I was a big fan of the original Driver. I played it when it was first released, as well as the second installment, which was a bit of a disappointment. While waiting for Driv3r I even resurrected an old PC to play the original again. Driv3r hit the markets and got my attention for a full 30 minutes before nausea and horror made me uninstall it in a hurry. I skipped Parallel Lines purely because I did not want to live through the torture again.
Then Driver: San Francisco came out and, against my better judgement, I got it.
Once you start with the actual game you immediately begin to realise that everything’s not quite what it seems. Things get even stranger when you realise that you’re not quite who or what you think you are. Then the crows arrive and things get really freaky. The story is well put together, something rare in what’s essentially just a driving game. The storyline evolves well as you play through, with nice features like “Previously on Driver: San Francisco” when you load a saved game. It really lets you feel like you’re watching a story instead of playing it.
The game’s starting (and for the rest of the game for that matter) cutscenes are well done. It really gives you insight into what’s going on, with a bit of mystery, grit and WTF thrown in. Graphically it’s superb, with that 70′s movie feel to it. The city itself is well laid out, with a good mixture of obstacles, interesting pieces of road and the occasional off-road adventure. Driving through the city you can clearly see the transition between beachfront property, dense urban areas, slums and countryside. The buildings, road width, traffic density and vehicle types all zone really well.
Also new to the game franchise is properly licensed cars, with a stunning array of 140 vehicles to unlock and purchase – including trucks, beetles, class B rally, vans, supercars and everyday runabouts. The handling is exceptional, probably the best I’ve experienced outside of a racing simulator. The cars all handle like you’d expect their real-world counterparts would if you were a pro driver, and the fact that they seem to do awesome slides, jumps and traffic weaves as if by telepathy gives you more time to concentrate on the various scenarios that the game puts you in. The “special abilities” like boost and ram also feel quite intuitive and seems a much better model than having every car fitted with NoS.
Shift mode - it changes everything
Then there’s the feature that makes this title stand out from all the others – the Shift mode. With Shift you can jump from car to car as you drive through the streets, and later even quickly shift to anywhere on the game map. This adds a new dimension to the missions you’ll be doing. While doing a race, will you concentrate on trying to get the best time, beating the opponents with skill and your special abilities, or will you jump into oncoming traffic and try to take out your opponents before they can cross the finish line? Shift really changes the game.
Shift out and you're greeted with a bird's view of the city.
Now for the bad, which isn’t really that bad to be honest. The story is extremely linear. You have no say in the direction, and the story only progresses on the successful completion of your main missions. On the other hand, this is a driving arcade game, so expecting RPG-like choices and outcomes may be a bit too much. The other thing is that the side missions quickly become stale, it’s a basic repetition of about 5 themes. The Driver and Movie side missions are quite fun though.
Since installing this game, I’ve managed to unlock and buy 138 of the 140 cars, and done about 80% of the Driver and Movie missions. I’ve also finished the main storyline, which was long enough to keep you interested without being so long as to bore you. Altogether I honestly enjoyed this game more than any others this year, hence it deserves a full 5 stars and my recommendation for arcade game of the year.