Mending the Wounds
I didn’t buy Driv3r, but I have on pretty good authority that, that game is garbage, so when I heard about Driver: San Francisco I laughed...hard, after all, what hope could there possibly exist for a franchise that had been so thoroughly destroyed in its last big outing? So hanging on to my great memories of John Tanner’s adventures in Driver 2 I quickly dismissed Driver: SF, proving my idiocy. It took me watching the GB quick look to see that Driver: SF was not the same crap as Driv3r, but it was not only a good driving game, but one that had a truly unique feature that made me excited to play it, so after that quick look I decided to get Driver: SF when I had the money for it.
Driver: SF greatest accomplishment is, without a doubt, it’s story, sadly, it’s very rare when we can say that about driving games, so the fact that Driver: SF has, what probably is, the best story in a racing game is commendable, the game borrows heavily from 70’s cop shows ranging from tone to presentation, in fact this game could easily been a Starsky & Hutch game, every time a new chapter begins you are treated to a “previously on Driver: SF” moment (that gets down right annoying if you are playing for long stretches) the music on every story scene feels like it was made in the 70’s, and sometimes it actually was, and even the cars behave like 70’s cop show cars, and unfortunately, that’s where Driver: SF stumbles.
The driving model was made to emulate that of the 70’s cop show the game uses as inspiration, but aiming at that ideal the guys at Reflections clearly overshot it. In the world of Driver: SF friction does not exist, every single car in the game feels like it’s driving on ice, and Tanner’s car, that you are forced to use on the game’s story missions, feels like it’s driving on ice, oil and soap all at the same time. The game’s driving is a true hurdle at the beginning of the game, and as you get more of a feel for the handling of the cars, it downgrades to a nuisance. I never felt truly in complete control of the car as I feel in other games like Burnout or Forza, by the end of the game I had gotten used to it but never truly enjoyed it.
Other than it’s story Driver: SF greatest feature is the Shift mechanic, completely and well contextualized within the game world, the Shift mechanic allows Tanner to take control of any car in San Francisco, this makes for some unique gameplay as you can quickly end chases by shifting into oncoming traffic and hitting your pursuers, or your target, head on, while this is the most useful use of shifting, the games gives you plenty of different missions to do around the shift mechanic, it also makes open world traversal, often a boring chore, very easy and pleasant.
I was truly amazed with Driver: San Francisco, it had everything to be a failure, but it pulls through, not without some scrapes, but it manages to be a good experience overall, it’s great story makes up for the problematic driving. In a genre where all storylines are only enjoyed ironically (see NFS: Most Wanted) it feels good to have one that’s truly good