I used a cache of rewards points this week to pick up a copy of Driver: San Francisco. I haven’t quite finished absolutely everything in the game, but since I’ve finished the story and have played a bit of multiplayer I figured I’d put down some thoughts while they were still fresh.
For all that the game narrative is absolutely ridiculous on it’s face, it was a lot of fun to play through it. The story is that you’re a rogue cop who manages to get put into a coma while trying to take down your nemesis who just escaped from jail and then find that you can “shift” into people while they are driving and essentially run them like a puppet. See? Ridiculous! Also, entertaining.
The mechanic of being able to pop out of your own body and jump into others makes for some really interesting possibilities and the designers took pretty good advantage of them to put together a series of missions that were diverse, interesting, and mostly fun. The best part being that if you didn’t like the current mission you could always go off into the city and find another or just goof off as much as you wanted.
Granted this is still a racing game so all of those diverse missions still involve being behind the wheel of a car but at least you aren’t always racing. In fact one of my favorite mission types is the Takedown. Normally I find these a bit hard to do since my physical coordination, while better then my friends who do NOT play racing games, is just not fantastic. Getting enough speed in a vehicle, weaving through traffic behind the target, and then managing to actually hit them with my car? It happens sometimes, but not often enough. However with the Shifting mechanic in this game I can always catch up with the target by shifting to a new car or even get ahead of them and take them out head-on. It is wonderfully satisfying to jack knife a truck and trailer across a freeway and watch a whole gang of street racers impact a few seconds later then jump into a pickup coming up behind them and put in the finishing touches.
Sound violent? It is, but at the same time it’s somewhat cartoony violence. There’s no blood, no guts, and pedestrians always seem to dive out of the way just in time. Destroy your car ramming into a wall on a bad corner? Shift into something else and keep going or just wait to get respawned. It all certainly takes away from any “realism” but that’s basically not the point of the game despite the incredibly well rendered city that you’re driving in.
Speaking of that city, they take advantage of that back drop for more then just the hills and streets to be racing on. The buildings are very well rendered though unlike one of my favorite racing games set in the city, Midtown Madness 2, none of them are interactive and all of the facades are just there to keep you from making that next turn properly. That said, the changes in elevation are well done and make for some really challenging routes and stunts.
My biggest complaint is about the cars. There are 140 real cars modeled and while Ubisoft gets full marks for arcade-realistic and varied handling I found their zeal for American Muscle cars and other serious drift cars to be kind of annoying. Give me a grippy car any day and I can do reasonably well in a race but especially as you get to the top end of the vehicles it gets harder and harder to manage to sometimes even go in a straight line without your back end coming around.
There’s lots of multi-player options including fun local split screen co-op and versus modes plus a large selection of online content and plenty of people to play against this soon after launch.
Worth $60? Maybe. If you like or are even mildly interested in racing games the single player story is well written while being self-aware and has an interesting payoff. The cut scenes are pretty well acted and really give a good sense of pacing and direction to the plot. If you’re a Forza or Gran Tourismo lover or otherwise appreciate a realistic approach to driving you’ll probably want to give it a pass.