Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a statement that has been engrossed in my brain since I can remember. A sidestep from that statement is to not judge a game until it’s finished. Everything leading up to the release of Driver: San Francisco had me scratching my head. Why in the name of all that is good and holy would they resurrect a franchise that has struggled over the years? That is not even bringing up the fact that early signs pointed at a disaster of a game for Driver: San Francisco. Needless to say I may have overreacted as Driver: San Francisco is a game that may surprise some people.
The fiction within Driver: San Francisco is a bit quirky. You play as John Tanner who is still going after the familiar Driver villain Jericho. During one of the missions to apprehend Jericho from his escape you get into this massive crash which leads Tanner to fall into a coma. The developers using the coma as there scapegoat to make anything possible has you solve crimes in Tanners dreams. If you can just go into it knowing that the story is insane then you should be fine. If you’re expecting some real life gritty police work this game may not be for you.
With Tanner in this coma state you learn the ability to shift which is really the crux of the Driver: San Francisco experience. The long and short of it is while you are driving you can literally shift out of the car you’re driving; float in the air and shift into any car you spot from above. Shift out of a car and press another button and your back in driving another. It’s a really simple but extremely effective mechanic that although I was skeptical of at first actually works at a lot of different levels throughout the game.
Obviously driving is the key component of Driver: San Francisco and it’s pretty solid. The weighting leans heavily toward the arcade end of the spectrum with an emphasis on both speed and drifting. Although my one complaint with the controls is the drifting, which more times than not seemed to have me spin out of control rather than drift. Maybe chalk that up to my lack of driving skills but I have noticed others falling into the same trap. The one thing I do praise the developers for is making the driving mechanics for driving a high end sports car feel different from a semi. It may sound like a no brainer but often times in an arcade style racing game the differences can be minimal.
The game is broken out into various levels in which open up new parts of San Francisco as well as a plethora of side missions. Outside of just being an extension of content the side missions offer up the ability to earn money to buy new cars. That’s another big thumbs up for Driver: San Francisco as it has a pretty stellar lineup of licensed cars. The missions can range from races, to time trials, and the always favorite follow a target mission where you can’t get too far away or too close. One of Driver: San Francisco’s only faults are the lack of variety in missions.
There is an absolute ton of content in Driver: San Francisco and that so far we have just been talking single player. The game also has an extremely robust multiplayer system including six different modes. Although the multiplayer is far from the highlight of the experience it has enough going on to add a few extra dabs of replay value.
When it comes to the visual department things are a pretty mixed bag. The city of San Francisco has glimpses of being the real city but the detail is pretty sparse. Sure they did a great job with the Golden Gate Bridge but much of the city seems to blend together and outside of a few landmarks the city is pretty uneventful. The cars are on the other end of the spectrum are licensed and thus are extremely well detailed and look extremely close to the real thing. The game also does a pretty good job of keeping a steady frame rate even while you’re flying through the city.
What’s insane about Driver: San Francisco is actually how fun the experience can be. One of my favorite aspects of the game is jumping into a race shifting into oncoming traffic and taking out your opponents. The shifting mechanic is so well developed that it makes the ability core to the experience and shockingly it works. The experience although not completely revolutionary doesn’t take itself too seriously and makes for what I found to be an extremely enjoyable experience.
I think the best way to describe Driver: San Francisco is to say that it is the perfect game to crack open a beer ,put your feet up and just enjoy the experience. The story is one of the most ridiculous I have seen in years but it doesn’t seem to matter much. I am shocked to say this but Driver: San Francisco is a great game that is perfect for anyone who enjoys a good arcade racing experience.