Review: Driver San Francisco

Ok, I loved the original driver. It was an entirely new genre at the time. Sure you had a driving around car game, but once GTA III hit anything where you drove and crashed was “just another GTA”. They’ve always been one to spin a story but this latest one is entirely out of the box. It was not what I expected at all. Sure, plainclothes policeman in a muscle car, but there’s a big twist to this one.

After a crash attempting to apprehend an escaped convict you’re jumping from body to body. Think Quantum leap meets Messiah (if you don’t remember look it up) meets Burnout Paradise. You’re attempting to do good, jumping from car to car. It may not seem like much until you consider one of the first scenarios. You’ve jumped into a policeman in a patrol car chasing after a car. Even if you start to lose them in the chase you can hop out, get in a car coming the other way, and take him out then jump back into the patrol car to do the final maneuver to lock him down.

It’s taken the thought behind traditional chasers and racers and shaken it up. I’ve got to hand it to them there. Sure there are technical limitations – the game only does 1920 x 1080, so if you’re looking for high scale textures you won’t get them, and there’s nary a graphics option other then AA which doesn’t do a whole lot of good. However, being so locked down (and presumably ported) makes it very predictable and smooth. I didn’t get a blip below 60 fps. I haven’t turned off vsynch yet but there’s no need as it’s as fluid as the eye can differentiate (so the scientists tell us).

It’s got the Midtown Madness feel to it – angles and jumps all over. There’s the ability to jump into anything on the road, and missions start popping up around – some you can activate directly from “shift” (birds eye floating) view and you’ll start with your default vehicle. There’s Will Power (WP) points you earn overtaking and avoiding(?) other cars, and you can also earn income from missions. Income lets you buy more vehicles for your garage, and set your default vehicle to jump into when you drop directly into a challenge or other event. So far I’ve seen cop chases, sprints (waypoints), and reaching a high speed without hitting any other vehicles.

It’s not the type of game you play for the graphics, it’s got some well modeled, licensed, shiny cars but a lot of the city looks really old graphically compared to the current batch of games. The controls also seemed off at first, I felt like I was playing crazy taxi until I got the hang of the high horsepower rear wheel cars which do respond to some tight changes and some e-braking. It’s exaggerated for sure, but they’re not exactly going for realism. Speaking of which, the story renders look really good but I’d settle for less realistic cut scenes for some more time spent on the surroundings.

All told – it’s fun. It’s definitely worth a romp, and a good deal if you are able to catch it on sale. It was on Steam’s holiday sale yesterday for 50% off but it’s back up to $33 or $36 for the deluxe version which includes some additional play modes. It’s certainly worth the $3 for some additional mission types. I don’t feel it’s really worth full price at this point, though it’s worth snagging in the bargain bin if you’d like to see some developers doing the same old thing with a unique twist.

Screenshots:

Video:
Story and Gameplay Introduction:

“Shift” Introduction and Gameplay:

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