Driver: San Francisco
Developer: Ubisoft Revelations
Platforms: Playstation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii, PC, Mac OS
Availability: Out Now
Price: AU$108.00/US$59.99 (Available Here)
The Driver series has been around for quite some time, back in 1999 for the original Playstation. Since then, there have been three releases in the main series and a few spinoffs. Driver: San Francisco is the latest in the main series. I’ll sum up my opinion in one sentence: this game is a must buy. The story is well-written, the gameplay is absolutely amazing and the visuals are stunning. The music is alright, but the sound effects will make your inner car lover smile. If there is one thing that drags it in the mud, however, it would have to be the multiplayer.
The story starts off with Charles Jericho, a convicted felon from the previous Driver games, being transported to court for his sentencing hearing. John Tanner, an undercover cop with his partner Tobias Jones, travel to a nearby overpass to see the police convoy take Jericho to the court, making sure nothing goes wrong. It was Tanner who put Jericho behind bars, so there is a bit of personal history between them. Flying above, a news chopper follows the convoy; however, the newswoman kills the cameraman and holds the pilot hostage. With an RPG, she destroys the convoy, giving Jericho enough time to escape his shackles and hijack the police van. Tanner and Jones are swept into action, going on a wild goose chase throughout San Francisco, only for Tanner and Jones to get involve in a hellacious car accident with a semi-trailer. I have given you a basic rundown of the prologue to the game. It is action packed, full of explosions and asks questions that will hook you into the game, like the central question: Are they going to get Jericho?
The game’s story is set out in chapters, focusing on finding Jericho and dismantling his criminal organisation. In order to keep his progress and try to link everything, he keeps a small board, showing what he has discovered over the course of the game. When you finish a story mission, Tanner will always return to this board to link new information in Tanner’s investigation. It’s like finding the next jigsaw piece for that puzzle that takes forever to compete. Story missions are not the only time you can access it. Choosing ‘Investigation’ in the pause menu and you will return there to remind yourself of what you know.
On the character side, I do see myself rooting for Tanner. He is your classic action hero, a cocky badass with witty one-liners. Jones acts in a similar way, but both are quite funny and fit the whole game. Jericho is rarely seen, but you could always feel his presence in the events of the game. The minor characters in the various missions offer a fresh side-story as a counter balance to the main story. A particular favourite of mine is Jun, a Chinese-American who participates in street races for money to fund his cousin’s college dreams. The interaction between Tanner and the cousin is quite funny to hear as you race for first place. Overall, the story and characters are well-developed.
The game’s core mechanic is, as the title suggests, focused on driving. All of the missions, both story and side, will take place in a car. You steer with the analogue stick while using R2/RB to accelerate and L2/LB to break and reverse. Pressing O activates the handbrake. Pressing the select button changes the camera angles within the car. The angles consist of behind the car, driver’s seat, bonnet and the grill. I often switched between full view and the driver’s seat. Within the driver’s seat, you may notice the speedometer and RPM meters actually move as you drive. I found this quite impressive, to be honest. It felt like I was driving a car. The driving in the game aims for a realistic approach, but also for a high octane, action packed stunt driver. You are rewarded for being a fast, reckless man (or woman) behind the wheel. Drifting is quite awesome and rewarding if done right. The thrill of going down the straight, passing other cars is present. It is a great feel, one that is done perfectly. Now, they need to patch it with support for steering wheels.
There is a variety of missions as Tanner tries to find Jericho after his escape. These vary from races to stopping a getaway. All of these missions are quite fun to do. One mission I found hilarious early in the game was a mission where Tanner takes control of a student driver. The objective of the mission is to scare the teacher out of his wits, indicated by a heart rate monitor at the top left corner of the screen. This allows you to become the craziest driver you can possibly be. Crashing into cars, speeding down the straight and driving on the wrong side of the road ensured me that I was doing it right. After every mission, it unlocks progress to the story mission and rewards the player with Willpower Points, used to buy new cars for the garage, instead of actual money.
An interesting and unique feature of this game is Shift. No, it doesn’t refer to manual shifting in a car. I refer to the ability to switch cars on the fly. Back when the first Driver was released on the Playstation, the ability to get out of the car was not present. Although other games introduced this feature, it was removed from the game to give it an unique flavour from other games of the same genre. Shift is activated with the X/A button and it allows you to travel throughout San Francisco. Once you see a car you want, pressing X/A allows you to possess the body. This is how you activate missions. I’m actually glad they did travel down this route. It opens a new gameplay avenue rarely seen in the sandbox genre. For example, you are taught to shift to cars heading in the opposite direction in order to conduct a head on collision. Rapid Shift is also available, but is only available when there is a partner car involve. Finding yourself trailing behind a getaway car but you AI partner close by? Hit R1/RT and you’ll shift into that car. It is also useful to return to the car you are currently using. Shift is a deep system of changing cars. It is also quite fun to use.
There are two other features that I should note, which are unlocked very early in the game. First off is the ram ability. Ram is the ability to line any car and unleash a devastating attack upon another vehicle on the road. In order to use the ability, hold L1/LT then release when you feel it is right. It is a necessity for mission which involves heaping destruction on another car or catching a car during a getaway mission. The second will help you catch up to runaway cars or give you an edge in the race. Tanner can boost any car he drives by pulling the left analogue stick up. No nitrous oxide (NO2), this is Tanner given the ability to boost any car he drives. These abilities are upgradeable at the garage.
OK, so some of the abilities sound a little supernatural for a game about cars, criminals and realistic location. I am not bothered with it. It is a breath of fresh air to see a game with some unique ideas being put in. The best thing about it is that it actually works and is fun to use in the process. The Shift ability allows you to see all of San Francisco and it is smooth when in transition. Boosting and ramming is also quite fun to use. Overall, the gameplay will keep you on the game for a long time. It is well-designed and fun to play with.
I’ll sum up the visuals of the game in one sentence: these are the one of, if not the best, visuals you will ever see in any seventh generation game. I’ll start off with the meat of the graphical department: San Francisco itself. It is a great recreation. I haven’t been to the city itself, but the designs are realistic, almost life like. The character models in the game are simply gorgeous. Tanner and Jones are well-detailed during cutscenes, as well as the other characters. Even during gameplay, when two characters are interacting with each other on the top of the screen, the models looked closer to real life. It is quite amazing. Also a neat idea was the “Previously…” scenes, where the action of the previous chapter is re-told in a short amount of time. This is where the graphics shine. The style reminds me of an 80’s buddy cop drama on television with the use of multi-frames. It kept you up to speed, but the character models are simply stunning.
The vehicles are also divine. Car lovers will fall in love with the amount of detail put in building the authentic cars in the game. Gamers and car lovers would notice the abundance of real life car manufactures. For example, expect to see Dodge, Nissan, Audi and Ford. These are a few of the manufacturers. Ubisoft Reflections have done a wonderful job with the cars. They have recreated the bodies, interiors and other features perfectly. Overall, the visual capabilities are some of the best you will see in this generation.
The music is top notch in Driver: San Francisco. From the moment you open up the main menu, you are greeted with an action packed main theme. It captures the style of both the story and the game. So do the various themes through the game. One piece of music I like is the piece when the “Previously…” scenes are shown, adding to the action. Within the cars themselves, there are no radio stations available. Instead, there are a pre-selection of tracks. To be quite honest, I have never heard of all of the artists that have a track in the game. I also didn’t notice the track playing in the background, taken over by the engines of each car I drove. They really hit the nail on the head with the sound effects. The engines roar like proper engines. Metal crashing into each other is music to my ears. It is heaven for anyone with a car loving bone in their body. Overall the music complements the style of the game, thus a perfect fit.
For the first time in the series, Driver: San Francisco has online multiplayer. So, how does it fare up? Quite well, actually, gameplay wise. There was no noticeable lag and it was quite fun. Too bad I have to be Negative Nancy about it. The multiplayer is a mess, and here is why.
First off, assuming you don’t have an Uplay account, you have to create one, which takes about a few minutes. Once that is done, you have to enter a passcode to unlock these features. Now, I am not a fan of this method. If you bought the game with the intent of playing with friends or strangers online, you should have that right. I don’t care if it is bought used. Instead of locking out players, why not offer discounted DLC or exclusive DLC for those who buy it brand new. Much better than those codes. So that will take about another few minutes. So that is about five minutes to access online multiplayer.
But that is just the beginning. Once you have finally entered the multiplayer mode, you might notice that you are in Tanner’s Dodge Challenger, which is the multiplayer menu. When you enter the mode menu, you will see quite a few choices of modes. These range from races, takedowns, Capture The Flag and so on. There is one problem: you have to be at a specific level to play them. You heard me right. Which means you can only play one mode in online multiplayer, Free For All. Words can not describe the utter disappointment I felt when I saw this. Imagine that you could only play Free For All on Call of Duty until you gained more prestige. Abilities and other little things are fine, but not modes of gameplay.
Of course, there is split screen offline multiplayer. The modes are divided between co-op and competitive. Unfortunately, spilt screen is limited to two players. Overall, the multiplayer is fun, particularly online, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you decide to stick with the single player story.
What a game Driver: San Francisco is. On the gameplay side, the unique features keep the game fresh while the driving aspect of the game is fast and furious (yeah, I’m going there). The story is interesting, alongside its cast of characters. The visuals are absolutely stunning, one of the best in the seventh generation, including the attention to detail to the authenticity of each and every car. The music is also put together, but the in-car tracks are barley noticeable as you race through the streets. However, it is not the perfect game, as multiplayer is a muddled up mess If you are a fan for driving games, open world games or just excellent, well built games, then Driver: San Francisco is a must for anyone’s Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 collection.