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Driver: San Francisco Review

Driver San Francisco is an open world driving game and serves as a sequel to the ridiculously spelt Driv3r, with a lack of out of car action. I expected the game to be similarly terrible to its predecessor and would have cast it as junk mail when I received it in the post. Alas I soldiered on for the review and it gave me many mixed feelings.

A continuation of Driv3r, you play as John Tanner a cop who is finally about to see crime boss Charles Jericho locked behind bars. As always he drives the iconic yellow Dodge Challenger, after a prison break, Tanner and his partner Tobias Jones go on the chase for Jericho around San Francisco. Eventually catching up with Jericho results in a massive car accident which puts Tanner in a coma, his partner on the other hand is totally unscathed, how convenient. Tanner doesn’t realise he is in a coma and goes on an elaborate chase across the city for Jericho, of course all this is in his head and leads are fuelled by the television in his hospital room. Since this is all a dream he discovers he has the ability to shift into other drivers cars, boost with any car and charge the car for a ram.
You're mean to look at your opponent during a staring contest!
The pace of the story is dependent on how you play the game, doing side missions and challenges will slow the delivery of the story as it is only told through the main missions. Luckily if you have spent all your time doing challenges and exploring, a short catch-up reel is played near the end of a chapter. This feature is great for an open world game where exploration and challenges are the bulk of the game.

The story is a little over the top for this kind of game, using the shift mechanic as the main plot device is daft and creates many inconsistencies such as, *spoiler alert* when chasing down a kidnapper who has a girl in his trunk, why can you shift to the girl but not the driver? Although in a different mission you can shift into an enemy vehicle and take it to the police station *end spoiler*. In fact, the story would have been a lot better if Driver would accept itself as a game and not an attempted novel. Arguably story and gameplay integration is evolving game narration, but when done wrong it can devolve a perfectly OK story into something ridiculous.

Gameplay is mission based split into story and compulsory side missions - why are they compulsory, you ask? Because they unlock story missions, of which there are only two per chapter. As you play more missions you unlock a plethora of challenges such as drifts, races, police chases and takedowns, these can be found scattered in the world. There are also dares to be done which are smaller timed challenges for jumps, drifts and other crazy stunts. All challenges and missions unlock Will Points which can be used to buy garages, cars and skill upgrades. There is a serious amount of stuff to do in this game that would take any completionist a long time to finish.

I like to slide all day long...
A lot of the challenges are more fun to play than the main missions, as the latter gets boring and repetitive. Missions are recycled to the point where the main character acknowledges with his terrible voice acting, that he has to stop more *spoiler alert* trucks full of fake meds.....again *end Spoiler*. As aforementioned the voice acting is poor, mix it with dodgy dialogue and you won’t really want to be listening to anything that is being discussed.

Driver San Francisco does not offer anything new to the open world driving game genre apart from the shift feature. Shifting breaks up high tension gameplay and the thrill of the chase is diminished. It is better used as a fast travel device as missions can be accessed while viewing the world from Tanners trippy coma. The game does force the feature upon the player, as in some takedown missions where destroying vehicles in a limited amount of time is the objective, your car will do little to no damage from behind. Therefore, shifting to an oncoming vehicle is key, which admittedly adds an interesting tactical element to the game.

This game has a wide selection of licensed vehicles from as far back as the 60’s to modern luxury cars such as the Zonda. Unfortunately the physics can make driving high speed cars a frustrating experience as they all handle similar to butter on a hot pan. The AI will not be leaping out of your way either, as it is ferociously fearless. If crashed into the AI will continuously ram your vehicle until it is back on its set path, which makes getting out of sticky situations annoying and lengthy. Any chase mission cranks the AI’s ruthlessness up to 11, police chases take luck to complete and even if you are an 18 wheeler juggernaut, enemies with regular cars can send you snaking everywhere.
Driving, driving and more driving.
With the rise in social networking the game features a pointless tool to connect to your Facebook or twitter to pester your friends about what you are doing in the game. On the other and more useful hand, Driver features a filmmaker mode where it is possible to create clips of stunts and anything else you want. With different camera set ups and film speeds it is possible to get creative and upload it to Drivers dedicated site.

Online Gameplay
Being a racing game, of course it has a multiplayer but only with the Uplay pass. Connecting to the server takes a little bit of time but it is stable (even with my snail paced internet).The game lobby is inside the yellow Challenger and it is possible to shift into the open world and mess around with your buddies who are waiting for you to start a game. There are several race types and they unlock as you gain XP and level up but before you panic, some races have shift disabled. None of the cars you bought in the game will be carried into multiplayer, instead cars are provided depending on the type of race. Every racer has a similar car in speed and handling, creating great balance in gameplay and removes the unfair advantage that most racing games provide to players who complete the game.

When races start there are qualifying rounds with different objectives to see who will be placed where in the starting grid for the actual race. This is a fun warm up before the actual race and shifting is disabled for this round. Shifting is a refreshing new way to play racing multiplayer and works extremely well in a competitive environment. However for people who prefer classic racing the option is still there for you, but shift races break the mould so it is worth a try.

From the opening cut scene I was stunned at the fantastic detailed character models and animation, but to my dismay it is all pre-rendered. Shots that are not concentrated on characters are done in engine which results in a mishmash of great CGI and below average game graphics. Yes, the games visuals are below average compared to today’s 360 standards, but the immense game world most likely has something to do with it. It would be impossible to render high end graphics, at high speeds in a world that large, but it means that this game is already outdated.

The car models are obviously the highlight of the game and look fine. The main problem is the environment you will be exploring, as the buildings look flat and the weather system is set to “just enough sun” so that realistic glare won’t be a problem. The world is also littered with indestructible people who all enjoy wearing dark clothing, and I also suspect they might be faceless.

Final Verdict
Driver is not a bad game but it isn’t without its problems, bad story and dialogue are made up for with a huge environment to explore with mountains of challenges to do, while listening to a good soundtrack. If you can forgive the ruthless AI and slick handling you can have a lot of fun with this game especially in the multiplayer.

Story – 5.5/10
Gameplay – 7.5/10
Graphics – 6.5/10

Final We Know Gamers score – 6.5/10

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