Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Driver: San Francisco Review

It is safe to say that the standard arcade racer has been done to death. After years of the same old title recreated in different areas through series such as Need for Speed, times are changing. Previews for the latest Need for Speed game, The Run, are taking players out of the car for sections in a shot to mix it up. Driver: San Francisco, a previously strong franchise that has been let down by recent releases had been challenged to make the game fresh and interesting for consumers. Thankfully they have created a really cool mechanic that completely changes the way you think about driving and chasing down bad guys forever. The shift mechanic that is mysteriously acquired by the main character John Tanner after a car crash allows him to leave his car and inhabit any other driver in San Francisco. This premise makes this game and makes a title that is full of cars to drift (somewhat poorly)and makes sure that one single crash or missed turn won't cost you the race as you simply shift into another car. Driver is certainly back in a big way!

Driver: San Francisco picks up where Driv3r left off; it continues the story of Tanner and criminal mastermind Jericho. Jericho has gone into hiding in San Francisco, only to be found and imprisoned. Upon being put onto a prison transfer, it gives Jericho the chance to escape. Tanner gives chase and after a cut scene heavy opening of explosions and crashes, Tanner is run down and left in a coma. About here is when all logic from the story ends, as Driver: San Francisco takes place in Tanner's dreams as he helps out citizens of San Francisco and tracks down Jericho from his hospital bed. While this bizarre storyline isn't the most convincing, it does offer something not many racing games have and provides you some direction and purpose in the game. Prepare to be confused at times as some sections of the cut scenes aren't fully explained and you won't know what's happening.


San Francisco is a bustling metropolis that is often filled with great weather and spectacular conditions. This game successfully recreates the best parts of San Francisco such as the famous winding road and the game flaunts these off with story missions revolving around these areas. They have secured many licensed cars so the streets of San Francisco are always full of life and new cars to shift into at the simple press of a button. These cars look spectacular and show the graphical skill of the game as reflections from your surroundings gleam off the hood, until you crash anyway. Cars get damaged, windscreens shatter and mayhem is caused as you drift your way around the tight streets of San Francisco. One aspect of the game that disappointed me is the pedestrians. While they are in great numbers, they all have the uncanny ability to jump out of the way at a moments notice. I suppose the developers had to do what was necessary to keep the title suitable for all ages though.

The framerate generally runs at a smooth level throughout the entire game, as well as multiplayer. While playing cooperatively I did encounter some frame rate freezes but seeing how this game isn't really suited towards co-op play that isn't a big issue. I'm quite impressed at the number of cars and citizens in this large game, yet it still runs at 60 fps. For a racing game, there are a large number of cutscenes. For a genre that usually fails miserably in this catergory, the cut scenes are awesome and look great. The facial animations are detailed and could hold their own against some games that rely on spectacular cutscenes.

Screeching, sliding and speeding your way through San Francisco sounds superb. Excellent sound effects have been used to recreate an enhanced scale of driving as you tear up a large variety of cars. Different cars will sound unique and you can easily distinguish between a Ford GT and your standard town car. While the noises the cars make don't go all the way to the extreme level of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, they seem to fit perfectly in the more peaceful urban setting of San Francisco.

As with the detail put into the cutscenes graphically, the voice acting is great and the lead actors manage to convey a real sense of emotion. Each character has a voice which perfectly matches them and it makes the experience almost seamless. As you shift into different cars you will often have new characters talk to you, particularly in a mission. These smaller parts are also excellently done and really adds to Driver: San Francisco's overall quality.


Previous Driver installments have been lacking the unique feel that made the game worth purchasing. The developers have invested a great deal of time into making the game special and unmatched in the racing genre. Driver: San Francisco seems to take as many elements as possible and has thrown them together into a complete game. A storyline, a free roaming aspect, dedicated missions, online gameplay and the brand new shift mechanic have been rolled into one title. Generally a game that promises to offer so much won't be as complete as a game focusing on one big aspect, and this is the case with Driver. The storyline isn't very strong, yet the shift mechanic and free roaming around town as well as dedicated multiplayer matches are definite highlights in the game.

John Tanner takes you on an exhilarating experience through San Francisco in a whole array of cars. Driving is frustrating at the beginning due to the loose steering and strong emphasis on drifting, yet as you begin to play through the game you begin to master the game and really utilise the cars full potential. By the end of the game I really felt like Driver: San Francisco was one of the best racing games I have ever played and is certainly a joy to play from a drifting aspect, which is something many games fall down on. The shift mechanic that lets John switch between cars has also been made into a simple to use aspect that doesn't deter from the driving experience which I thought it might.

Playing through the single player mode won't take a long time to complete, but it is a fairly action packed experience. The game focuses upon the main story of John Tanner, but throughout the game you can freeroam around San Francisco to complete missions for other citizens. These missions are a lot of fun and involve everything from simple 'get to a point in a certain time' challenges to doing some insane stunts for a news crew. Everything you do in the game earns you money which can be used to buy new cars and garages across San Francisco. I love the amount of variation in the game as it is constantly changing what is required of you.

A big part of the variation comes thanks to the shifting mechanic in the game. Being able to switch cars at any time completely revolutionizes how to play even classic modes. Chasing an enemy and take a wrong turn? Just shift into a new car and keep chase. Get in a big crash and badly damage your car? Shift into a new and perhaps faster car to keep the lead. In a race? Shift into an oncoming car to take out your opponents. The options that present themselves using shift is amazing and makes this game the enjoyable experience it provides.

Multiplayer is racing games generally revolves around simple racing competitions. The shift mechanic has also mixed up the multiplayer and allows for game modes you have never before experience in a racing title. Games such as tag, capture the flag and a follow the leader title provide some interesting modes that really mix up how players not only go about it, but give a level of strategy with others fighting to shift into the same cars. For those who like classic racing you won't enjoy this multiplayer, but bringing modes that are common to FPS is a cool idea and works really well. I enjoyed my time playing multiplayer and the levelling system allows for lots of replay value.


While Driver: San Francisco is a hard game to get used to at the beginning and offers a strong challenge which may frustrate gamers towards the end of the game, it is a very enjoyable experience. Twisting the racing genre has provided the credibility Driver strongly needed to make it a renowned racing series once again. If you are looking for something a bit different then this is definitely the title to get. Drifting around the streets of San Francisco has never felt better and the shift mechanic is something that should be considered for other titles. I was pleasantly surprised with my enjoyment from Driver and valued my time playing through it.

Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 8.5/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Overall - 9/10


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