I have a history with the Driver series, the first in the series, back in the days of the PS1, was not only Ubisoft’s first steps towards a long lasting series; it was also the first game I played. Thinking about it now, it’s easy to imagine shiny graphics and perfect physics, if you went back too it now, however, it would look like a pixalated mess with cars that handle like a whale would ice skate; not in a good way.
Driver San Francisco has an expectation to live up to; I feel it should be hard, unforgiving, and a little mad at times. The feel thorough the series continues in the latest addition, those who have seen anything on the game will probably know what I’m on about when I say this is certainly a mad one. A very mad one.
For those who don’t know, I am talking about the plot. Don’t worry – I’m not going to spoil anything further than the first level. John Tanner, your character thorough the game, happens to be in a coma. Unsurprisingly, this is where the plot gets interesting: Tanner has the ability to shift consciousness into any driver that he pleases, taking control of their car. Tanner, not realising that he is in the coma, thinks he is going mad – however, he puts his new found skills to use by trying to recapture Jericho, Tanner’s arch enemy. I sincerely hope they don’t have plans to take it to the big screen.
The weak attempt at a plot does have an upside; that comes in the form of gameplay. The Shift mechanic is a wonderfully engineered piece of work, letting a whole city of cars play a part in taking down one single criminal. With great power comes great responsibility, well that’s what Spider-Man said – fortunately that can be thrown out the window at almost any time. Shift not only helps you taking down crooks, but it gives you a chance to drive anything you can think of, to a degree. Shift allows you to jump straight into the car without going through clunky garages or even having to buy vehicles, effectively meaning the Lamborghini Countach you have always wanted to drive is right at your fingertips, right from the first moments of gameplay.
Shift evolves over the course of the game, starting out as a low altitude view from above, changing into a high-altitude view. The only chink in the mechanic would be the speed at which you can traverse San Francisco, it feels slow and slightly cumbersome; as you spend most of the time in-car, this isn’t a huge problem.
Diversity, not the overrated dance group (or whatever they are), is one of the focuses for the developers, not only have they provided an immense amount of roads; they have produced an immense amount of cars and missions too. I’ll start off talking about the roads, all kinds are supplied: dirt, straight, curvy, hilly, flat and, most importantly: the back ally. This wouldn’t be a proper Police chase game without smashing through wooden planks and making a general mess in an ally while chasing your suspect. While you can’t drive off into a field, it isn’t sorely missed; you have the whole of San Francisco in which to watch the pedestrians jump out of the way of your vehicle, I am glad they kept the ninja pedestrians in the game, just for nostalgic value.
“Over 200 missions” is what Ubisoft claim; I’m not going to argue with them, simply because I am too lazy to count all of them. The variety of challenges on offer are only small however, they are in completely different areas of the City; completely avoiding the conundrum of repetitive feeling activities. When you put all of the cars and different challenges together, you have an extremely long driving experience.
Even the vehicles all have their own unique characteristics, with 120+ cars, lorries, busses and vans in the game, this is probably a lot harder than you or I think. The larger vehicles are low on speed and can’t drift well, yet they excel in strength. The lighter and more nimble cars have high speed, low strength and a medium drifting ability. As you’d expect, the muscle cars excel in drifting. The overall handling is a quite unique style, each car seems to want to slip into a power-slide (maybe John should try slipping into one of them instead of a coma?) and spin the wheels furiously.
I really do commend Ubisoft for managing to get the vehicles to have some weight to them. You may have limited control over the back end at times, however the cars are still lively and will power around a corner, instead of gliding. I’m a huge critic of the way cars feel in games, especially when using a standard controller. The developers really have done some great work to optimise it.
Once you play this title, you really do appreciate how much work has gone into it, it is an enormous piece of work, made better by having brilliant visuals. I’m not really one for scoring games on, or even mentioning, graphics in a review (unless they are outstanding). I do feel that they deserve a mention though. Not many games can boast hitting a constant 60 frames per second. It’s unheard of when you are driving at 150mph down a motorway. It’s noticeable that this gives a silky-smooth performance, eliminating the pesky (and distracting) freezes that can occur with other titles. What’s more, Tanner’s Dodge looks superb in the engine.
Multiplayer does make a sturdy appearance, including splitscreen gameplay – another nostalgic move by Ubisoft; I commend any developer that includes decent splitscreen. Often with great single player experiences you get a half hearted or rushed experience when you load up the multiplayer. However, this feels thought out and integrated, rather than a bolt-on experience. It’s something you could actually play for a little while. I can’t say that it’s the greatest experience, but it does include some imaginative modes and various options for DLC additions in the future.
Collectables are often useless; pointless things that are there only to extend a games lifespan. While this is true to an extent with Driver San Francisco, the Movie Tokens, as they are called, are used to unlock challenges that are actually quite fun and exciting. They take their inspiration from films and TV programs, for example, there is a “Bullet” themed chase and another (which, for the life of me, I cannot remember the film) involves you jumping through a blue barn in an old Red 70’s muscle car.
It’s easy to say that this game has a lot of character, nice little pointers back to the days when splitscreen was the done thing, and it is impossible to hit a pedestrian. It’s tongue in cheek, not taking itself too seriously and giving a few one liners to chuckle at. Really, to get the most out, you probably need to know a little bit about classic car chases, however it still accommodates for those who just want to hammer the throttle and drift some bends in a arcayic-sim title.