I cant count how many hours I played the original Driver for PS1. It had fantastic gameplay along with some of the most frustration Ive ever had playing a game. It had a relentless difficulty and most people didnt even get past the introductory tutorial in the infamous garage due to time constraints (they brought back this optional garage tutorial for San Fran as a fan service). Reflections Interactive (Now Ubisoft Reflections) made the original Driver and they return more than a decade later to bring us Driver San Francisco (DSF for short). Ive loved all the Driver games, even the ones that werent as great comparatively (Im look at you Parallel Lines) as they had great gameplay.
Ill admit, when I tried the demo for DSF I wasnt really wowed so when the full version arrived, I was quite curious to see if it was any better and could redeem itself from my first impressions. Luckily I gave it a fair shot as I really started to enjoy it after a good amount of time playing all the different types of modes and missions.
Tanner returns as the protagonist and DSF is a direct sequel to Driv3r, meaning Jericho is the villain once again. If you never beat Driv3r, the ending was left with a cliffhanger where you didnt know if Tanner or Jericho survived in a shootout. As DSF begins, it turns out both have survived and recovered and Tanner has followed Jericho to San Francisco where hes being held in prison. As Jericho is being transported in an armored vehicle, he manages to break loose from his handcuffs and ends up hijacking the vehicle. Tanner sees this all go down and pursues him, eventually ending up cornering Jericho. Jericho rams Tanners car into traffic causing both of them to be in a serious car crash. Because of the accident, Tanner is now in a coma and the majority of the game you play is whats happening in Tanners mind whilst in the coma.
Keep in mind, from here on youre almost always playing in the coma world, though youll see snippets of whats happening in real life here and there to tie everything together. Its confusing at first but is an interesting dynamic once it all starts making sense. Tanner discovers he has the ability to shift into any other persons body on the road taking them over but still himself on the inside. To any passengers in the car, they still see the original driver but Tanner is the one truly behind the wheel.
Tanner will shift to other people helping them win racers, help police catch bad guys and more. To progress the story you need to play six or so other specific missions before it will let you play the main story missions. Sometimes I wish I was able to just specifically the story missions to further along the plot. Why do I have to help cops, participate in street races and more before I can?
The biggest and most unique feature of DSF is obviously the innovative Shift mechanic. On paper, I thought it was completely ridiculous and has no place in a driving game; in practice however it really makes the game what it is and it now stands out among the competition. It shouldnt work but it does and Reflections has impressed me once again. Using shift to cover vast distances quickly or to use other cars to stop pursuers takes time to get used to but really does work effortlessly. Your Shift ability has many uses and facets. If youre in a race and need to slow down people right behind you, simply shift to an oncoming vehicle ahead of you and ram them head on before shifting back to your racing vehicle. After about an hour I become quite comfortable Shifting with ease and once you understand how you can use the mechanic to your advantage many possibilities will open for you during missions.
To get to Jericho youre going to have to do many errands scattered throughout the whole city before youre able to progress. Exotic speed runs, dirt drift races, distance jumping and more. As you progress youll unlock more of the city, more cars for purchase, new races and more. With the money you earn you can spend it on garages which is where you can buy more vehicles, missions and ability upgrades.
The most important part about a driving game is obviously the driving itself. While it feels Driver-ish, almost all the cars aside from the super exotics handle very heavy and its near impossible to take sharp turns at high speeds without hitting a building or everything in your way. Youll eventually get used to it but you really need to slow down to take corners properly if you dont want to hit anything. There are essentially two types of cars to pick: speed and heavy. Speed cars are obviously the ones youll want to use when getting away from pursuers, chasing bad guys or racing where the heavies are to be used when you need to ram into other cars or need to clear a path down a populated roadway.
There are more side missions included than youll most likely ever play which keeps the longevity of the game pretty high. To get some of them youll need to have beaten a set number or specific dares or challenges if you want to unlock specific upgrades or cars.
And yes, the infamous director mode returns in DSF to make your 70s chase scene inspired movies to record and share easily. You can record your best stunts and exciting getaways and share them with all yours friends fairly painlessly.
True online multiplayer makes its way to Driver with many modes to choose from depending on what aspects you enjoy. Simple racing, shift allowable racing, Tag modes and more are unlockable as you level up and earn xp. There are some really fun modes like Tag or Capture the Flag which allows players to use their Shift ability to either catch up if they fall behind or to cause havoc with an oncoming ram. Trailblazer was also quite entertaining which has you following a pace car and you get points for how long you can stay behind the cars trail. Stay close to the bumper and you wont share points with anyone else nearby but everyone will be trying to ram you out of the way so they can net their own points. You can even Shift to an oncoming vehicle to ram players out of the way then Shift back into a car following the pace car to get points. Its quite frantic but fun. As you level in multiplayer youll unlock more modes, icons, cars and more while rising up the ranks.
The story may be odd but its engaging enough to keep you playing. The Shift ability works great once you wrap your head around how to use it properly and it quite surprised me how well it fits this style of game. Cutscenes look fantastic and much work has been done for the polish as you can even see pours in peoples faces and individual hairs; its quite impressive actually.
My only real gripes with DSF is that rubber banding is in effect in race events making it near impossible to maintain a substantial lead as the other drivers will always catch up no matter how much of a lead you have or if they crash early on or not. Aside from that there are a few missions that will frustrate you almost to the point of giving up. Having to win a team race and come in first and second are the bane of my existence with the rubber band effect and I probably spent an hour or so on a single one of these missions to progress the story (which doesnt make sense).
Unlike previous Driver games, there is no getting out of the car and there is no shooting mechanics. DSF is all about driving and thats a good thing as its not trying to be a GTA game in any aspect. DSf does a great job at blending real driving with the absurdity of the Shift mechanic and it all comes together somehow in a great package with a long shelf life. Im glad to see a good Driver game is finally back on the market and can prove that you can teach an old driving game new tricks.