Driver--San-Francisco---Xbox-360-Review Driver: San Francisco - Xbox 360 Review

   08/09/2011 at 10:33       Phil May       6 COMMENTS. - Score 5/5
 - Driver: San Francisco, Ubisoft, Reflections, Xbox 360, Tanner

Back when I was getting back into gaming after a long hiatus, I couldn't make up my mind whether to stay faithful to Sega (having previously owned a Megadrive) and pick up a Sega Saturn, or go for this brash new upstart, the Playstation, from Sony. I owe a debt to Reflections - the team behind Driver: San Francisco - for producing the game that steered me into the 'right' decision. One look at Destruction Derby on the PS1 was enough to convince me that as great as it would be to play Sega Rally in the comfort of my own home, smashing the crap out of other cars with this new wonder console would be even better. 

Damned if I wasn't right. 

It's good to see that the team have survived years in the wilderness and are now tucked under the protective wing of Ubisoft, and have gone back to their roots to the series that made them famous. Arguably, Driver (the original Driver at least) paved the way for the mighty 3D version of Grand Theft Auto, a game that yanked the rug out from under the Driver games and forever became the series that everyone chose to acknowledge as the definitive open-world driving experience.

Several vain attempts by Reflections to redress the balance have failed miserably. Driver 2 was buggy and shoddy, Driver 3 was also buggy and tried to stretch last generation's console hardware beyond its limits. Driver '76 (on PSP) and Parallel Lines (again, last generation) tried to steal a little of Grand Theft Auto's thunder but ended up feeling like pale imitations. 

So why should you care a damn about Driver: San Francisco? Surely a game that wholeheartedly admits Reflections can't handle anything that involves the player's character getting out of his car and running about by ensuring that the character can vicariously shift from one person to another to get around town has to be some sort of a joke, right? 

Wrong. Driver: San Francisco is most definitely a Driver game, in fact it's probably the best Driver game by far simply because the core game action is rock solid, fun and enjoyable. 

The plot might be as mad as a bucket of kittens. John Tanner finds himself in a coma after a (literal) run-in with the local badass crime lord. While in his coma he suffers from "Life on Mars" style delusions that in his vegetative state he can unravel the convoluted case built up around Charles Jericho, the sneering psychopath Tanner helped capture at the end of Driver 3.

Tanner believes he has the ability to 'shift' - extending out of his own body into the bodies of other drivers tootling around San Francisco minding their own business. In his coma, Tanner starts out by trying to convince his partner Tobias Jones that he has this ability - and the two set out to stick a spanner in Jericho's plans. 

Tanner's world revolves around San Francisco. Though several famous landmarks are recognisable (the Golden Gate Bridge and the infamous switchback of Lombard Street are two notable locations in the game), most of the game's world is slightly larger than life but San Francisco is still the very best place in the world to set any sort of driving game. 

Using Tanner's shift ability, the player can control virtually any vehicle in the game and also purchase their own vehicles via the in-game garage. Credits are earned by completing main story missions, or taking on various spot challenges dotted around the city. These can range from simple police pursuits, through street race challenges to the more satisfying stunt and crash missions. 

As you float above the cityscape, mission areas are highlighted by a selection of icons. Driver: San Francisco doesn't let you gobble up Tanner's main story mission all in one gulp (which can be a little frustrating at times) but wholeheartedly encourages you to dive out and complete challenges to build up your driving skills and abilities to take on the next part of the story. Quite a neat little game mechanic that. 

As you'd expect from Reflections, a lot of effort has been spent getting the car handling just right. Big tail-happy yank muscle cars behave just as you want them to. Plenty of leaning on the handbrake button round corners, before burning tyre rubber speeding away is the order of the day here. Some of the sportier speedier cars aren't quite so neat to drive but it's still a world away from lower quality fare like The Wheelman if you're comparing and contrasting (in fact, controversially, I prefer the car handling in Driver: San Francisco to the handling in Grand Theft Auto 4 if I'm honest). 

Bolted around the game are various other modes and probably one of the best multiplayer driving experiences you can have on the Xbox 360. Multiplayer Driver: San Francisco is so chock full of brilliant game modes that it really does pay to ditch the single player campaign for the odd foray into online play. If you've ever had a stupid sappy grin plastered all over your face from playing classics like Midtown Madness, you'll be on familiar ground here and multiplayer DSF is a really excellent solid online experience throughout. 

Shy retiring wallflowers are still catered for online too. Even if you don't fancy the direct challenge of competing live, you can still eke away at your friends list's best times on the various spot challenges available through your garage. Some of these deliciously mimic famous car-centric movies (Gone in 60 Seconds for example). There's even one reference to a certain movie featuring a DeLorean but to say any more would spoil it - I will merely say that it's one of many moments in the game where I cracked a big old watermelon-eating grin. Find a DeLorean, do a certain speed and you'll find out why. 

Overall, Driver: San Francisco is so chock full of content and layer upon layer of satisfyingly cinematic gameplay that it has genuinely become one of this year's most surprising games. Though (like me) you may have been quite cynical about the shifting ability, and might not have instantly bonded to the game over the single or multiplayer demos, you'll fall hopelessly in love with the full game if you've ever had any love for messing around in cars. It's by no means perfect (christ almighty does it tear at times) but it's easily one of the most satisfyingly playable games of the year. Let's just hope it means that Reflections will stick around long enough to dish up a true successor to the Stuntman or Destruction Derby series next. 


User Comments:

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HairyArse - on 08/09/2011 at 13:22 wrote:
This wasn't at all on my radar but I've hard nothing but good things about it and really ought to give it a shot. Especially as I'm not currently playing any other racing games at the moment. Damn you.

peej - on 08/09/2011 at 14:54 wrote:
I didn't have very high expectations either, even though I was probably one of the few who enjoyed Driver 3. But it's massive amounts of fun, and if you can forgive that tearing, it is buttery smooth framerate-wise too.

As Jason's said in the forum thread, there are just so many utterly crazy things to do in this that it'll take a long while to tire of it. And the way the game slowly drip feeds the main story mission is very clever. You have no choice but to at least play some of the side challenges just to build up enough experience to unlock the next chapter in Tanner's tale.


TheBoy - on 08/09/2011 at 16:43 wrote:
Did someone say tearing? Stevas, calling Stevas...

peej - on 08/09/2011 at 16:54 wrote:
Alas so. I think as I get older though I'm beginning to shrug my shoulders about it more.

Yep that's right. I might as well be taken out and killed right now.

Whizzo - on 08/09/2011 at 18:50 wrote:
A real surprise at how great this has turned out, I cannot stop playing it.

Best tyre smoke in video game history too, doing burnouts and doughnuts almost have you smelling the burning rubber.

peej - on 09/09/2011 at 09:11 wrote:
You're not wrong.

I just love the pace of it, the variety in the missions, stunt challenges and races - and it's a joy to get back into Tanner's Challenger just to tail-slide that thing away from a standing start.

Can't wait to see what the PC version turns out like. The thought of this game locked to 60fps with V-Synch on is making me positively moist.

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