There is something about Driver: San Francisco which is very appealing to me, maybe it’s the similarities to Starsky and Hutch – an old US TV show I used to watch re-run’s of as kid, or maybe it’s just the fact that you get to speed around San Francisco in an unmarked cop car, jumping over large hills and generally ripping the shreds out of the bad guys. Whatever it is, Driver: San Francisco has something special about it and I’m not just talking about the main characters new found ability.
The story of Driver: San Francisco is an odd one. You play as Tanner, a hero cop who had captured the cities most notorious criminal, Jericho. Unfortunately just as Jericho is being taken to face punishment for his crimes he escapes, resulting in a large car chase and, eventually, Tanner ending up in a coma. It’s from here that things take an odd twist, as Tanner finds himself in a sort of out of body experience, giving him the ability to shift into other drivers, something which evolves more as the game goes on. Now I don’t want to give away any of the plot as this could spoil the game somewhat, so I will leave the story at that.
When Tanner first gains the ability to shift (I’m not going to lie) the game does get a little bit silly, for example… you will find yourself shifting into a learner driver’s place and trying to scare the driving instructor. There are numerous examples of this, which I presume have been put in place just to get you used to the shift ability. What I will say about Driver: San Francisco is that when it sticks to the story it’s an outstanding game, and while people will get a thrill out of causing a bit of havoc, for me some of these pranks just seem like they would be out of character for a cop, and therefore it spoils the story a little at the beginning. After an hour or so of shifting your way around the city it does become apparent that this ability is key to the story, and therefore things become a lot more serious, with the plot taking several unexpected twists and turns along the way, and the game being all the better for it.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the story mode is how it all plays out. There are numerous city stories available for you to play, which you will need to complete in order to unlock the main ‘Tanner Missions’. The city stories are numerous, seeing you become a boy racer, defuse bombs under trucks by driving cars under them and also seeing you deliver stolen cars by driving them into the back of a police truck while trying not to run out of time. Usually you will find yourself having to complete two city missions in order to unlock a Tanner mission and it is here that the Shift ability really comes into itself. Take the ‘Defuse bombs’ mission for example, here you have 10 trucks driving all over the city and you need to use your shift ability to get into a car in the vicinity of the truck and drive under it to defuse the bombs, unfortunately there are a few twists, for example, in some instances the trucks are blocked in with other vehicles therefore you must shift into the stationery vehicle, move it, and then find a car in order to defuse the bomb, all while being timed.
Shift certainly comes in very handy in other respects too, for example… sometimes you will be racing and shifting to get into the lead, while at other times you will be shifting into oncoming traffic in order to shut down enemies with a head on crash. It’s really fantastic once you get the hang of this ability, and to be honest you will wonder how this particular cop ever coped without it. Driver: San Francisco isn’t just about Shift. You also have the ability to boost, allowing you to catch up to other vehicles and there is also the ability to ram, which comes in very handy when you are in pursuit of the enemy. When you add these skills together it makes for a really good mixture of action, speed and fun.
Away from the almost supernatural element, at its heart Driver is still a vehicle based game, and in this respect it’s also a winner. There are a over a hundred cars in the game, all of which are licensed and handle differently from each other, which gives a great twist, especially in the missions. In fact it’s not just the missions which these are limited to, as you can free ride around the city, taking on the numerous side-missions and earning yourself some cash, which in turn allows you to visit your garage to improve your abilities and buy your own cars.
Graphically Driver San Francisco really is up there with the best. The characters look fantastic and the script is great, which really helps pull you into the game. Characters faces also appear at the top of the screen when they are having a conversation, which again helps you care about their plight. San Francisco also looks fantastic, with its large steep hills and its buildings all sloping upwards. Add to this the fantastic, realistic, look of the cars, the pumping seventies soundtrack and the brilliant voice work and you really are onto a winner.
As if the single player campaign wasn’t good enough, it’s in the multiplayer modes that Driver San Francisco really shines. There are around 19 multiplayer modes to get your teeth into, which range from simple racing to the all out madness that is Tag mode. Without a doubt one of my favourite modes is the aforementioned Tag Mode. Here you basically play tag with cars, with the aim being to stay as the ‘Tagged‘ car long enough in order to score 100 points and become the winner. This mode is complete madness as opponents shift from one car to another, trying to either crash into you head-on, or take you out in some other way, it does tend to result in sheer chaos but it’s fantastic fun. Another mode worth mentioning is Trailblazer, in which you need to stay in the trail of the lead car, using your shift to get closer and trying not to lose track as your opponents bash you out of the way.
The beauty of multiplayer is not only the sheer variety, but also the progression system which sees you gain experience by taking part, allowing you to unlock new races, avatars and more; the longer you play, the more you gain. The online mode really is a whole game in itself and it’s one that players will be really happy with.
Driver: San Francisco is a fantastic game, not only does it nail all of the features mentioned above, but it also comes with a Director mode, allowing you to shoot and share your own stunts, a split-screen mode and more. The main disappointment for me is that Tanners car isn’t red with white stripes, which would have allowed me to live out my 70’s TV fantasy completely, but hey you can’t have it all.
Rating: Excellent Review policy
You can order the Driver: San Francisco Collector’s Edition now (PS3 | Xbox 360) by clicking the relevant link.