Driver: San Francisco takes the series back to its roots. It’s a fresh entry in the series that has arguably lost a bit of fuel over its past iterations, failing to reach the heights of the brilliant original for the PlayStation. While Driver: San Francisco certainly gets a little repetitive towards the end — the missions are great fun at first but seem to follow the same formula throughout — the experience is engaging and memorable, driven by a fantastic ‘Shift’ mechanic that is dynamically entertaining.
Lengthy experience – Driver: San Francisco has a tonne of content to shift through, both online and in the single-player campaign. The campaign will keep you occupied for a very long time, and there’s plenty of stuff alongside the main story to keep you engaged with the characters and plots. The missions vary from car races, police chases and stunt objectives, and while the stories woven into these mini-missions are about as corny as you’re ever going to see, the gameplay offers enough enjoyment to blanket an incoherence they might offer on the plot front. Playing these missions will unlock new Tanner missions, which act as the main goals to unlock more about the main story and protagonist John Tanner’s history with other characters. On top of all of this are a bunch of side-quests, so you can rest assured that you’ll have plenty to play with when entering into the campaign.
Shift your way to justice – A fantastic new addition to the Driver experience, ‘Shift’ allows you to instantaneously ‘shift’ from one body to another, meaning you can change cars at any one moment. The mechanic is especially beneficial as it reduces the amount of travel you need to do in the world, making those long trips from mission to mission seem considerably less tedious. Activating the feature brings you into a birds-eye view of the city, at which point you choose any car on the map to enter. It works well and breaks away from the traditional open-world experience, adding a sense of creativity to trip-skipping, as ridiculous as the premise behind it might be.
Engaging open-world – The gameworld in Driver: San Francisco is quite large. There’s plenty of road to drive on throughout, with missions scattered all over. Sure, any big, open world for an open-world game such as this is to be expected, but it’s really about what’s actually in the world that defines its worth. You’re looking at about 335km of road to traverse as well as plenty of recognizable San Francisco landmarks. Previous Driver iterations generally did a pretty good job of offering an accurate recreation of a city, and Driver; San Francisco continues that trend with a virtual world that should make any San Franciscan feel right at home.
Surprisingly entertaining online – You’re looking at six different multiplayer modes on offer, giving plenty of value alongside the game’s seemingly endless amount of content in single-player (not to mention a very awesome list of licensed cars, which one can only expect in a Driver game). One fantastic mode is ‘Trailblazer’: going up against four other friends, the goal is to stay in the trail of an escaping DeLorean, with only one car at a time able to stay in the stream. It makes for a very frantic and action-packed online experience as all players strive to get in the position needed to win the match. Thankfully, Shift has been added to the multiplayer component, with a slowly replenishing meter implemented to restrict how often you use the feature.
The Will to Drive – Optional missions that are scattered throughout the city earn you will power points, as will performing car stunts like drifting. These points can be used to buy new cars, with garages scattered throughout the map. Cars are fully licensed and range from your basic, slow vehicle, to a quick supercar such as a Ford GT. Driving mechanics aren’t especially realistic but they do compliment the pacing and tone of the experience, blending arcadey handling with accessible controls. After all, the experience is very much driven by stunts and quick driving action, so the developer has certainly hit the mark in that regard.
Repetitive later on – There’s a fantastic amount of content in Driver: San Francisco, but it is ultimately held down by a sense of receptiveness towards the end of the experience. The abundance of side-missions blanket how often you’ll actually be doing the same tasks over and over again, but leading into the game’s conclusion much of what you’ll be doing would have already been done early on. The main missions don’t have this issue, but Tanner’s missions can only be unlocked by completing all of the side-missions, and these are just made up of the same objectives over and over.
Storyline is downright ridiculous – Driver: San Francisco follows on from Driv3r, following main character Tanner and criminal Jericho. The criminal mastermind came to San Francsico after having escaped from Istanbul, only to be captured and imprisoned shortly after his arrival. As one might predict, Jericho escapes during a prison transfer, leading Tanner into an action-packed chasing sequence that offers a fantastic introduction to the experience. The chase ends with Tanner being run down and ending up in a coma, which forms the basis of the game’s narrative: while in his deep sleep, Tanner dreams of chasing after Tanner, and this is where the action takes place. It’s simply ridiculous but, thankfully, not especially influential on how entertaining the game can be.
The Final Verdict
Jam-packed full of content and with plenty of awesome licensed cars to enjoy, Driver: San Francisco is thrill ride that brings the series back to its driving roots. While the missions get a little repetitive near the end, the experience as a whole is refreshing and engaging, and the game’s ‘Shift’ mechanic makes for a very satisfying way of taking down the bad guys that plague the streets.