Giant Bomb Review

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Driver: San Francisco Review

4
  • X360
  • PS3

Driver: San Francisco takes the series in a supernatural direction with surprisingly exciting results.

There are plenty of licensed cars to bang up around the city.

Driver: San Francisco is a weird game, and that's probably exactly what it needs to be to stand out. Driver 3 was a real mess of a game, and the sloppy 1970s-tinged follow-up, Parallel Lines, wasn't much better. Driver: SF adds some interesting mechanics that help keep the action--which is otherwise comprised of your basic open-world driving game missions--from getting too stale. It's backed up by some interesting multiplayer options and a fun story that helps justify the game's mechanics while also giving the entire production a real "basic cable TV show" kind of quality that keeps the whole thing light and entertaining.

In the opening moments of Driver: San Francisco, your character, John Tanner, is put into a coma during a prison break by his longtime nemesis, Charles Jericho. But instead of just giving you eight hours of staring at a hospital bed, the game takes you inside Tanner's head, where everything seems to be proceeding as if nothing ever happened... except for the part where he can leave his body and hover high above San Francisco. Once you're having an out-of-body experience, you can warp back down into any vehicle in the city. Your possession of people works Quantum Leap style, so you'll look like Tanner, but when he looks in the mirror, he sees the body of the person he's possessing. Same goes for any passengers. With this ability at your fingertips, a lot of the typical driving game missions become a lot easier. Need to take down an opposing racer? Or stop a fleeing criminal? Warp into the driver's seat of a big rig and take them out with a head-on collision. Need to get across the city in a hurry? As you progress through the story, you can go higher and higher, making it a snap to cover great distances. It's pretty cool.

Of course, Tanner still thinks all of this stuff is happening in the real world, and he's a little shocked by these newfound abilities. So a lot of the fun comes from seeing him freak out about it and, eventually, start to figure out what, exactly, has happened to him. The story is broken up into chapters, and much of the actual story unfolds in cutscenes. It all feels like a cheesy buddy cop show with a bit of supernatural weirdness thrown in to freshen it all up a bit, even if it all comes together precisely the way you think it will.

The game is set in an open-world version of San Francisco, which works well because of its varied terrain and extreme hills. That said, if you're a local, don't expect to find your house. It's a stylized take on the city with a handful of the bigger landmarks. The basic districts are where they belong, at least, but the roads are way wider. It also models a bit of Marin County on the other side of the bridge, but the game is so unrealistic that it doesn't even feel that strange that the game always mispronounces the word "Marin." That aside, it's a great-looking version of San Francisco that runs at 60 frames per second, which goes a long way. This helps the game with its sense of speed and makes the whole experience just a little bit more pleasant across the board.

MIssion-wise, Driver: San Francisco sticks fairly close to the standard sort of design you'd expect from a game that doesn't let you get out of the car. You'll race around in checkpoint races, you'll takedown escaping criminals, get away from chasing enemies, and perform stunts in specific areas. Most of the missions aren't too difficult, though the open-world nature of the game does mean that sometimes the traffic will be lined up in a way that specifically screws you over, which is, of course, frustrating. That said, I only had to retry around four or five missions over the course of the entire game. One of those is the second-to-last mission, which is an amazing moment that I won't spoil, but it's worth noting that at one point it bugged out and prevented me from shifting out of my car, making it impossible to complete the objective. A reset and reload of the game got me back in with no further issues. Shifting from car to car freshens up these old mission ideas, but if you're already totally burnt out on this type of game, it's probably not enough to suck you back in.

It's not especially accurate at the street-level, but the game evokes San Francisco quite well.

On top of the story, which will last you six or seven hours if you skip the superfluous side stuff, the game has an interesting multiplayer side that builds a lot of quick mini games around the shift mechanic. Having a group of cops chasing one runner becomes a lot more interesting when the cops can jump into oncoming traffic, which turns any car into a cop car. When you're getting away, there's a sense of paranoia that comes from knowing that any of the oncoming cars could turn into a cop at a moment's notice and attempt to ram you head-on. Tag and other modes keep the action varied, and you'll earn experience along the way that gives you more multiplayer abilities. If you like, you can also just free-drive around the city with your friends or get into realistic races that disable all of the game's abilities.

It's short and light, but that doesn't mean that Driver: San Francisco is insubstantial. It has a good open world with a lot of options, and its supernatural cop tale builds to an effective climax that gives you a super-crazy ability that's absolutely worth experiencing for yourself... even if it only lasts for one mission.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
68 Comments
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Edited by Phoenix87

About time we got a decent Driver game.

Posted by WorldDude

So glad to hear this turned out okay!

Posted by Kinggi

It is a shame that i feel this game is gonna get buried underneath a pile of new releases. There are literally 3 other "good" games releasing today.

Posted by Vinny_Says

awesome, getting this for sure!

Posted by Peanut

This kinda has me excited. I played a ton of Drive and Driver 2 on the PS1, but nothing since thanks to all the shit it gets. Might have to check this out.

Posted by Masha2932

Great, i'll probably pick this up.

Posted by ManiacMaysin

Oh man, I had no idea what this game was about . . . but you had me at quantum leap.

Edited by Toms115

hmmmmm. gonna have to try the demo. also: i think i'm the only person on earth that enjoyed driver 3.

Posted by MightyDuck

Part of me really wants to pick this game up.  The demo was fun.  Although, I just ordered NHL 12 and Deus Ex, probably should hold off for a while.

Posted by Agent47
@Kinggi: Yeah I don't know what all these developers were thinking to release five games in one day, insane.
Posted by eric_s07

Great review Jeff!

Posted by Tan

First racing game to interesting me in....man can't even put a date on it.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

I was cautiously optimistic about this game after having fun with the demos that were put out, but still a little worried given the poor precedent set by previous releases.

But from the reviews I've been seeing, sounds like a lot of fun, definitely want to pick this up soon. If only a billion video games hadn't been released today (and more to come!) - my wallet weeps...

Thanks for the review, Jeff.

Edited by TadThuggish

Oh yeah. This review is the quality bar for Giant Bomb! Feels refreshing after that last one.

Anyway, what a surprise to have the first good Driver game in over a decade. (It's like they un-Soniced themselves!) My experience became a positive one when I realized Shift meant warping between cars on the road and not manual transmission.

Posted by AxleBro

quick look please!

Posted by Landon

I downloaded the demo a few days ago thinking, nay, EXPECTING it to suck. But I was surprised at how much fun it actually was.

Posted by tme

Wow.. i was expecting 2 stars 3 at best. This is a pleasant surprise.

Posted by AjayRaz

i want it sooo bad. don't regret my Disgaea 4 purchase, though. this can wait~

Posted by Jaegernaut

suprised, I hated the demo
Posted by Kurtdyoung

Wow at first I was not sure what to make of the crazy coma thing. However, this sounds like a real fresh take on a racing-ish game. Great Review.

Posted by FoxMulder

hmmmm.... maybe a rental

Posted by mrcraggle

Actually really surprised how well this is being received. The whole thing with the coma sounded ridiculous and the demo didn't really sell me. CheapyD from CAG said it's one of the best driving games he's played in awhile.

Posted by Winsord

I really didn't like the demo for this game. Hopping from car to car made it feel too easy and the controls, whilst intentionally slide-y to be like a 70s cop show, felt bad to me. Maybe I'll rent it sometime in the future, but that demo left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Posted by Stache

My only impetus for buying this was to find my apartment, ram the shit out of all of the cars taking my favorite parking spots, and claim them for my very own. That and ramming a car into the front door of my office building.

Since I can't do that, and the driving in the demo left me with a huge "meh" feeling. I will not be picking this one up.

Also, talking to one of the employees(Trying to find a copy of Dead Island, with no luck), each Best Buy in the city only got 5 copies of Driver SF today. Five. For a game based in the city for which it's being sold.

But hey, they did get 150 copies of Madden in.

Posted by csl316

Quite pleased that a Driver game is actually getting some praise.

Posted by Olivaw

I am stoked to see this game. 
 
It sounds so silly! 
 
Tell me Tanner leaps out of his coma bed and drags his IVs everywhere during the last mission. That would be so great.

Posted by Napalm
@tme said:
Wow.. i was expecting 2 stars 3 at best. This is a pleasant surprise.
Exactly my words.
Posted by Artie

I'm surprised that this game sounds better than "TIMED DRIVING MISSIONS... The game." 
 
The demo was neat, I'm glad Driver is doing better the series had a cool idea.

Posted by MormonWarrior

Quantum Leap reference? Approved!

Posted by alphanull

Such a shame Ubisoft is publishing, because the game seems pretty good.  
 
I refuse to support awful DRM practices.
 
I understand that you're reviewing the console versions of the game, but surely you must know about this horrible DRM debacle, Jeff. Why not even mention it in the review?  
It's a customer experience issue so surely it's relevant.

Edited by Scodiac

I enjoyed the cut-scenes and thought the shifting mechanic made a simple race much more interesting during the demo. The way you had to place 1st and 2nd to win was pretty cool. It was fun and the licensed cars didn't hurt either.

It's good to hear that the full product lives up to that demo and I'm really interested in what happens in those final missions. I might buy it. I think it's a surprise to most gamers that this game is actually worth a try.

Posted by TheYear20XX

The idea that the entire story is just a coma dream is frankly amazing to me.

Posted by Hot_Karl

The thing that bugs me about this game is that "San Francisco" in Driver: San Francisco is not even close to the real thing. It's not even trying.  It's like when Toronto so obviously is set up to be "New York" in major film productions. 
 
With that said, this game seemed alright from the demo. I don't think I can muster up the $60 for much of anything these days, but Driver will get my money in a few months when this holiday season dies down a bit more.

Posted by Hizang

I really thought this would be bad, I am so happy it is not though, I really enjoyed the first Driver game.

Posted by MisterMouse

color me surprised! But that is good!

Posted by kalmis

Parallel Lines is much better game than Driv3r is. Anyway, glad that this game is getting so good reviews. Didn't like the SP demo but could see how much fun this can be online.

Posted by MrMazz

ya know im not really a car game type of guy. The whole jacking mechanic seemed pretty lame and laughable. All that said dosen't seem like a bad rental/sale buy.

Posted by Jimbo

I'd pick this up if they hadn't made such a hash of the PC version again. Sounds neat.

Posted by ectoplasma

Sounds great. Apparently someone understood how to innovate on a core idea, while changing up the gameplay just enough.

Posted by Eyz

This one got me totally by surprise... Haven't really liked a Driver since the original waaay back. But playing the demo, I actually enjoyed the new gimmick. Keep things fresh^^

Posted by Mutley

Wow really?! A four star game?

Well, I am indeed surprised!

Posted by Quantical

I really wasn't expecting a four. Are you OK Jeff?

Posted by TheGreatGuero

That actually sounds like a really interesting idea. Well, I think I'll totally have to check this one out. I used to love the Driver games.

Posted by slowbird

Shit! Jeff just talked me into this game. :D

Posted by cikame

I'm so glad you like it jeff, i love this game it's so much fun.

Posted by doghascome

cant wait for the pc version.

Posted by MEATBALL

Goddamnit guys, my wallet was really counting on this, Resistance 3 and Dead Island sucking. They'll have to wait a while, unfortunately.

Posted by zombie2011

The MP in this game looks fun as hell, if only it came out earlier this year i would have got it. Now i'm just waiting for Forza 4 to come out.

Posted by Dr_Who

Wow 4 stars I hated the demo but I guess each to there own. 

Posted by Vexxan

Sounds like a better game than I thought it would be.

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