Driver: San Francisco Review

Driver: San Francisco
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: September 6, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

It’s been a little bit since we had a full-on open-world driving game; LA Noire is the closest we’ve gotten this year, but I doubt many folks took much joy in that game’s car chases. I certainly didn’t, anyway.

But with Driver: San Francisco, I felt the joy of the chase. And thanks to the innovation provided by the game’s “shift” feature, Driver SF is without a doubt one to remember.

Now, I’m not one to really enjoy multiplayer all that much; I’m just not a fan, generally of context-free action. But this game’s shift function, which allows you to teleport yourself into any non-user-controlled vehicle, created an online experience that I found utterly thrilling.

The first online game mode you’re allowed to play is tag, which is exactly what it sounds like: one car is “it,” and everyone else tries to tag it. It’s the kind of game mode that would be easily dominated by a single player in most open-world racers, but thanks to shift, all players can stay in the action, making for an unpredictable experience. One second you’re home free, it seems, and then someone shifts into the car you’re passing and then slams into you. It sounds frustrating, but it’s really just awesome.

There are other game modes, and they were fine, but honestly I didn’t care much about them. Not because they’re bad; no, tag is just that f–king fun. You can have your Call of Duty — I’m gonna be playing tag for a long, long time.

This game also has a story mode, and it’s just about perfect — not too difficult, but also not easy, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. It took me about 7.5 hours to complete it, and in that time I explored all the different ways to use shift, and while, yes, there is some repetition in it, you won’t find yourself doing similar missions over and over again. And check points are placed really well; you’ll not find yourself losing so much progress when you fail that you feel frustrated.

The story itself is ridiculous, and it was clearly written to accommodate the shift mechanic. Tanner is back, and he ends up in a bad wreck while trying to prevent his arch-nemesis Jericho from escaping from a prison van. Yes, the game starts with the main character going into a coma. What this means is that most of the game takes place inside his head.

That’s less dumb than it sounds, although it’s still pretty dumb. But since the game doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s all happening in Tanner’s head, and so it’s not really a cheat, and that fact isn’t revealed in some twist late in the game.

Anyway, the story works for me because it’s unabashedly silly; it really doesn’t take itself seriously at all. I mean, the plot revolves entirely around Tanners ability to inhabit the body of any person driving a car in San Francisco. And it really runs with that concept in fun ways. In between story missions you’ll find yourself shifting into random citizens who find themselves in tough car-related situations, sometimes for long stretches and sometimes for just a moment. But every time you shift into a new car feels like a unique experience, mainly due to Tanner’s often hilarious interactions with the passengers. A lot of work clearly went into including ┬áTON of these random interactions, and they really do a lot to make the game seem charming.

Driver: San Francisco is a fun open-world driving game with a great hook and a lot of charm. And it’s got brilliant multiplayer. Seriously, what else do I need to say to convince you that this game is worth your time?

Pros:

  • It’s weird yay
  • Awesome soundtrack
  • Shift is a GREAT new mechanic
  • Excellent checkpoint placement
  • Tag is the most fun I’ve had playing multiplayer in a long time.

Cons:

  • For a cop, Tanner sure does like to crash other peoples’ cars

Final Score: 95/100

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