The shift ability is a new premise – gone are the days of being restricted to the body while driving as players can now move around the gaming world like a virtual apparition. But what kind of revolution can shift bring to the already saturated genre, well, a lot actually.
The story in Driver: San Francisco is a simple one – Jericho, a deranged and dangerous criminal, has escaped from captivity and players take on the role of Tanner on his hunt to track down and place Jericho back behind bars. While pursuing him, Tanner is involved in a collision that almost costs him his life. Rushed to hospital, Tanner remains in a coma as players delve deep into his mind as his body stuggles to recover. Although Tanner is not immediately aware of his current situation, he becomes increasingly educated that there is indeed something wrong with his physical body; thanks to cleverly scripted billboards and echos from the real world. This is where the new “Shift” ability comes into play; allowing players to literally leap out of Tanner’s body and occupy the body of another Driver – all of this within the confines of Tanner’s mind.
While the story might sound like a throw-back plot from a cheesy TV soap, the script in Driver: San Francisco is flawed, but noteable. From the conversations between Tanner and Tobias Jones to the conversations you’ll literally drop into (thanks to your Shift ability), the script delivers a sharp, defined, focused and often humorous result.
Gamplay works in a very simple but invigorating way; use Shift to leap around the city (mopping up criminals as you go) in your pursuit to find a lead on Jericho’s whereabouts. By using Shift, players are encouraged to leap into random cars to complete side-missions and even simple objectives, but not forgetting the missions that will progress the story. There’s plenty of side-quests on hand, in fact, San Francisco is peppered with content that could take you months to finish – depending on how you play. With races, Cops and Robbers missions, stunts and so much more – Ubisoft have designed Driver: San Francisco to support those that want a drop-in and drop-out experience, but to nuture those that want a more immersive one.
As far as driving goes, the Driver franchise is many respects, set the standard in the older days of pre-physics; cars responded realistically for the time, tyres felt like they spun and even bounced down the bounding hills of San Fran. This time around, Ubisoft Reflections have pulled off that enchanting feeling all over again and the driving is some of the most natural, responsive and intuative driving that has ever existed within the gaming world. Cars feel like they have personality of sorts, so for that reason, using Shift can be as much about strategy as it is about power. Shift works like a catalyst for the gameplay so tearing up tyres isn’t enough; you have to build up your Shift meter and time your actions.
Graphically Driver: San Francisco looks stunning. Ubisoft’s rendition of San Francisco is a bustling world of its own, and a large one at that; with over 335 km of open road to be trekked as the sun bakes the world in an orange glow. San Fran, of the Driver world, looks about as attractive as the real deal and ultimately, but crucially, it feels like a real city. Reflections drown cars around you as you tear up the city. Animations prove to be a bit frustrating though as pedestrians, that wish to avoid becoming a pancake as you mount the pavement, jerk unnaturally to one side in a Crazy Taxi-esque motion that helps them avoid your bonnet. In fact, sometimes the pedestrians will walk or run through objects – all in the name of avoiding you. There’s also the frustrating animation as you drive while settling the camera inside the car; Tanner’s hands will fly around the wheel in a manner that suggests he doesn’t know what he’s doing rather than in full control – there’s no weight present in his actions. But these niggly issues are down to a sharp eye and nothing more, so more casual gamers will spot no difference and simply revel in the action.
In comtemporary gaming – multiplayer seems to be a no-brainer and Driver: San Francisco is not exception. While there’s plenty of modes to hack your way through – Tag mode has to be our favourite. The premise is simple; a vehicle will accumilate points over time until another shunts it and steals the “crown”. But there’s a twist to the gameplay – one that offers a rush that is rarely felt in online games, and that twist is the Shift system. While escaping with the crown for example, it’s common place to see a 16-wheeler in the oncoming lane suddenly veer across 4 lanes of traffic with the intent of slamming into you. This Shift ability, in the multiplayer realm, keeps the game frantic, relentless and exciting and affords players the comfort of selecting new cars at any moment. One problem that is evident, and was from day one actually, is the “camping” during Tag mode. In typical shooters or other games – campers can be dispatched with relative ease – but with Driver, and more specifically the Tag mode – it proves to be more than a frustrating ordeal as they sit in small alleyways accumulating points. Traffic doesn’t run through alleys so to flush out the cosy car, players have to shift to the closets road (sometimes a solid 40 second drive away), then drive into the alley – by which time, the cosy car could be half way down a freeway or snuggling up in anther bunker.
Film Director is another aspect of the franchise that makes a terrific return. Allowing players to record previous gameplay moments and then edit them into a crescendo of mayhem, Film Director mode puts players right in the driving seat to not only show off their driving skills; but their editing ones too. While the menu system to edit, cut, move and copy can be a little overbearing – it awards those, patient enough, a vast and rewarding aspect to the game that will result in an extended replayability of the game ten fold.
While there’s issues to be pointed out – none are more frustrtaing that the poor sequences, some of which contain no audio, and the AI. Some sequences, and important ones too, have no music or sound effects at all – as if the game has muted itself. From what we can gather, this is frequence enough so it’s not a sign of our machine crapping out. The AI in the game, whicle appearing to be versatile, is poor too. Cars, if there’s congestion of a freeway for example, will simply plough into each other – as if there’s no regard for life. That said, it nearly convinces you on some occasions as if there was a small brain attached to each motor as no two missions will feel that familiar.
Ubisoft Reflections have created a new Driver game that proudly follows suit with the older Driver games. An expansive and believable world helps knit the story and narrative into one complete package, while the controls and physics help solidify them onto our screens; Driver: San Francisco is a rapturous return to form for the franchise. While there’s still problems under the hood – this is a stunning piece of groundwork to expand and build on.
TGL Score 8/10
Format(s): Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Wii, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
Release Date: September 2th 2011