Driver San Francisco... anybody play this last year? I'm an epic fan of the original, so I don't know how I missed this when it came out... and it is freaking spectacular. I don't get why this game didn't go over bigger.
The graphics aren't anything amazing for a driving game, but for a massive open-world where everything is persistent, they are pretty damn impressive.By everything being persistent I mean, if you see a VW Beetle go around the corner, wait 5 minutes, and then chase after it, it will actually be 2 miles down that road. If you leave a burnout, drive a 100 miles away and come back, it's still there.
It has everything that made the original game such a blast, from the car-chase-heavy missions to the film director mode, and this one's new mechanic of "shifting" makes this ... The single most interesting driving game I've ever played.
Any time you want, for as long as you want, you can "shift" your soul out of your body and either fly around at ground level, or move/hover above a living map of the city. Things slow down to a crawl, and you can jump into the body of any person in any vehicle you want, anywhere on the map. (Like your an agent in the Matrix)
At first I thought it was just a cop-out way of letting you switch between cars without needing any character animation, but it is actually so much more than that. It's a game onto itself, and helps makes this one of the most memorable titles this gen for me. It sounds so simple, but it is such an amazingly fun gameplay mechanic, and changes it from a racer to a kind of hybrid action-driving-puzzle-strategy game.
Losing the race? Jump to a car in an oncoming lane and slam head-first into the guy winning, or shift into a tractor-trailer 30 miles up the road and create a 10 car pile-up that blocks the finish line... Being chased by cops? Watch the entire chase from overhead, shift into a Firetruck when he gets close-by, and T-bone the cop car from a blind corner. You can use your imagination from there, and that's the best part. It was probably an hour in before I truly understood the importance of the mechanic and what the devs are trying to do with it, and I was just floored.
And that's just the point-to-point racing, there's also all kinds of challenges (ala Burnout Paradise), stunt-runs, etc... and the shifting plays a part of all of it. Hell, if you see a cop drive by with his lights on you can shift into him and go on his high-speed chase, or shift again into the guy he's chasing and be the felon. I've only scratched the surface and I am just so damn impressed There are basically no rules, you can do whatever you want, and be whoever you want.
The production quality of everything is just outstanding too. Gorgeous character models/animation for the people in the car with you, fantastic, truly funny writing, great sound design, great VO; everything is top notch. The overall story is kinda boring, but every body you shift into has his own little story going, and those are fantastic. If you jump into a sweet restored Camaro, you'll hear the guy's g/f bitching about how much more he loves his car then her. (That one sent my wife into hysterics) If you shift into a Dodge Neon, you're suddenly a teenage girl complaining on her cell phone. It's all just done so damn well.
On top of what a freaking blast it is to "Shift", somebody behind this game is my flipping soul mate, because this is the driving game I'm always bitching that I want. Detailed car models, in-car views with unique Dash, great arcade style handling... and everything is set-up to encourage you to do crazy things and then watch the amazingly robust replay of your entire gameplay session in Director mode. So, every race essentially plays out like a Hollywood car chase, and then you watch the movie (if you like). You bust through crates and saw-horses, jump through windows, flip through the air, kill hundreds of other drivers though your reckless behavior, etc...
I'm all about 70-80s muscle (I've had a lot of Camaros over the years), and my favorite driving game setting (when it's done well) is on congested city streets. This is that *1000, and it is done well man. Damn well. It is also 95% ALL 70s and 80s Muscle Cars!! Wooo! I already have 4 different Camaros in my garage. Four! I love this game.
It's open world like Midtown Madness or Midnight Club racing, but there's no frustration of missing a turn and losing the race like in those, because you can pause everything at any time and look around or change things to your need. If you screw up, you can just shift to another car and wait for the AI to correct your mistake. If you wanted to, you could shift out of your car, hover over a tree for ten minutes watching the clouds roll by, then flip back into your car as it crosses the finish line and still win the race. The game doesn't care. It's like you're God, in a driving game, in an episode of Starsky & Hutch. Just fantastic. So it becomes more of a fast-action puzzle game then a driving/racing title, and it's a blast.
There is a super-heavy pop-culture influence to it, and almost every car on the road is something you saw in a show or movie. The game makes no illusions about it either, as it is constantly making little references either visually or through trophies/dialogue to some 70s/80s movie or show that had a famous car. Earlier I shifted into a Delorean, and when it got up to 88 it started glowing and I got some trophy named after BttF. Hell, you can drive Eric Foreman's Vista Cruiser if you like...
The only complaints I have are that there's a very strange filter on the game to make it look like an old movie, and it really hurts the PQ. Your stuck with it too, as there is no way to turn it off or adjust any visual settings of any kind. The whole time I keep wanting to adjust the contrast, and you just can't. That and this game suports nothing. No 3D, no custom soundtracks, no steering wheels, nada. And that sucks, becuase I would LOVE to play this with my DFGT listening to some good 70s music. The era is the other major issue too, as they sorta half-assed the time-period. I assume they did it so they could put more modern cars in here, but it would have been better to just go all out with the theme.
You'll be plowing down the road in your 1972 Lemans with 70s songs blasting out the window, a dude who looks like SuperFly in the passenger seat, an intense scratch-filter on the screen... and then a 2011 Camaro drives by. It's just weird. It doesn't ruin the experience, but I would have preferred if they just said it was 1975 and went with it. Might have been more immersive that way. Oh well.
Know what the best part is though? I got the game for $12 in a clearance bin. I'd have paid full price for this in a minute if I'd known it existed. Great game. I think I have a new GOTY for 2011.
It's a real shame this isn't more well known, becuase it totally redeems the Driver franchise. Best one since 1, which really isn't saying much, but it's definitely true.