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Driver: San Francisco Review


From the fastidiously detailed facsimiles of actual firearms in most first-person shooters to the exhaustively researched recreation of 1940’s era-Los Angeles in L.A. Noire, there’s undeniable beauty in a carefully crafted simulation. However, this ‘devil in the details’ mindset can be detrimental to a game when profundity is favored over playability. Such was the case with the Driver series, where the developers’ aspiration to render a detailed city (which players could inspect on foot in 2004’s DRIV3R) came at the cost of delivering a consistently enjoyable experience. Smartly, recent release Driver: San Francisco knows when to shirk the shackles of verisimilitude.

The title’s departure from authenticity becomes apparent from the opening cinematic. As series protagonist John Tanner supervises the armored transfer of reoccurring antagonist Jericho, an RPG attack creates a fiery diversion, allowing the criminal to abscond. While in the pursuit of Jericho, Tanner’s vehicle is t-boned, knocking the undercover cop into a coma when his head strikes the window. Now on the fringes of consciousness, Tanners discovers he has the ability to jump into other driver’s minds. Called ‘shifting’, this aptitude allows the hero to transport his psyche high into the San Francisco skyline, before picking an appropriate target on the streets below.

Roscoe P. Coltrane, you'll never catch us Duke boys.

Although the ability to shift sounds upsettingly goofy, Driver: SF makes the most of the concept. From commandeering an eighteen-wheeler to stop the flight of a fleeing felon to creating impromptu obstructions, developer Ubisoft Reflections has conceptualized every one of the power’s permutations. Sure, titles such as Mindjack and The Third Birthday have used a similar mechanic, but their implementation wasn’t as consistently pleasing (and organic) as it is here. Complementing the shifting is the game’s constantly amusing conversations, which players are plunged into whenever they make a leap.

While this hook catapults Driver: San Francisco pasting most of its racing brethren, the developers astutely placed additional objectives in the game. Each successful mission bestows currency on the player which can be used to buy over a hundred additional cars and perks. Smartly, the diversity in vehicles transcends the mere cosmetic. Astute players will recognize the differences in handling between the classic Aston Martin DB5 and the contemporary DB9 Volante; even the interior views reveal distinct, truthful dashes and gauges. Additionally, completion of the game’s compulsory stages opens up supplementary, optional challenges. One especially enjoyable diversion tasks players with raising the heart rate of informants by executing wild drifts, jumps, and near misses, recalling Burnout: Paradise’s spontaneous stunt sessions.

In San Francisco, pedestrians dodge cars with ninja-like agility.

Beyond Driver’s  single-player campaign (which ends a bit prematurely), the game contains a pleasing variety of multiplayer competitions. Initially, only two modes are available. Trailblazer, sends a squad of rivals chasing the glowing slipstream of a speeding DeLorean, while Tag tasks challengers with ramming the ‘it’ player. To keep Driver: SF from becoming a disorderly, shift-centric affairs, gamers are given a cool-down time in some of the variants; other modes dispose of the ability altogether, focusing on pure drift-oriented  racing.

With an adept driving model that straddles the line between simulation and arcade racer, Driver: San Francisco allows precision handling once players scrutinize the disposition of each vehicle. At least a portion of the game’s driving model stems from the game’s framerate, which remains close to the sixty frame-per-second threshold, outside of two-player splitscreen modes. Unexpectedly, the game’s cinematics are remarkably detailed- displaying the ability to discern individual pores on a character’s face.

Say it with me: "Che bella donna!"

With several adept design decisions, Driver: San Francisco illustrates how a once stagnant franchise can be reinvigorated. Players that were disappointed by some of the later iteration in the twelve-year old franchise are urged to give the game another chance. Likely, they’ll uncover one of the more stimulating, creative, and gratifying racers to be released this year.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

20 comments

  1. Both demos (SP and MP) are still on my harddrive. I need to play them, I spose.

  2. My problem with the Driver games is that they always to frustrating. There was a certain point in each one that I wanted to snap my controller in two.

    Did they fix that here?

  3. So I should have bought this over Dead Island?

    When are you guys going to review DI?

  4. I’m pretty sure the SF speed limits in the 70’s were less than 70 mph!!!

  5. One question: Can you turn off that god-awful filter that makes the game look washed out and dirty?

  6. So overall, how does it compare to Burnout?

    I think the 60 fps over 30 fps engine makes a pretty big difference in handling. Glad they worked on hitting that benchmark.

  7. What are you smoking

    Good review, Deagle.

    Laziest review award goes to Gamepro. Check out this laziness:

    “It’s a game. Weird stuff can happen. But the way it’s folded into the story just seems a bit lame. And because the story for me immediately felt ludicrous, I just didn’t care about it. Indeed, a few cut-scenes in and I was happily taking the game up on its offer to “Press X to Skip.”

    A review who doesn’t want and didn’t fully review the game. NICE!

  8. Deagle, when you’re writing this did you say “ah-stin mah-tin”?

    Old podcast joke.

  9. I though the cars handling like loose shit in the demo.

    Did not like.

  10. I thought the demos were good, but not amazing. Racers aren’t my thing, but I could be myself paying $20-$30 for this game.

  11. Good review, but you didn’t mention the cool 70’s vibe.

  12. Driver: SF sounds like Quantum Leap: The Game.

  13. I definitely caught the Burnout: Paradise vibe from the demo. That’s a good thing!

    I’ve heard the single player last between 5 hours and 12. Which is it?

  14. Good review. At first I didn’t think I was going to like shifting, but you’re right- they really nailed all the things you can do with it.

  15. Shine like the Moon

    I never played a Driver game, just the Stuntman series which I think was made by the same developer. Might have to bite on this one after seeing the review. I’ll at least download the demo now.

  16. Ignore the internet trolls, this game is great fun if you have the slighest interst in arcade action. Straight-up racing is actually the weakest part of the game.

  17. Between this and Cheapy jizzing his pants over it on the podcast, I really need to grab this.

    BTW- Did you know that Shipwreck gave you another shoutout? When are you going on the CAGcast, Deagle?

  18. The number of licensed cars in this game is really cool. I’m liking it so far.