Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
(Thank you to Ubisoft for providing a copy of the game for review)
Back in the day, the original Driver was one of my favorite games. It brought those thrilling car chases to life in a virtual world and made me the wheelman, capable of sliding cars around like some sort of daredevil that had drunk far too much coffee.. It’s now ten years later and the franchise is returning after a brief hiatus away from the spotlight. It’s got a fresh new cheery vibe, a bonkers story and interesting gameplay concept, so is Driver back to being awesome? Oh, yes.
Driver: San Francisco picks up after the events of Driv3r, with Tanner and Jericho still very much alive after the dramatic events in Istanbul. While hiding out in San Francisco, Jericho gets caught and thrown behind bars by Tanner, but it isn’t long before a routing prison transfer gives Jericho the opportunity to escape, and while Tanner is chasing him down he’s involved in a horrific car accident that leaves him in a coma. Now, you might be wondering how anyone can make a game about driving if the lead character is lying in a hospital bed, but that’s where Ubisoft Reflection’s genius plan comes in; while in his coma, Tanners mind creates a living, breathing replica of San Francisco, which Tanner believes is real. To him, the crash was just a small accident, and he’s still on the trail of Jericho like a fat kid chasing a McDonalds. It’s a unique and interesting idea, but best of all it gives Reflection’s free-reign to implement a rather unique gameplay mechanic, as well as giving them a brilliant plot device. As Tanner lies in his hospital bed, a nearby radio tuned to the news influences Tanner’s imaginary world as it reports on what is going on in the chase for Jericho. Doubtless many gamers will be screaming about a lack of realism in this concept, but really it’s actually more possible that you might think; who knows what goes on in the human mind while in a coma? But, most importantly, it allows for a brand new and highly fun gameplay mechanic; shift.
Tanners new-found “Shift” power lets him jump from his body and inhabit any other unlucky person that happens to catch his interest. In gameplay terms this means you can merrily jump from car to car at will, instantly taking control of your chosen ride. Bored of your Dodge Charger? Just hit A to have the camera zoom upwards, providing an aerial view of the massive free-roaming playground that is San Francisco, and let you whizz around and choose another car, like that rather nice Nissan 370z. It may sound a bit bonkers, and it is, but shifting makes for one hell of a gameplay mechanic; races suddenly become simpler when you can shift into an oncoming car and ram it into the competition, thereby become a dirtier driver than Micheal Schumacher. It also lets Tanner take on a huge variety of side missions as shifting into a specially marked car will trigger missions like chasing down a crook as the cops, performing dangerous stunts for a TV show and, my personal favorite, helping out a pair of recurring street racers who started out by just wanting to pay for their college tuition. God I love those guys. perhaps the best example of how shifting can make for fine gameplay comes in the form of races that require you to finish 1st and 2nd by shifting between two cars and keeping them both out front. Simply being able to jump into people’s bodies like this makes for some damn funny conversations too, and Drivers lighter tones really shines through here as Tanner is a hugely likeable character, creating plenty of moments that had me grinning. In fact, Driver is a surprisingly funny game, with plenty of cheesy but amusing one liners being spouted.. Who’d have thought the once deadly serious Tanner could become such a lovable and amusing guy?
Shift isn’t Tanner’s only newfound power: he also has access to a boost and ram ability. However, unlike shift, these abilities have a slightly tacked on feeling and just don’t really feel like they fit into the game. Pushing up on the left stick will send your car surging forward with some extra speed, and holding down LB will charge the car up for a ramming attack, a useful trick when trying to take down a racer or enemy. Still, they simply feel a bit useless..
Shift may be an innovative and fun idea, but it can also be Drivers biggest weakness. At times the game can begin to feel more like an RTS than a driving game, with some missions asking you to defend an objective by simply crashing cars into enemies vehicles, a feat that simply requires endless shifting and little driving. In fact, many of Drivers best moments are when shift isn’t used and races simply require pure skill to win.
And that conveniently brings us to Driver’s satisfying handling. Like the previous games there’s an emphasis on sliding cars around in San Francisco. Cars have a weighty feel to them, yet are nice and responsive making it easy to get a car sliding sideways, yet it actually takes real skill to master driving. It’s worth the practice, though, because once you’ve spent some time learning how to drift and how the different cars handle, San Francisco becomes a playground to the skilled driver. Drifting a Charge underneath a truck, carefully feathering the throttle to ensure it doesn’t end in tears, is a brilliant experience that requires deft controller work. Theres a considerable amount of traffic on the roads as well, and while this could be viewed as irritating by many players, to others they just become another obstacle to be drifted around at high-speed as you race against the clock or other drivers. In fact, the traffic often makes races and events even more fun, as weaving through traffic at insane speeds provides a nice challenge.
Scattered around the massive city of San Francisco is a huge amount of events to be undertaken by a keen driver. They range from dares that challenge you to do daft stunts, to races, time trials and much more. But while there is a lot of them, the objectives for most tend to be pretty similar. Still, completing everything on offer here is going to take you quite some time. But completing them is worth your effort as they award you with Willpower which you can spend on upgrades or use to buy cars. Yes, you can actually buy cars in a game that lets you shift into anything you want. There may be some nice rides on the street, but you usually won’t encounter the best rides out of the list of 120 available vehicles just cruising the streets, instead you can purchase them from garages strewn around the city. You can also buy the garages themselves to unlock even more cars for your driving pleasure. But if you don’t feel like completing loads of events so you can buy that sweet Lamborghini, then you’ll be happy to know that Willpower also gets handed out for driving like a demented maniac; drifts, jumps and near misses all score you points, though getting rich using this method might take you a little while.
Speaking of which, Driver comes packed with quite a fun multiplayer component as well, and shift has its part to be played in it. Of course, should you wish it to come down to sheer driving skill alone you can enter simple races with no shift to ensure it’s all about who’s got the talent behind the wheel, but you’d be missing out on some great modes. A simple game of tag with cars becomes twice as entertaining when all the players can shift cars, but the “it” player can’t. Other modes like Trailblazer, which requires players to sit in the trail of an AI car to score points, are also made more amusing with the shift ability thrown in. Unlike singleplayer, shift is more carefully regulated in multiplayer for obvious reasons. There’s a considerable amount of modes on offer in the multiplayer aspect that should appeal to most gamers, and before each event comes a qualifying event that issues challenges such as overtaking cars or smashing objects to gain a higher grid slot and extra “ability”, which powers your boost and shift, at the start of the race. Multiplayer in Driver is a manic, fast paced affair and I loved it. And you can get a mate round for a bit of good old-fashioned two player split-screen action as well.
Perhaps the biggest star of the show is San Francisco itself, a sprawling city that has a staggering amount of amount of roads to be drifted, jumped and speeded on. It’s an entirely free-roaming city as well, though segments are unlocked as you progress, that you can explore at will. But the mist important aspect of it is th variety of terrain on offer; sharp 90-degree turns in the main city, sweeping corners on the outskirts, massive inclines for huge air-time, off-road fun and combinations of all the above make for plenty of fun driving.
Driver has returned to console and managed to clamber back onto the top of the heap. The driving is weighty but responsive, the shift mechanic allows for plenty of cool moments and the multiplayer is bloody good fun. The biggest flaw that could be aimed at is that it’s not the Driver that fans are used; it’s cheerful and funny. But, you know what, it works, because Driver doesn’t take itself too seriously, something that most others games are far too good at doing, and that means it just focuses on letting players have fun.
+ Muscle cars!
+ Shift works!
+ genuinely amusing.
– Missions do get repetitive.
– Can sometimes feel like I’m playing an RTS.
– A few plot holes that don’t make much sense.
The cutscenes look fantastic, and the in-game graphics also look great. Cars are very well modeled.
The soundtrack suits the game well, the voice acting is great and the cars sound nice and throaty.
Tanner’s coma makes for a damn fine excuse for some mental antics, but it can be a little hard swallow certain aspects of it all. And a few plot holes do ruin it, somewhat.
The driving is perfectly suited to sliding cars around like a nutter, and shift works well. Throw in a fun multiplayer and it’s a win!
Around 8-10 hours will see the main missions completed, but the amount of missions strewn around the city is pretty vast, and the multiplayer is addictive fun, so expect it to last you quite a while.
Summary: There’s a lot of eights in those scores. Anyway, Driver: San Francisco is a welcome return of the franchise, brining a genuinely funny Tanner and awesome driving action with it.