For those of you who weren’t lucky enough to experience the original, the Driver series first came screeching onto our screens in 1998. There were always a few standard things that we could expect to see in a Driver Game, like frantic chases, cool cars, great city locations and of course the exceptionally difficult missions and frustrating time limits. Driver has always tried to meld together the uber-cool feeling of the ’70s/’80s TV shows, along with iconic car movies while also trying to make the setting contemporary for the modern day gamer.
Generally it has been hit and miss, with only the first two Driver games being of any real success and let’s not even mention Driver 3. You could argue that the original driver game was an inspiration for the first GTA sandbox game (GTA 3), so it is very ironic that Driv3r (that’s Driver 3 for the non dyslexic) decided to copy GTA… and flopped badly. So as you can imagine, I was as giddy as a girl on prom night when I first heard of a re-booted Driver title on the way and the opportunity for the franchise to redeem itself. Unfortunately, my giddiness was soon replaced with sheer terror with reports of ‘shifting’ between cars. I thought – WTF? At that stage, I wanted to punch my prom date in the face and polish off a bottle of the finest bourbon I could pour down my gob. Then finally, I got my hands on a copy of this re-boot from Ubisoft – Driver: San Francisco for the Xbox 360. I was apprehensive to say the least when putting in the disc, but as it turns out I may have been wrong…
The story line for Driver: SF sees you taking control of our favourite undercover driving cop ‘John Tanner’ and pits you against the ultra violent criminal ‘Charles Jericho’. In an effort to keep the TV cop show theme going, when you start the game you get a “previously on Driver:SF” recap, which is quite cool. The game then starts out with you (Tanner) and your irrelevant partner in a gorgeous 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T – take a moment! You and your useless partner are shadowing the prison transport containing Jericho… but of course, it all goes tits up. Jericho gets busted out and goes on the run in the prison vehicle with you in purist. Without wanting to give any spoilers away, let’s just say that this is how you end up in a coma – queue the shifting!
After that drama you are dropped into the beautifully rendered city of San Francisco – ‘But you’re in a firkin coma’ I hear you say!? Ah yes… this is where the ‘Shifting’ comes in to play – very convenient eh! Granted there was no way for them to introduce the “shift” mechanic and make it plausible without it all being inside someone’s head, or a dream… or some other crazy shit. What is ‘Shift’? Well, ‘Shift’ is Tanners ability to jump from car to car and take possession of the driver… simple. This works well and can be fun to use. It’s basically the foundation the whole game is built on. It is easy to control and allows you to grab that lovely, shiny, sports car that passed you by about a mile back.It’s a bit like an out of body experience as everything goes muffled and your vision distorted until you leap into some other poor suckers car scaring the crap out of them in the process, which is highly amusing.
You are left to your own devices from the beginning, which usually means big jumps and shifting all over the place and generally messing about like a supernatural joyrider, before you realise there is an actual mission to complete. This is where the game starts to open up, and draw you in.
Ubisoft have put a good amount of effort into the story and to emphasise this. The cut scenes are amazingly detailed and rather impressive, which when you consider that this is meant to be a driving game, was both unexpected and very surprising.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to explain the plot without giving parts away, so let’s just say its mad, gets madder then checks itself into an asylum and you’ll get the idea. What I can tell you is that on top of the Tanner mission, there are loads of mini missions for you to take part like city missions: where you have to transport a paranoid witness to a safe house without using the main roads, to Challenges: out-run the cops, Activities: win a street race, and Dares: perform various stunts. All of these have their own little stories and characters as you morph into the unsuspecting driver. You end up in some immature but funny-as-hell conversations. And if that’s not enough gamplay for you there are a series of challenges that you can take part in that get unlocked as you make your way through the game. These challenges are broken down into four section, Driver – offering fans classic driver style chases, Movie – recreating some famous movie car chases, Uplay – unlocked by completing Uplay objectives through the game, and Special – like a survival challenge. If that’s still not enough there is the option once you completed the game to go back and play through it again with the new game “plus” option where you start at chapter one again but with everything you have unlocked so far. Everything you do in Driver: SF earns you WP, which are willpower points. These are your in-game currency and can be used for buying new cars, garages, ability upgrades and so on.
Driver: San Franscio has all the classic muscle cars you would expect from a title in this series. For example: The Bullet Car (Ford Mustang GT Fastback), The Dukes of Hazard car (Dodge Charger R/T), The Starsky and Hutch car (Ford Gran Torino) and The Smoky and the Bandit car (Pontiac Trans Am). Your four-wheel fun does not stop at classic muscle cars however, there are some new entries for you to play with like Audis, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, and McLarens – the list goes on and on. If you suffer from diesel fever, fear not my oil burning friends you can also control some big rigs, fire engines and trucks. Anything that is on the road is yours to play with and moving from one vehicle to another cannot be easier with the “shift” mechanic. Unfortunately, there is nothing there for our two wheeled friends, maybe next time eh? Each vehicle has its own unique handling experience; some are tight and sharp while others feel like you are driving a boat with the back end trying to overtake the front at every corner. While it does get very frustrating, it’s all part of the driver experience that fans will remember.
So you’ve got your car your power sliding around corners, doing a donuts on the golden gate bridge what about the noise? Well you won’t be disappointed here either as your mayhem is in tune with some powerful sound effects, with each car having a distinctive sound. And if you’re a fan of soundtracks, Driver: SF is the one for you. The soundtrack is filled with 1970s style funk and cool jazz to more modern and contemporary music. There is quite a mix of artists – ‘The Beastie Boys’, ‘Jamiroquai’, ‘Seasick Steve’, ‘The Black Keys’ and ‘The Prodigy’ to name but a few. In keeping with the retro feel, the soundtrack was released on vinyl as well as CD and mp3 download, which is pretty cool!
Adding to the mayhem is the multiplayer, and the heap of game options just keep coming here. There are six different types of online carnage for you to experience, with each one having anywhere from two up to a maximum of eight players. With modes such as Free for all, Racing, Takedown, Team, Shift Racing, and finally Team Racing. There is something there for everyone and for the collectors there is a smorgasbord of Unlockables. The best way to describe the multiplayer would be it’s as mental as a box of frogs but great fun.
This however is where we run into our first immovable object to access the multiplayer you will need the Uplay passport, not a problem if you buy the game but if you rent it or buy it second hand you’ll have to purchase your passport online before you get access to these features. There is a free two-day trail, but big deal. This is a huge gripe for me personally, as I disagree with the developer’s new strategy of trying to stop you buying second-hand games. Lower the prices if you want gamers to buy everything new– don’t penalise your customers FFS!! In a further annoyance, to access another excellent feature in Driver: SF, the Director section, where you get to edit your own driver masterpiece and share it with the world, but to use it, yep you guessed it, you need a Uplay passport. And just to kick you when you’re down, you’re limited to 1:25 video time and while it uploads to a Ubisoft site – you need to download the clip yourself then upload it to YouTube (See vids below). Dirt3 showed just how successfull posting in game action on YouTube could be and it’s a shame Ubisoft didn’t take note.
The game is ultimately and surprisingly great fun with loads to do. For the most parts it is handy enough to get around and enjoy. Most of the missions can be completed on the first run. I must admit I was not expecting a whole lot from Driver: SF, but I found myself really enjoying the experience. I think this has put the Driver franchise back on the map in terms of urban racers and is something that should be checked out by gamers with a taste for driving games. The story is engaging and the graphics and audio round this up into a very enjoyable experience. I think Ubisoft might be onto something here with the “shift” thing as it works quite well and brings a little more strategic thinking into a street racer, so expect to see this (ripped off) in future titles. This is the game to give the franchise the reboot it has been waiting for, it’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a short shift away from getting there.
Given the amount of gameplay options, Driver: San Francisco is at worst worth a rent, but if you like your cars and action, it’s a must have.
Driver: San Francisco GTR Drift
Driver: San Francisco Drifting Dodge R/T