The original Driver game, titled simply Driver, was released in 1999 on the original PlayStation and saw the player take control of an undercover policeman named Tanner. Playing as Tanner you were tasked with controlling the police officer as he went undercover as a getaway driver, chosen to do so for his superior driving skills within the police force. The game back then, and throughout the series, was largely inspired by car chases from various television shows and movies and it lived up to that brilliantly. A problem occurred however when the inevitable follow up games arrived. Driver 2, 3 and Parallel Lines followed the original yet never reached the same fun factor. A lot of gamers put this down to the fact that the developers attempted to take the same route as GTA, allowing Tanner to leave his vehicles and walk the cities along with a combat system. Of the four games, the original was still the most fun to play, concentrating specifically on the driving.
And so, when in 2010 Ubisoft Reflections announced a new Driver game, it was a bit of a surprise. Was it however a good surprise or was the game going to follow in the footsteps of the last three games and become yet another open world game where the Driver in the title spent more time walking than driving? It was not long however before released information set fans minds at ease after it was announced that the game would make a return to its roots by concentrating on driving.
Although this set the fan’s minds at ease in this respect, as more information was announced one piece in particular had the doubts once again returning. The one feature which brought those doubts was what came to be known in the game as “shifting”. This involved the returning hero of the game, Tanner, in a coma at the beginning of the game and being able to jump from car to car, inhabiting the body of the person driving, meaning any car within reach could be taken control of. This gave the game a science fiction, Life On Mars, Ashes to Ashes sound to it and doubts about the game targeted this fact. So how did the game turn out? Did it continue the downward spiral of the game series? Or was it a return to the game of old?
Driver San Francisco follows on from Driv3r, the third game in the series, and begins with Tanner’s nemesis, Jericho, escaping from an armoured transport which ends in a car crash which, unknown to our hero, leaves him being rushed to the hospital. In Tanners mind however, life seems to go on and the chase for Jericho continues. It is not long before Tanner begins to realise that he has some strange powers at his fingertips, most notably the ability to shift into any driver driving any car. Despite worries from myself and others before the launch of the game, these powers, once you become accustomed to using them, work very well and bring a whole new mechanic to the game. This opens up a whole new way of playing this type of open world driving game as Tanner first tries to convince his partner that he has these abilities. He then uses his powers to follow leads by jumping into cars far from his current location, so as he can tail possible leads or even at times jump into suspect’s bodies and cars to see where they lead him.
The actual story in the game is relatively short, covering only eight chapters with each chapter comprising only two or three story missions, each of which can be completed within ten minutes. With that information you could be forgiven for thinking that the game is woefully short and can be complete within a days play. Although this is true as far as the story goes, potential buyers of the game should not let this fact bother them as alongside the story missions there is a huge number of side missions, stunt activities and collectible film reels to find throughout the huge map based, as the name of the game suggests, on San Francisco. These side missions can take the form of anything from checkpoint races through the city and racing with other cars, to more imaginative tasks such as driving beneath the trailers of eighteen wheel trucks as you defuse bombs strapped to the underside, or stopping vehicles attacking a target by shifting into cars around the city and ramming them head on.
On top of these you have the stunt activities which, once activated, require the player to perform such actions as jumping or drifting a car a certain distance within a time limit, jumping over a given number of cars, drive above a certain speed for a given amount of time or do the same into oncoming traffic, amongst many others. These, like most of the other missions, are relatively simple to accomplish at the beginning of the game. Nearer the end though, some of them do prove to be quite a challenge. Finally the game once again shows tribute to famous car chases from television shows and movies by collecting film reels scattered throughout the map. Although there are no actual licenses involved, it’s very easy, especially to the older gamer like myself, to see what the chases in the game were inspired by, with such examples as Starsky and Hutch, The Dukes Of Hazzard, Bullit and The Blues Brothers. Although these are pretty easy to complete, they add a lot of fun to the game.
One thing which helps these chases, and the game on the whole, are the cars. There are well over one hundred cars in the game and, for the first time, they are all officially licensed vehicles. The Driver games in the past had usually always been about American muscle cars and this time around the muscle cars return, from Tanners Dodge Challenger and the charger to cars such as the Gran Torino. But the choice in cars goes well beyond that with all sorts of cars, including some of the most modern supercars – RUF Porches, Lamobrghini and Mclarens, along with numerous hidden gems. How about a DeLorean or a Fiat 500? There is a huge number to choose from. With the shift ability available, a change of car is only a couple of button pushes away. There are a number of garages placed around the map from which players can purchase not only all the cars in the game, so you do not need to search the city for a specific car you feel like driving, but you can also pick up certain aids for in the game and repair a damaged car.
If all of that content in the single player game was not enough to keep you occupied, there is also an extensive multiplayer experience for your enjoyment. Although there is racing available in multiplayer, as you would expect, it’s nowhere near as much fun as the other modes, most of which quickly turn into complete carnage. A personal favourite of mine is Trailblazer which has an AI controlled gold DeLorean driving a set route through the city with its tail lights leaving a trail and the car within those trails earns points, with the first player to 100 points winning. This sounds easy, but with up to eight players jostling for the points and any vehicle an option for players to jump into, things can get a little heated with games quickly turning into more of a demolition derby. Along with Trailblazer, there is a selection of other modes such as tag which is pretty self explanatory. The always fun take on cops and robbers with each player in the room taking their turn as the crook, trying to reach four checkpoints any way they possibly can as the other players in the room play the cops and attempt to stop him. The twist is that the cops can switch cars but the crook is stuck in the same car from start to finish. The multiplayer modes forsake the serious racing side of things for more fun game modes and it suits the game perfectly.
Presentation wise, the game delivers. The recreation of the city is very nicely done with famous locations and sights included The Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street. The cars in the game are also all accurately recreated. Each vehicle also has an interior view, which is quite a feat considering the number of cars within the game. The cars, and other vehicles in the game as there are trucks, vans and buses present, all handle slightly differently. Some are faster, some handle better and some are excellent for performing huge drifts through turns and corners. The graphics throughout the game do have a slight grainy look to them. However, I get the feeling this was intentionally done by the developers to add a certain atmosphere to the game and although at first it is noticeable, after playing for an hour or so you forget all about it and just enjoy the game. When it comes to sound all the cars sound like you would expect them to and the ambient sound of the city is spot on. As most open world driving games have nowadays, there is a huge selection in licensed music. However, instead of taking the GTA route, there are not radio stations as such, but more just a playlist through which you can hop forward and back to find something you want to hear.
The one thing that people have been complaining about is the ability of the cities pedestrians to skilfully avoid traffic. Even if you are driving along a pavement with a dead certain hit on a walking citizen, they will avoid it using some amazingly impressive ninja-like skills. Although some people may find this annoying, what you have to keep in mind is that you are playing a police officer in the game and that mowing down innocent bystanders in a car is not exactly in fitting with the games character.
So with nothing overly bad to say about Driver San Francisco, I think it is fair to say that it is a return to the entertaining gameplay that was delivered way back with the first game. If you can give the “shifting” element of the game a chance, you will find a game which, although having a short story, has enough additional content packed away within it to keep any gamer occupied for a good while. If you remember the original game with a fondness, then there is a good chance that you will enjoy this one. Don’t let the poor sequels in between the two games put you off.