It’s been five years since players have gone behind the wheel of Ubisoft’s Driver series, but the long-awaited Driver: San Francisco has finally arrived. Anyone that has followed the Driver series from its inception recognizes that these games have had somewhat of an identity crisis. While Driv3r dabbled in GTA-style third-person action, the more recent Driver: Parallel Lines placed a heightened emphasis on its titular focus: driving. Driver: San Francisco, the latest in the series from Ubisoft Reflections, returns to form. It’s a racing title, through and through.
Driver: San Francisco returns players to the role of Detective John Tanner. In this latest iteration, Tanner gets into a serious car accident, granting him the power to psychically shift between cars.
Alright, anyone that read that setup might be scratching their heads. Car crashes give superpowers? Really? That’s a little hard to swallow. It turns out that the majority of the game is played out in Tanner’s coma dream. Events of the game play out simultaneously in the real world and in Tanner’s coma. It’s honestly one of the goofiest narrative setups I’ve ever seen in a game.
Logic is certainly not one of the game's strong suits. For example, one mission sees Tanner attempting to save a woman held in an open trunk. What’s the solution? Shift into a car going in the opposite direction and slam into the kidnapper head-on, of course. The over-the-top story is impossible to take seriously. However, as preposterous as it is, it doesn't get in the way of Driver's solid mission structure and gameplay.
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The shift ability is easy to use and takes no time at all to learn. What sounds like a superfluous feature is actually a lot of fun to use. Shifting takes players to an overhead view of the San Francisco area, allowing players to take control of cars with a simple point-and-click mechanic.
Story missions are separated by several different activity types, including racing, stunts, and chases. Thanks to the mission variety, the game never feels repetitive. What I liked the best about these missions is that some allow the player to complete them in different ways. For example, one of the later racing activities required me to shift back and forth between two cars and make sure they finished first and second. Shifting between those two cars felt like a major hassle, so I got another idea. I simply shifted into a different car entirely, going in the opposite direction, and started slamming into opponents until I wrecked them so that my two assigned cars would win by default. Opportunities to experiment are limited, but I liked that the game occasionally presented me with those chances.
Weapons and GTA-style shootouts have, thankfully, been completely discarded. The only "weapons" to be found are cars--and lots of them. There are dozens of cars available for purchase through the city’s various garages, and they all handle in a semi-realistic fashion. Car aficionados will enjoy the collection aspect of the game.
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Ubisoft Reflections captures San Francisco in nearly every excruciating detail. It’s an accurate representation of the city by the bay and helps add to the action movie atmosphere of the game. Exploring the city is an enjoyable time-waster. The only downside is that the city’s many twists and turns can make some of the chase missions a bit of a hassle. It’s hard to put on a burst of speed and lose the cops on a crooked road like Lombard Street. Ultimately, that’s a minor gripe, and an expected consequence of Reflections' beautifully accurate representation of San Francisco.
It’s best to think of Driver: San Francisco as a Jason Statham movie. Nothing that happens makes a lick of sense. Logic is thrown out the window. It’s utterly preposterous. But holy cow, is it a fun ride. This is the gaming equivalent of a popcorn flick. Don’t overthink it. Just sit back and enjoy.