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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Driver: San Francisco Review

Driver: San Francisco's inspired shift mechanic and wealth of action-packed content make it an absolute blast that revives the franchise.

The Good

  • Shift keeps the action fast paced and exciting  
  • Huge open-world city to explore  
  • Masses of content to play through  
  • Fun online modes.

The Bad

  • Ridiculous storyline  
  • Frame rate issues with split-screen  
  • Missions get repetitive toward the end.
Chasing down crooks in high-speed chases, performing death-defying feats of driving, or bringing down entire criminal organisations might be a bit much for your average cop, but Driver: San Francisco's John Tanner takes it in his stride. As you take control of him and begin your beat on the mean streets of San Francisco, the reason why becomes clear: Tanner's uncanny ability to "shift" into the body of citizens lets you do things other cops can't, such as instantly drive any vehicle in the city, coax case clues from criminal passengers, or use cars as battering rams, to name but a few. While the premise behind this ability is ludicrous, it all makes sense as you soar over the living, breathing city for the first time, instantly transporting yourself to new missions and swiftly jumping between cars to take down criminals. Shifting is Driver's coup de grace; the feature that puts memories of the mediocre Driver 3 to rest and reinvigorates the franchise.

Chasing checkpoints is a lot more fun in the city of San Francisco.
Driver: San Francisco picks up where Driv3r left off; it continues the story of Tanner and criminal mastermind Jericho. After escaping from Istanbul, Jericho takes refuge in San Francisco, only to be tracked down and imprisoned. However, a routine prison transfer gives him the opportunity to escape. Tanner gives chase and--after an explosion-filled action scene of Michael Bay proportions--catches up with the criminal, only to be run down and left in a coma. It's in Tanner's coma-induced dreams that Driver takes place; the battle against his coma manifests itself as the hunt for Jericho and real-life news reports on the TV in his hospital room influence his actions. While the narrative is completely implausible and at times downright confusing, it allows Driver to free itself from the shackles of the real world and introduce the unique shift mechanic that underpins the entire game.

Shifting allows you to take control of any vehicle with just a few buttons presses. Activating shift lets you float above the city, from varying levels of zoom that allow for up-close views of roads all the way to a bird's-eye view. You can highlight any car you like, and with another button press, you're in the driver's seat, ready to take on the criminal horde. With a city the size of San Francisco, the gameworld is huge, and there are hundreds of miles of road for you to drive on and explore. Fortunately, any worries about laborious driving to reach missions are laid to rest with shift. Zooming out to a bird's-eye view allows you to see all of the missions on the map, which are marked by clear icons that, when hovered over, detail the content. You can zip from a mission on one side of the city to another in seconds, minimizing downtime and letting you get straight into the action.

Nothing beats taking a Ford GT out for a spin.
There are a huge number of missions available, with a wealth of types from which to choose. Even for something as simple as racing, there are multiple types, such as checkpoint racing, with marked and unmarked routes; smash racing, where you have to smash objects along the route to gain time; and team racing, where you have to shift between two competitors to ensure that they finish in first and second place. Then, there are the police missions in which you have to chase down criminals by using your boost ability to ram them off the road or shift into oncoming traffic to ram them head-on, with replays letting you view the carnage in glorious slow motion. The stunt missions are the most fun: You have to perform feats of daring driving, such as drifts, handbrake turns, and huge jumps over moving vehicles.

Each of the main missions has a story attached to it. Sometimes they relate back to the main narrative, while others involve ordinary citizens who've gotten themselves into a spot of trouble, such as parents whose child has been kidnapped or irresponsible teens who have entered street races. These stories aren't especially engaging, thanks to corny dialogue and merely passable voice acting, but references to kitsch '70s cop shows and past Driver games let you know the game never takes itself too seriously. To progress, you have to complete most of the story-based missions to unlock Tanner missions, which reveal more about his history with Jericho and his current condition. In addition, there are heaps of optional missions scattered around the city. Completing them awards you with will power points, which are also given to you for daring driving such as overtaking in the wrong lane or big drifts.