Gear jammin' drivin' machine!
So Driver, oh Driver, with your parking lot challenge that kept me awake at night way back. Oh Driver, with your mix of adrenaline soaked gear-pumping car chases and hair-ripping missions. How I miss you, how I wish...wait? What's this, Driver San Francisco is better than Driver? Is this blasphemy? Is this true?
Hell yes it's true. Driver SF is the Driver game that actually manages to eclipse the old Driver in my affections. Move over Driver, SF is the new King of Wheelmen.
You're John Tanner, who has always been after Jericho since we can remember. John and his partner Jones, well, they're about to get their wish. The notorious criminal is incarcerated and heading for his just deserts...or he was...in a dangerous breakout Jericho escapes and John is injured badly - this is where things get really strange. During an O.B.E (out of body experience) he now believes that he's able to shift from one body to the next and using this newfound power, he's going to do everything he can to bring Jericho down.
Driver's story is the stuff of paranormal science fiction in a way, but it works remarkably well since Tanner is in a coma. It's told through a great mix of high detailed graphical cut-aways and close up framed action scenes. It's great stuff and echoes the reason I loved Driver in the first place, the personality and character of John Tanner has been preserved and really improved upon in these story scenes.
You won't be getting out of the car for this one, this is an in-the-seat experience and just like the original Driver it cuts you loose in a small area of the city. Now you'll get access to more and more of San Fran as the game progresses, but this small chunk of Tanner's world is enough to get you started. There are lots of missions and ways to enjoy Driver as a single player game, before we get into the multiplayer and co-op split-screen parts of the game. Tanner earns Willpower (XP) points and these can be used to buy cars (over 100 or so), garages, upgrades and all sorts of things.
You're rewarded every so often with a stack of Willpower just for owning tons of cars etc. You also get it for driving around like a maniac and doing cool Driver-style moves, 180's, J-Turns, 360's and speeding around. There are city missions you need to do before you can access story missions most of the time, and these are varied and usually pretty fun. Even the races in Driver are fun since the AI is pretty decent and fairly aggressive. There are dares which reward you with cool unlockables and a stack of Willpower and there are even chases that you can get into. There are also movie tokens to find and these will eventually unlock a special car related challenge inspired by such movies as: Gone in 60 Seconds and Bullit. Then there are challenges, like races and massive cop chases, basically the game is packed with things for you to do.
Tag a cop car whilst in the civilian vehicle of your choice, you can then try and outrun the cops and gain a chunk of Willpower depending on how quickly you get away. On the other side, drive a cop car and attempt to bring down the red-marked vehicles as quickly as possible. It's all great fun and rewarding.
Tanner in his coma has the unique and game-changing ability to Shift into any car in the city. This also provides a neat way to get around and there are 3 levels of Shift Zoom to unlock, with the highest level allowing a bird's eye view of San Fran which has been recreated quite nicely. Shifting really changes the way that you approach the game, you can often leap into the body of another driver and use a massive truck to stop a speeding car in a mission, or just mess around shifting around into other cars and speeding them off big jumps.
It's a beautiful mechanic that I was initially sceptical of, but once I'd gotten to grips with it. It really made the game a lot more fun. Take a race for instance, one where you have to win by coming 1st, 2nd or say 3rd. Now make that more interesting, you have to win by coming 1st and 2nd. How? SHIFT! You spend the whole race shifting back and forth between the two cars and making sure that they keep the 1st and 2nd position in the race until you win.
There are numerous special powers that Tanner gets to use as you progress, such as boosting (nitrous) as long as the power bar is filled, a ram move that lets you slam into an enemy with some force and...well...play the game and find out. It's Shift that really steals the show though and the many uses to just basically even the playing field, or mess with the traffic on the streets as you earn more and more Willpower.
The story to Driver could be considered short, but that depends on how much effort you put into unlocking cars, movie challenges, exploration and city missions/challenges/dares before you plough into the next chunk of the story. I'm someone who likes to spend a lot of time in free ride modes and Driver SF really caters for that part. It's really the gameplay that sets Driver SF above the rest, because it's tight, the handling for all the cars is different and tuned from the demo quite a lot. It is a great mix of realistic and arcade handling that keeps the game fun.
The graphical engine for Driver SF is a nice one; it has a great level of detail for the cars and the environments. The way that it presents cut-away vignettes for Tanner and Jones in many of the story scenes, and the way that it has picture in picture frames for many of the passengers in the various challenges, just shows how nice and detailed the actual engine is. When you get up close and personal with these characters in a scene you can see a great deal of care has been taken to detail them down to the pores in their skin. The graphics are clean and polished and the frame rate is silky smooth, just like the reflections on the beautiful recreations of the vehicles. The lighting engine is also striking and the effects for Shifting are subtle.
It's tricky to talk about animations in a game that focuses on in-car action, or is it? Well, for a start there are different cameras in Driver SF and the cockpit camera features a fully animated interior with Tanner pressing the steering wheel for the horn, changing gears and even hitting the hand-brake during the hand-brake turns. His hands move around the wheel just like some crazy Hollywood stuntman uber-driver and you get no disconnect if you're driving in the cockpit view at all. In fact, it's like being in the Dodge Charger that Tanner is driving at the time (or any other car for that matter).
Then you have the great lip synch and animations in the various cut-scenes, simply put the level of animation detail is highly polished and extremely fluid.
The car-handling physics for Driver SF are excellent; they have really tuned this from the demo and polished the controls right up. The way you can power slide around corners in the Chevelle or the Charger (a car I've driven for real) is superb. It makes for some truly fantastic moments in the single player game, as you careen through trash in an alley and then do a power slide away from the screaming sirens of cops. This is driving physics that really put a smile on your face. It does take some getting used to and the swinging back end of the muscle cars can end up with over compensation and a nice slam into the side of a building.
The vehicles also take damage which affects handling and control of course; the cosmetic side of it also looks great and has crumple physics on many of the vehicle surfaces.
Cop AI brings back fond memories of Driver with some vicious takedowns and pincer moves used against you. The cops are relentless and their aggression ramps up the more you have on your tail. The opponent AI in races varies it seems based on several factors and they will use dirty tactics sometimes depending on the kind of race it is. Opponent AI in missions and challenges varies and it's all highly polished with the handling being taken into account.
Once you activate your Ubi Pass (one time activation) the game then lets you take the footage of the last 5 minutes of play, mess around with it in a simple but effective and powerful film editor. You can change camera locations, track cars, alter playback speed and create your own mini-driver movie to upload onto the site via the game and share with your friends. It's a simple to learn and tricky to master feature, one that adds even more fun into the full game and provides even more reason to replay challenges and setup some sweet driving action!
The all important sounds are there, the engine noises are fantastic and the roar of the Charger and the McLaren SLR are spot on. The screech of tyres and the crunch of metal from a bone-jarring impact are all recreated aurally to give you some of the best driving sound yet.
The music has the spirit of the series firmly in hand, it's great stuff and it truly echoes the Driver feel. The actual licensed tracks that accompany the game are fairly varied and there's a pretty solid list here Driver Music.
John Tanner and Jones steal the show, with Tanner's cocky and humorous personality bleeding through into the various conversations with the in-game NPCs and opponents. But its Tanner's repartee with his partner and their easy back and forth that really works and it's beautifully acted. Again, the voice acting in the game is spot on and everyone pulls out the stops!
The writing for Driver SF is crisp and sharp, it's got the whole feel of the Driver series to it but it's been pepped up for a modern audience. It still retains the mix of seriousness and humour that the first game was known for but manages to improve on the flavour as well. All in all, there's no really cheesy dialogue here and the game's story is well told through the various elements.
You can play a mix of modes from adversarial through to co-op modes locally with a friend through split-screen play. Such as Survival and Clean the Streets. The former sees you trying to escape the cops and remain undercover, the latter casts you in the role of the cops and you need to take down speeding cars.
You can play privately or with ranked matches across numerous competitive modes, there are no cooperative (like Local play) modes for you to play with friends, which is a shame. You can play with up to 8 people online and there are 19 modes to play through with Shift making these modes incredibly different and fun. Since the race can change drastically at any given moment if Shift has been enabled and the guy lagging behind can roar off into the lead or steal the ride you wanted to Shift into.
A full list of the modes can be located here: Driver Modes.
It would be impossible to mention all of the modes in this review, so suffice it to say that the lag is minimal, the matchmaking is excellent and the multiplayer side of the game is packed with hours and hours of fun. It has its own levelling up system with specific unlocks and various powers that you can enjoy such as boost, and you can only Shift if you have enough of your power bar filled.
It's a very addictive experience and the servers are packed with players at the moment. Our favourite so far as been the cops/robbers Takedown mode that lets you have some insane fun and the Shift enabled checkpoint races. We also really liked the qualifying mechanics for the game that inject a spirit of competitiveness and sneaky backstabbing into the proceedings as well.
All in all it's great fun!
Driver is back!
So there you have it. If you skipped to the end to see if we had something else to say about the game, buy it. Driver is back and it's never looked or handled better, with a definite reboot of the franchise feeling solid and well made. This is a game that oozes quality and polish and will remain a firm favourite for quite a while.
Remember: drive safe unless you're playing the game, then go nuts!