Genre: Other Developer: Publisher: Classification: M Release Date: 1st Sep 2011 Platforms:
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When I first heard the premise of Driver: San Francisco about six months ago I petitioned that Ubisoft Reflections submit to a drug test as the guys over there had obviously been smoking crack. I’m all for suspending disbelief for entertainment’s sake (this allows me to consider absurd notions like Vin Diesel can actually act and Michael Bay knows his way around a plot), but even this was a stretch.
Let me get this straight. Chasing an escaped mob boss, Jericho, our hero Tanner in his erection inducing Dodge Challenger has a near fatal accident and winds up in a coma? This near death experience now affords him the luxury of possessing the driver of any vehicle he likes as he hops about around the greater San Francisco area hot on the trail of Jericho. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, gamers! It’s insanity. It’s ridiculous. But you know what? Boy oh boy does it work. Throw your preconceived notions out the window and buckle up for the wildest ride of your life!
Ubisoft Reflections has done a brilliant job at taking the absurd and wrapping one hell of a game around it. The area it has recreated is absolutely massive and quite possibly the largest open sandbox game I’ve ever seen. It makes Just Cause 2 seem quaint in comparison. Once completely unlocked, over 300 square miles of San Francisco is at your disposal filled to capacity with all manner of activities and stunts to perform.
It feels a lot like a cross between Saints Row 2 and inFamous 2. You’ll need to knock out certain ‘main’ missions before you can advance through the single player campaign and there are a multitude of side missions all with a unique edge to them and ‘dares’ used to unlock upgrades. It’s very much of the formula, find mission, smash it out and move on top the next. The balance is perfecto plus you can opt out of any mission at any time. You kind of feel like James Woods in Family Guy - moving from mission to mission spouting “Ooo a piece of candy… Ooo a piece of candy…” and so on. It’s like gaming ADHD and never ever leaves you feeling blasé about advancing the story.
When you’re cruising around town on the ‘Tanner’ missions it’s hard to shake the undeniable 70s feel. Maybe it is the Dodge Challenger’s engine roaring as you put the pedal to the metal. Perhaps it’s the period specific soundtrack serenading you in the background. Or it could just be the city of San Francisco as a backdrop, the setting for many iconic cinematic car chases (Bullitt comes to mind), but it all just works together to cement the tone as you’re peeling around a corner at 140 MPH.
To get yourself new cars, upgrades and unlock challenges you’ll need to earn WP (WillPower), which is Driver: San Francisco’s in game currency. Every single action you do earns WP. Driving into oncoming traffic, jumping, drifting, overtaking, it all nets you WP as does any car you own in the garages around town. Every twenty minutes you get a WP bonus dependant on the ’income’ multiplier and number of cars you’ve purchased. By hook or by crook Driver: San Fran will get you over the line and you always feel like you’re working towards something, even when you’re just messing around off mission.
The wealth of car options is pretty staggering with high-end burners, clunkers and any and everything in between filling up your garages. There’s a solid nod to the movie industry with the Bumblebee Camaro, Back to the Future’s DeLorean, Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 and the sex on legs 1967 Shelby GT500 from the Gone in Sixty Seconds remake to just name a few.
Since you possess each car’s driver during your out of body experience, Ubisoft Reflections has given you some nifty little tricks to play with. You’ve got a boost bar, a handy ramming mechanic to knock cars off the road similar to a pinball machine’s ball launcher and ‘shifting’ works on three different height levels so you’ll never be needlessly ambling about trying to get to your next mission.
Shifting is extremely simple and keeps the action hard and fast. Hitting shift propels you towards the heavens and you can hover over any vehicle immediately getting its stats before you jump into the driver’s seat. Some instances you’ll be working with other drivers and you can rapid shift between vehicles. This single mechanic changes how you tackle each scenario as vehicular or collateral damage is of little or no consequence as long as you get the job done.
There are the usual “race” missions, but everything has an interesting Driver twist. Some will have you tailing suspects, others will have you breaking up street racers by shifting into oncoming traffic and taking them out headfirst one at a time. I’m not really sure how causing head on collisions on a massive scale is actually helping protect and serve the general public, but I’ll give Ubisoft Reflections a pass as I’m having way too much fun to get bogged down in semantics.
Where they really kick it up a notch are the protection, paranoia, heart-rate and team race missions and sometimes you’ll even help the bad guys evade capture. In protection you’ll need to stop waves of advancing enemies by crashing into them, paranoia has you sticking to the back streets to keep suspicion levels down and heart-rate has you showing off your insane driving skills to give your passenger a heart attack. Team races are challenging and the most inventive take on shifting as you’re required to finish a race in 1st AND 2nd place as you switch between two different drivers at the same time.
As you tail Jericho you’ll occasionally need to help a member of his gang evade capture to gain a valuable new snippet of information. This usually involves running from multiple police tails with as many as five cop cars in hot pursuit. If that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite there are still a multitude of stunts to complete such as driving into oncoming traffic for a set period of time, drifting or jumping a certain distance and some even require specific cameras angles like the driving seat view or first-person for you to pass. Each mission is inventive, original and keeps you constantly on the move.
Driver: San Francisco is the most fun you’ll have behind the wheel this year. It feels different from anything you’ve ever played before and you’ll find yourself itching to complete every single task it asks of you. After knocking it out I’m still eager to take it for another spin and you can’t give a game a better endorsement than that now, can you?