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Back in 1998, right after I purchased my very first PlayStation console, I remember reading in Electronic Gaming Monthly about the open world driving game, Driver. Reflections Interactive (now known as Ubisoft Reflections) stuffed the game to the rafters with machismo and classic 1970s swagger. The article featured pictures of muscle cars careening over huge jumps and speeding through alleyways with hubcaps falling off. One memorable picture showed a huge and ridiculous car accident with cop cars flying out of control through the air.
Needless to say, the game was badass and put Driver on the map as the pioneer balls-out driving game. I still consider it one of the best games ever released for the PlayStation. And all this was four years before Grand Theft Auto III.
Fast-forward 13 years and the same team is behind the wheel of Driver: San Francisco.
You once again take the role of John Tanner, a slick, leather jacket-wearing undercover cop who very well could be Nathan Drake’s brother (or maybe father?); however, things have gotten a little strange since 1998. After a life-changing accident, Tanner now possesses the ability to “shift” into any car he wants, at any time.
This shifting is the biggest point to the game; it works by seeing a real time bird’s-eye view of the city and, while controlling a reticle, you can select any car at
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any moment and jump directly into the driver’s seat. Think of it as a Mr. Smith Matrix-style transition, yet it works unbelievably well and can make for some intense driving experiences. The shifting creates a fast-paced world and is extremely satisfying once you get the hang of it.
I had my suspicions at first, but after some time and practice I found this to be a well-executed change to the open world driving game – although I still haven’t figured out what his real body is doing in his own car during all of this zombie driving.
There are challenges you compete in to earn willpower points, which you can spend on vehicles and upgrades or to unlock more challenges. And like the first Assassin’s Creed, the game makes you complete a certain amount of street challenges to unlock the next chapter of the story (which is usually a by-the-numbers follow mission). All of this slows up the story and your connection with the character.
Despite that, Driver: SF is still a solid game. Ubisoft has beautifully recreated San Francisco with crowded sidewalks and licensed cars while engineering an incredible draw distance that runs at a smooth 60 frames per second. Despite the lackluster story and repetitive challenges, the game is a well-crafted homage to the original and, if you were a fan then, getting behind the wheel of the new Driver: SF should be on your list.
Rating: Four out of Five Pies
(a word about our ratings)
Dave Trainer will beam into your body and take over your car only to total it by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Follow him @dave_trainer on Twitter. Driver: San Francisco, from Ubisoft, is available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.