You could be forgiven if you have set your sights a little low for the latest Driver game, San Francisco. Ever since the original Driver was released the franchise seems to have gone from bad to worse, with every subsequent release leaving you, the gamer, wanting so much more. To truly bring the franchise back to life Ubisoft and Reflections would need to bring something new to the table, something original, unique and give gamers those same emotions felt whilst playing the first Driver. Amazingly they have done all the above and so much more.
This latest instalment continues a few months after Driv3r, you watch on as Jericho, John Tanners nemesis, fiendishly engineers a daring escape whilst being transported through San Francisco. Tanner quickly finds himself thrust into a chase, but luck is not on Johns side as he becomes the victim of an RTA. The story is by no means oscar-worthy, it won’t leave you on tenterhooks and it has no cliff-hangers to keep you immersed, what it does have though is a unique ability to ‘Shift’.
The Shift mode gives you a chance to swap cars with a simple tap of your A button. Whilst in shift mode you can even zoom out and view the surrounding SF area and carefully pick where you’re going to cut off your opponent. Choosing the right car in Shift mode is also critical; if you want to simply keep up with your foe you’ll need something fast, a Lamborghini perhaps. If you need to end the chase quickly your best bet may in fact be a car haulage truck, using its size to shut off an entire highway. It is a great addition that turns this simple racing title, into a strategic one.
The story itself is basically set on a railroad and although you ultimately cannot deviate much from this pre-determined course there are a number of challenges along the way to keep your focus on edge. What you will find though, for the most part, is that the missions are pretty easy to accomplish, with only a few challenges truly testing your abilities. Even on the harder levels, as long as you’ve got luck on your side, for example clear intersections, stupid police AI etc, then you’ll find yourself having completed the game with barely any issues.
The side missions, like online, feature a variety of racing modes and also a number of stunt levels for you to complete. Completion of these side missions along with racking up additional points in the campaign for overtakes, jumps, drifting and crashes will help you unlock the over 100 licensed vehicles available. Like all racers you'll start off with basic cars working your way up to Astons, Lamborghinis, Audis and Jaguars.
The cars themselves do try and stay true to the actual driving experience, however a little bit of madness has been injected into each one. The American Dodge’s sound loud, crude and angry, the British Jaguars and Astons are quiet, nimble and barely put a foot wrong, and the trucks, well, they’re just trucks. The roads seem a little wide too, maybe Reflections have done this to help forgive some of the poorer drivers playing the game. The crashes are not overly realistic, but they’re fun. When playing a game of cops and robbers who really wants to end the chase with one well placed hit to the robbers radiator grill, no, we want to work for the kill and earn the victory.
Online, San Francisco further improves as the shift ability makes for addictive stat grabbing races. You can play a variety of modes including Cops and Robbers, Team Races, Shift Racing, Trail Blazing, Capture the Flag and Tag to name but a few. As you play these games your ability to use the Shift ability increases ten fold, you find yourself shifting in to cars the exact moment your enemy goes into the front of it, earning you valuable points. When using trucks you can block off crafty side alleys that your opponents will try to sneak through, and in police mode you try to ‘box’ in the robber using a bit of teamwork and well timed Shifting. Whilst racking up points you’ll be able to unlock new cars to use online, icon packs to customise your LIVE profile and new game modes for you to try out. You also have to qualify for each race, a burden you may think, but finish first and you start the race with additional boost and weapon power.
Looking beyond the pretty lacklustre plot, Driver San Francisco is a breath of fresh air within the once rotting Driver franchise. Despite its relative simplicity the single player mode is filled with enough challenges and stunts to keep any gamer occupied. Going online the game gets even better as you battle it out behind the wheel of… well whichever vehicle takes your fancy. The Shift mode for some may seem a little gimmicky, but for most it will be a great new twist that takes this racing game into an entirely new direction. It’s a shame that this may slip past the gaze of many for it truly is one of the best games that has been released this year. If you want your faith restored in the Driver franchise, then go out and buy Driver: San Francisco.