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Driver: San Francisco Review

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David Lynch

Ubisoft Reflections takes another stab at its presitigious racing game with Driver: San Francisco

Published on Aug 25, 2011

Right. Here goes our attempt to explain the mental narrative at the heart of Driver: San Francisco – try not to laugh too much. Tanner, the one you know and love, is a cop in San Fran, the city made famous for such car-focused films as Steve McQueen’s Bullitt.

His arch-nemesis and all round bad egg is a crook called Jericho. Attempting to thwart his escape from prison, Tanner and his partner are involved in a collision putting Tanner into a coma.

Unbeknownst to himself and still believing he’s in the real world, Tanner discovers he can forcibly have out of body experiences at will. Flying high above the city he can see and move into any vehicle, temporarily leaving his own body and inhabiting another’s.

Obviously, he can’t do this is in the real world, it’s all in his head, and if you think that’s a suitably barking story to enforce on what has traditionally been a rather straight shooting series, you’d be right.

It’s a big gamble, of course, and one that falls flat on its face. Ubisoft seems to think disguising staple game conventions, like a map screen or a title’s more esoteric gameplay results in a more acceptable experience.

That we’d be more inclined to hand over our suspension of disbelief if we forgot, if only for a second, that we were playing a game and believed it was reality.

Assassin’s Creed has become the worst offender of this technique and whether you think there’s virtue in this approach or not, Driver: San Fran misses the mark so much that every part of its narrative becomes laughable.

Essentially forcing Driver’s mission based structure onto a huge citywide map with this bizarre narrative hook, it takes all of the originals cool and style and throws it out of the window.

Everything, and we mean everything, revolves around the conceit that Tanner can ‘shift’ between vehicles. Floating above the city, you’re able to choose from different missions, be it helping out cops or crooks, you’ll jump into a car and the driver’s body and help them achieve whatever vehicle-based problem they’ve got.

At least in Tanner's dream in never rains...

Despite its ludicrous premise, this is where Driver manages to use the idea to its advantage. You won’t find any other car-based experience that allows you this sort of freedom. The problem is, most of the time, the easiest way of completing missions doesn’t technically require you drive an awful lot of the time.

You see Tanner has a number of extra abilities that coincide with his coma-fuelled fantasy. He’s able boost or shunt the cars he’s in control of in some weird Patrick Swayze Ghost-kind of way.

He’s also capable of, if he’s in any sort of race scenario, jumping ahead to the oncoming traffic and forcing them into the paths of oncoming vehicles. Clearly, Tanner doesn’t rate the safety of San Fran’s citizens too highly, or he wouldn’t be constantly trying to murder them in great numbers.

That Driver doesn’t require you have any discernable skill behind the wheel is the least of its problems, though. The cars themselves handle perfectly well and the act of driving is as fun as any modern offering, but the game constantly goes out of its way to suck you out the car.

For all the work Reflections does forcing a game around this ridiculous idea, it manages to constantly break its own rules, too. For instance, if Tanner is chasing someone, he can’t just nip into their bodies and pull them over, that would be too easy, obviously.

He has to ram them off the road and cause as much damage as possible. Also, what happens to his body and the car he’s in when he ‘shifts’? Presumably he becomes a dribbling idiot for hours on end, something that, shockingly enough, some characters even refer to.

It’s all so ill conceived that it could end up occupying sci-fi cult status; a so bad it’s good spectrum. And that’s the curious thing about Driver, as bad as some of its ideas are and as poorly implemented as they have been, there’s still a surprising amount of fun to be had.

Classic mission types - such as scaring a passenger - return from the original.

It’s not the sort of fun traditional Driver fans will be expecting, but there’s a huge amount of variety in the missions and when you do drive, it’s all exciting, high octane, stuff.

It’s clear issues during development have centered on making this Life On Mars idea work within the Driver template, when it, clearly, doesn’t. That it awkwardly jumps back and forth between serious cop drama and comedy is less insulting than its wafer thin logic and wasted gameplay.

As an action game, minus the Driver name and under a new paint job, this could have been an interesting twist on the genre. As it stands, it’s a wasted opportunity that forces its players through the most ludicrous hoops to get to its solid gameplay.

 

Score Breakdown
Graphics
6.8 / 10
Sound
7.8 / 10
Gameplay
6.9 / 10
Longevity
6.5 / 10
Multiplayer
TBA / 10
Overall
6.8 / 10
Final Verdict
Underneath everything, there’s still a hugely enjoyable game, it’s just neck deep and sinking into a pile of bizarre ideas and forced conceits. It’s neither a true Driver experience or even, if you want to get technical, a racing game. A weird action hybrid this will go down as a grand experiment that lost its way.
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Game Details
Format:
PS3
Release Date:
2/9/2011
Price:
£49.99
Publisher:
Ubisoft
Developer:
Ubisoft Reflections
Genre:
Racing
No. of players:
1-8
Verdict
6.8 /10
Driver: San Francisco's overarching concept is as poorly used as it is ridiculously.
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