Driver: San Francisco Review (Xbox 360): Hollywood Car Chase Dreams Can Come True

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For those of you that have been waiting patiently for Driver: San Francisco to hit the streets this week, so that you can have your opportunity to drive wantonly about the Bay Area in just about everything that has four wheels, you are ultimately in luck: Driver is going to hook you up and then some.  So to be fair up front, 100% driving based titles have never really been my thing.   I never quite felt that a strictly driving based title could offer up enough to keep me entertained, drive a story (No pun intended..seriously!) , or keep the action level up to a point I actually wasn’t bored.  That said, Driver: SF has done something here that simply has not been done before in this genre and will keep just about any racing gamer and/or action game player entertained throughout the entire story.  Then, just because the story is over that doesn’t mean that you are by any means “done” in Driver: SF.  There are plenty of side missions, challenges, and a massively engaging multiplayer system just sitting there waiting for you to go to work on all of your closest friends and a few annoying drifting fans that you can beat up on to pass the time.

So what makes Driver: San Francisco so interesting?  A lot of things to be honest, but let’s start from the top shall we?  (Seems like a perfectly logical place to start to me.)  Driver: SF opens up with plenty of cinematic cut scenes that set up the entire story for the player.  You learn quickly that one Charles Jericho has “found his way” off death row and onto the streets of San Francisco and like any action packed movie and/or game it’s up to you to track him down.  Gamers will play the part of John Tanner, a hardened detective that will have to use a series of new and unique game play features in order to track Jericho down and bring him to justice.  This experience is augmented by a nearly 200 kilometer road surface recreation of San Francisco, and the immediate Bay Area, that will take gamers to many iconic SF locations including the massive Golden Gate Bridge.  But, that’s not all.  Driver: SF also gives players nearly 120 individually unique, and fully licensed, vehicles for Tanner to take control of and lay rubber all over the great city of San Fran’s roads, completing a cross-section of different story and side missions used to earn in-game currency to unlock more vehicles and abilities.  Anything from pursuit based challenges, tailing missions, street races, timed deliveries, stunts, and many other missions will keep players busy guessing what’s coming next with plenty of Hollywood flare to fill the gaps.   Think Starsky and Hutch, but not quite, but yeah, kinda is.

..the only thing lacking is  a dead ringer for Huggy Bear..

Driver: San Francisco’s actual story line is pretty out there.  We’re talking, in the first 30 minutes of the game you will most likely experience a, “Are you freaking kidding me?!” moment.   However, you will come to terms with how far out there the primary plot is and just focus on the pretty awesome features that Driver: SF puts in your hands to see the story through.  That being said, in the interest of keeping you wondering what on earth that means I won’t spoil anyone’s fun by explaining it here.  However, I will attempt to explain the otherwise most innovative feature that Driver: SF provides to players: Shift.  Shift is an ability that your character, Tanner, receives fairly early in the game that ultimately allows him to instantly change vehicles and take control.  Sounds complicated right?  Well, truth is the game steps you through learning how to use Shift over time and you get used to it rather quickly.  You learn how to jump in and out of the Shift mode, select better vehicles, set up road blocks, take out vehicles, etc.  This feature also allows you to jump around the entire Bay Area looking for story and side missions as you progress and makes the city much easier to navigate as it expands.

All of this breaks down into what basically is the epitome of a high octane Hollywood blockbuster car chase movie.  With a smooth combination of cut scenes, in-line story progression via mission play, and an unbelievable amount of side missions the game provides players with an experience that is rewarding and entertaining.  You are the movie, or story if you will, players will be integrated from the first cut-scene all the way to the end of the game allowing for that, “personal” experience some games provide, but most attempt and fail at.  Though load times, at least in the Xbox version, can be somewhat annoying, this distraction is quickly overlooked as the pace of the game picks up and you start driving your way towards completion.  Missions can be played at the player’s discretion, however certain missions must be completed in order to progress the story forward instead of banking up currency for the purchase of more vehicles.  There is a certain amount of theory and attention to detail here that players should gain an understanding of early, as certain missions require players to use vehicles they have purchased, while other missions will stick you with a particular vehicle.  This will make the game’s learning curve either somewhat annoying or completely unmanageable depending on how you choose to purchase upgrades and/or certain vehicles as the game progresses.  Other than what feels sort of like trying to drift a brick on wheels at times, the game’s mechanics are fairly solid and controls are responsive enough to not be overly annoying.  There will be a stiff learning curve for some folks, but most old hands at driving games will feel right at home.

Though the beauty and longevity of Driver: SF isn’t just contained to its primary story mode and side missions, it also features a fairly unique multiplayer system that should provide gamers with hours of entertainment.  Featuring on-line play and split-screen action Driver: SF allows you and your friends to beat the living snot out of one another in head-to-head racing modes, classic take down mode, a unique version of “tag” (yeah, as in “tag you’re it!”) and many more.  Though on-line play will require access to Ubisoft’s Uplay Passport, players will obtain a code with their new purchase of the game.  Anyone who buys used will have to pay the $9.99 in order to access online modes and extra content.

That said, this otherwise completely out there, Twilight Zone like, game really is a soup to nuts experience for those who really enjoy driving based, action games.  The game features nearly 120 vehicles to drive and enjoy and is only amplified by the different types of missions at player’s fingertips throughout the game.  While the plot may be a tad different, the core of the game is solid in terms of game time (roughly eight hours of story mode game play, without side missions) and provides a masterfully rendered environment to explore.  From the character models, vehicle models, and city streets, Driver: SF does a great job of creating a cinematic experience that flows from cut-scene to gameplay in a manner that is really easy on the eyes.  Tie that in with great voice acting and bone crunching sound effects and it really puts a bow on the entire package.  Take into account the 11 mode multiplayer system and Driver: SF is a complete package that hasn’t been seen for a while.

All things consider Driver: San Francisco is a solid 8.5 out of 10 or GREAT rating in our book.

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Christopher Poirier
I started gaming when it was nothing more than green screens and clunky keyboards. Today, I play everything and anything that provides for a gaming experience. Good, bad, indifferent, and some times even ugly. I'm here to tell you whats up.