Driver: San Francisco Xbox 360 Review

September 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Xbox 360, Features, Reviews

Publisher – Ubisoft – Developer – Ubisoft Reflections – Genre –  Action – Players – 1-8 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3, Wii

The Driver series has had its ups and downs but never has it been as crazy as the latest game in the series, Driver: San Francisco. This is a Driver game that is once again all about the driving, removing the on-foot sections and going completely back to its roots, but who’d have thought that the series was ever going to get so strange as it has done here. Am I complaining? No, I’m most certainly not.

At the beginning of the game, following a car chase regular series character John Tanner is injured when he’s pursuing Charles Jericho, who has just escaped from prison. In hospital and in a coma, Tanner is having lucid dreams, in which it’s possible for him to jump from one vehicle to another in the blink of an eye, without even leaving his own vehicle. This is the very strange set-up for what happens to be a highly amusing game, which wants you to laugh with it as opposed to you taking it seriously. It’s also a nice change to see that the game doesn’t have mature themes just because most other games of the type have mature themes, with the game being free from bloody violence and only having mild and occasional profanity. In fact, it’s nice to see the series going in a completely different direction – this is a series that started out all about the driving after all, and then it became a franchise that seemingly was trying to keep up with Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series in terms of combining driving and shooting, and even found time to poke fun at the fact that Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti was unable to swim. Well, developer Ubisoft Reflections has now done a smart thing and ignored the series’ peers. They’ve gone all out to do their own thing.

Yes, each vehicle has a detailed interior view. A rarity for a game of this type.

The so called Shift mechanic is one of the best things to happen to an open-world game in a long time, and really opens up some great possibilities. Initially, Tanner finds himself shifting into the body of an ambulance driver, which is strange and confusing for the character, but he does soon embrace it, and I’m sure that many players will do so as well. When you shift into another vehicle, Tanner basically hijacks the driver’s body, which certainly results in some amusing moments involving Tanner pretending to be someone else if there happens to be a passenger onboard, whom often notice the change in the people that they know, or thought they knew. It’s so ridiculous, but the witty dialogue really adds some charm, and it’s certainly very refreshing storytelling for such a game.

Shifting is something which could have grown stale quite quickly, but the developer has done a tremendous job in using it in various and interesting ways throughout the story. Chase sections can be turned into head on crashes by shifting into an oncoming vehicle, which is also a handy tactic during a race that you may happen to be losing. Perhaps you are required to steal a certain amount of vehicles within a time limit by getting them inside trucks, and you’ll be driving the vehicles to the locations speedily and shifting quickly to the next vehicle by making use of the overhead map. A team race may have the objective of finishing in 1st and 2nd place, of which a touch of a button allows you to rapid shift between the two vehicles. These are just a couple of examples, and there are certainly a good number of missions which combine shifting and high speed driving to good effect.

If you shift into another vehicle, any other important vehicles are left for the AI to take charge of. The AI is competent enough, but if you’re not careful enough and don’t take charge at the correct moment, it can let you down at times, which does bring about occasional frustration. But this is only a very small niggle in a game which has very few problems to speak of.

Shifting is initially done so at ground level, although eventually you’re able to climb into the heights of the sky, allowing you to quickly access missions and have an overhead view of the city of San Francisco. If games such as Mafia II annoy you for having to drive around all the time to get to your destination, then Driver: San Francisco will probably go down very well with you. But the openness of the game also allows you to drive around the city if you want to do so, and seeking out the movie tokens (which unlock film inspired challenges) certainly gives you an excuse.

Also, San Francisco, with its immense level of graphical detail, huge jumps and long stretches of highways, is an enjoyable place to drive around. The vehicle handling definitely makes the large and lovingly detailed licensed vehicles (yes, they can be badly smashed up!) fun to control, and just as they should in a Driver game, the vehicles feel quite heavy and, when breezing around tight corners with the handbrake is mastered, this is going to etch many smiles across faces.

There’s plenty to do in Driver’s San Francisco outside of the main storyline. I already mentioned the movie tokens, but you can also purchase garages, vehicles and upgrades. As for missions, completing City missions unlock Tanner (story) missions and there are also various challenges, activities and dares for you to take part in. There’s racing, chasing, and missions which have you driving at or over a certain speed for so many seconds, overtaking a requisite amount of vehicles, jumping a specific distance, and much more. Thankfully, it’s all as silly and over the top as the rest of the game.

The Film Director feature, which was absent in 2006's Driver: Parallel Lines, makes its return. You can also once again share your clips with other players.

Driver: San Francisco also has an expansive set of multiplayer options, which can be played both locally and online. Multiplayer modes are in no way bolted on and are just as refreshing as the single player. Shift is once again a prominent feature in many of the modes, and there’s everything from racing to Capture the Flag included. Some other examples include a chase mode, in which it allows you to play both as the police and a getaway driver, with all the police players able to shift into other vehicles if they fall behind the player being chased, or they just fancy springing a surprise. There’s another team based mode in which you have to protect or attack a base, with shifting once again becoming a life saver in many situations. Tag has you tagging a vehicle and keeping it as long as possible, while the other players will chase you down to get the tag for themselves, and Trailblazer has you attempting to follow a marked vehicle by keeping in its trails. All these modes aren’t available from the off, although the multiplayer is an excellent reason for the game to stay in any disc drive following the completion of the single player portion, and with the Shift ability it’s definitely something fresh. I have no doubt that you wouldn’t have played anything quite like this before.

In fact that’s Driver: San Francisco on the whole – like nothing you have ever played before. This fifth game in the series is Driver reborn in another guise, complete with a simple but groundbreaking gameplay mechanic, and this really sets the game apart from other open-world games. The single player and the multiplayer portions come together well, and the crazy and chaotic nature of the story is also something a little different. All in all then, I just can’t recommend it enough.