At the very start of this forth installment of the Driver franchise, we see that, in fact, both have made it intact and look at how the lives of these two men have been since the last game. In a series of opening cinematics in which you can really feel each man’s expressions and the wrinkles on their faces, we discover that Jericho escaped to San Francisco where Tanner caught up with him. As the story unfolds, we see Jericho handcuffed in the back of a prison truck. Being the sneaky guy he is, however, we witness his escape thanks to some acid given to him by a guard who he paid off. He then steals the truck and begins to drive around in SF, all the while chased by Tanner and his partner Jones in their rather beautiful Dodge Challenger.
This is where the pivotal part of the story unfolds, Jericho pushed Tanner’s car into a back alley and then rams the Dodge into the way of a massive trailer causing an enormous crash that sends Tanner into a coma. From here on, most of the story happens inside Tanner’s mind. Now be honest, you didn’t think that a racing game would have such a deep plot, did you? I think we can safely say that Ubisoft have, at the very least, succeeded in creating an original story here.
This story and the coma all lead to the main aspect of this game: the ability Tanner now has to shift between all the cars in SF that he sees. Once you press the X button the camera zooms out and can fly around the town then hover over the car you want to drive. Pressing X again causes Tanner to take over the body of the person inside. It sounds silly, but trust me it’s great fun and again another original idea from the Ubisoft Reflections development team.
The shifting mechanic introduces so much to the normal driving game it almost adds an element of strategy to racing. During races you can shift to oncoming cars and cause your rivals to have a collision then shift back into another car and get to the front of the race. You can also take command of huge trucks and ram the other cars, or, if you’re feeling very sneaky, block paths for the other racers. There is also some variation in the missions you’re given. For example, you can take control of cop cars and track down bad guys, complete taxi missions in which you take people to locations, or you can just purposefully cause crashes and perform stunts for points. All these missions must be undertaken in order to unlock the story missions and advance the main story. Not only is this fun, but it also helps to increase the longevity of the game (clever Ubisoft) and doing all the side missions also grants your points which you can use to buy the 120 real life cars featured in the game, all of which are beautifully rendered, handle differently and, most importantly, crash differently.
The gameplay in Driver: San Francisco is pretty slick. When you are driving the screen shows your speed, a map, your position and life meter in missions where this is required. One feature I liked a lot was the map, you can expand it by pressing the triangle button and it really helps with direction and planning. The cars themselves all handle differently and feel unique. You can drive buggies, muscle cars and sport cars in SF and the steering is right on with acceleration done with the R2 button and braking with L2. Handbrake turns can also be executed with the square button, but be warned, these are very sensitive, which is a possible drawback for some gamers, and take some getting used to. Although when you do, however, you will drift like a king.
San Francisco looks stunning and the game boasts a massive 208 miles (335 km) of road to drive around. The city is textured diligently and feels like the metropolis that SF is and another good aspect visual feature is the way character faces that pop up during conversations when you’re driving. These not only allows you to connect with the cast better, but also gives a unique story-like feel to the game.
Not to be outdone by the graphics, the music in the game really gets your pulse racing. There is a huge movie soundtrack feel to it all, something which was no doubt helped by having the mixing done at the famous Pinewood Studios. The chase music changes but is always in tune with what’s going on, while the missions where you perform stunts and the police missions each have their own tunes which feel just right. It’s clear to see that everything has been very thoroughly polished.
The thing that surprised me most about Driver: San Francisco, however, was that the multiplayer was very fun. Really, I’m not joking at all. Ubisoft have provided you with a great selection of split screen and online multiplayer missions. These include races where you have to reach golden check points, shift to cars and cause crashes, team together to bring down bad guys or normal races where shifting is banned. The multiplayer provides hours of fun, be it with the person next to you or over the PSN and this, of course, adds to the replay value, as any good multiplayer can sometimes make the game.
Overall, Ubisoft have provided us with an unusual racing game. It has an odd story, weird powers and frankly ridiculous crashes. It works though, and, in fact, everything in this game works. The gameplay fits with the story, the story fits with the music and the characters fit in with all the above. I would highly recommend Driver: San Francisco, not only for the single player missions but also becuase the muiltplayer is really fun. It really is is a great continuation of the franchise.
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