Summary: Developed by the original creators of the franchise, Driver: San Francisco is the sixth entry in the series of action games with a heavy emphasis on burning rubber and catching bad guys. Following the third game's abysmal sales performance and universally poor reception by critics, both Ubisoft and Reflections Interactive have no doubt been aching to recreate the success that the first game in the series enjoyed. But did they succeed? Read on!
With crime lord Charles Jericho now on the loose, San Francisco faces a terrible threat. Only one man can stand against him. He has driven the streets of a hundred cities and spent his whole life putting criminals behind bars. But to take Jericho down, there can be no turning back, and he knows that this may very well be his last ride. His name is John Tanner. He is the DRIVER.
Developed by the original creators of the franchise, what remains of Reflections Interactive, Driver: San Francisco is the sixth entry in the series of action games with a heavy emphasis on burning rubber and catching bad guys. The studio is now known as Ubisoft Reflections, following their acquisition by the publishing giant back in 2006. As it happens, Atari sold them and the Driver IP following the third game's abysmal sales performance and universally poor reception by critics. Follow-up spin-off Parallel Lines fared somewhat better, but both Ubisoft and Reflections have no doubt been aching to recreate the success that the first game in the series enjoyed.
Toward that end, DSF has been in development for at least five years and has likely undergone multiple revisions throughout that process. Its final incarnation was officially unveiled at E3 2010, but was later delayed multiple times and is only just making its way to stores. Does it live up to the expectations established by the classic Driver games? More importantly, is it worth the price of admission on its own? Read on!
The main attraction of Driver games is, of course, the opportunity to freely cruise around an open, urban environment. This time around, that experience includes an entire fleet of over 120 officially-licensed vehicles, so no more guessing the make and model of those wheels you just hijacked. That is, were you even able to do things the old-fashioned way, like some kind of nameless thug or ex-military immigrant… San Francisco gets a little meta with the ability to magically transfer yourself into any car you want. No, you’re not a ghost, but you are basically possessing unsuspecting motorists -- it turns out that the playable character, John Tanner, is in a coma and nearly the entire game takes place in his lucid dreams. I wish I was making this up!
So off you go, “shifting” into various vehicles at will, which turns out to be a pretty neat concept once you get past the absurdity of it, not to mention the fact that it goes against everything the Driver franchise
As outlandish as some of the game’s primary elements may be, so are the various side missions you’re required to undertake in between story-related ones. The developers must have brainstormed for quite a while to come up with such a variety of different situations to insert the player into; you might find yourself helping a reality show crew film over the top wrecks, win a street race to pay for college, hunt down a pack of chimps that escaped from the zoo, or annoy fellow drivers on the freeway as a senior citizen. Considering that there’s a whole other category of optional side missions to undertake, you might find yourself becoming somewhat fatigued by it all if you just want to find out what happens next in Driver: San Francisco’s gripping narrative.
If the abundance of repetitive side missions irks you, you might wish pretend those giant transparent walls don’t exist, either. You know, the ones that arbitrarily block off entire sections of the city until the game deems you worthy of exploring it all? That sort of thing is annoying enough in Grand Theft Auto when they at least have a plausible reason for there being temporary road blocks on a bridge, but doesn’t Driver: SF take place in a dream? Why shouldn’t the guy whose mind is controlling everything be able to go wherever he pleases? At least his nostalgic imagination explains the 40-year-old cars, Hollywood-inspired action sequences, and implausible vehicle handling characteristics. Yes, such a design makes the game more accessible and entertaining to some, but those looking for a more serious experience may be disappointed.
As you careen down the hilly streets of a painstakingly-reproduced San Francisco, you’re rewarded for showing off your skills behind the wheel. Rather than earning generic experience points as in so many other games released these days, DSF awards you a currency called Willpower, which is used to unlock new cars and garages, as well as enhance the potency of your dream-powers. Sadly, you cannot upgrade your favorite autos, though this is probably just as well, due to their being largely disposable because of the Shift mechanic. Driver: SF’s multiplayer modes make especially good use of the new feature to cause inordinate amounts of chaos.
* If you haven’t realized by now, this is not an actual review of Driver: San Francisco.
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