the game.
To begin with the ‘Shift’ mechanic seems just as silly as the story, acting merely as a way to drive any car you like and move around the city very quickly. However, as you progress ‘Shifting’ becomes more and more important, a game-changing mechanic that actually offers something quite innovative and injects some much needed life to the standard driving experience. As the action hots up, ‘Shifting’ frequently to stay ahead of the pack during a race sequence, or chase becomes a necessary requirement to succeed and as a result turns out to be quite an exciting feature. Take this ‘Shift’ mechanic online and it opens up a wealth of possibilities, and carnage – it’s really here that you see how it offers something quite unique and refreshing to the racing genre.
As far as innovation goes though, the ‘Shift’ mechanic is as good as it gets. Driver: San Francisco predictably involves taking part in dozens of driving-based challenges across the city. Checkpoint races, tagging cop cars and performing stunt runs are all part of a day’s work and while major objectives help to push the storyline along, many have absolutely nothing to do with your task of bringing down an organised crime ring and as such feel a little disjointed. Having to warp into a driving instructor's car and scare him into giving you a discount by driving fast is just one example. However, Driver never does try to take itself too seriously and its tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top missions do slowly become part of its charm as you earn hard cash to spend on better cars.
Inspired by the Starsky & Hutch series, Driver: San Francisco is actually a very cool game to play, with toe-tapping tunes on the in-car radio from the likes of Robert Palmer and ... (continued on next page) ----