I remember the first time I played Driver for the original Playstation. It might have been the first open world car game I ever played. I had never seen or experienced anything like that but times have changed and we seem to get more open world games then we know what to do with. So does Driver San Francisco bring on that type of innovation it did back then? Short answer yes and with a few other gameplay mechanics that actually surprised me.
Driver San Francisco puts you in the shoes of undercover cop Tanner which through a series of unfortunate events ends up in a coma. In his dream state he is unaware of such events and goes about the pursuit of a criminal mastermind on the loose but with one miner difference then before. He can now put himself into someone else’s shoes and drive their vehicle. The ability is called Shift and it’s the game’s biggest focus.
The Shift ability allows you to go from vehicle to vehicle within a matter of seconds. At first your able to simply get into other cars and take control but as you progress you will be able to get an overview of San Francisco, jump into any type of car and even transform it at the drop of a hat. While being able to look overhead at the map will allow you to do supporting missions and side quests that will earn you Willpower points. These points can be used to purchase vehicles, challenges and areas within the game.
The story is sort of bazaar with cutscenes that run in between gameplay but they do manage to have it all make sense .. mostly. The single player has alot of content in the open world to explore with over 120 licensed cars and 100 side quests. The single player is also very fluid running at 60 frames per second. I actually can’t remember the last racing game that ran at 60 frames that wasn’t Forza or Burnout? It is definitely a refreshing experience. Later on, side missions can get repetitive and the story might not be engaging enough, along with computer drivers behaving erratically that only slow you down can get frustrating (what car stops in the middle of an intersection in front of you while your doing 90 mph right through it?).
Surprisingly enough the multiplayer also has a ton of features and modes. 11 game modes in total which consist of regular races, shift races, cops and robbers. Alot of the game modes are unique like trailblazer which has opponents follow the gold car that leaves behind a trail which gives off points to those that stay directly behind it. Another is tag which acts as cat and mouse however those that are trying to tag the mouse can shift into other vehicles to try and capture them. Another is shift racing which will pit players in a checkpoint race but will allow anyone to shift into another car, so long as they don’t miss a checkpoint in the process. Along with these modes, qualifying rounds which differ from the game types are done before every race to determine their position. Experience points are awarded after every race depending on your stance on the podium. This will let you gain levels, give you access to more race types, more abilities and more cars. You can honestly burn alot of hours on the multiplayer alone.
There are some issues with the multiplayer which are not huge but stuff that should be worked out. Our biggest gripe with the multiplayer is that they kick it back to 30 frames per second. We wish there would have been some sort of option to tone some of the graphical elements to bring it back up to 60 or should have been optimized. Also the ability to transform your car into another vehicle all together poses problems on some game types later in levels. Getting into a checkpoint race that allows you to transform shift with someone that’s easily 5 levels or higher can pose as a problem since they will most likely turn into a car that is faster then you’ll see or get up until that point. Another issue is that some of these modes serve as teasers more then full fledge modes. Cops and Robbers seem to only allow you to shift into old cars when there are different types of cops in the game. With every open world driving game should be segmented races which would allow players to race to one end to another and the they can use the open world to get there however they see fit.
Driver also features the classic Directors Replay mode to view and record gameplay from the single player. This can be saved and even shared with others online. We only wish you didn’t have to exit the single player itself to actually start editing, in the least let you view while your playing. Would also be nice to have this option available for the multiplayer. None the less it has many options and can be quite entertaining, especially if you are a fan of racing replays like myself.
To be honest I have been pleasantly surprised with Driver San Francisco. It’s not easy to come back from semi-retirement or to make it as a racing franchise nowadays. With the Shift ability becoming its center stage innovation it will grab the attention of those that would not be fond to normal racing games. Lots of modes, single player runs in a smooth 60 fps, multiplayer has unique features and the director replays all the game alot of fun. Given the chance Driver San Francisco is not only nostalgia from the original but a well put together game which can see many improvements in future implementations.