“Driver: San Francisco” is the best game you’re probably not playing right now, but should be
One of the benefits of writing about video games is that you sometimes have a chance to shine a light on something that may have been overlooked. “Driver: San Francisco” is such a game. I think the great – and fictional – food critic Anton Ego (”Ratatouille”) said it best:
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.”
What’s under the hood of the latest “Driver” game may not be new – arcade racing, licensed cars, open world missions – but how you navigate the game is as bold a risk as I’ve seen taken with such a beloved franchise. I’m not giving anything away by describing the game’s supernatural element – the ability to “shift” into the driver of any car in the world. It happens in the beginning of the game. The hocus pocus behind why this happens is funny but irrelevant. Your character, police detective Tanner, can leave his body and search the city in a bird’s eye view by simply pressing a button. Nearly every car you find you can take over. The ways the game uses this mechanic to beef up the missions are truly original. For instance, if you’re chasing a suspect down with a pack of other cops you can immediately shift into whichever cop car is closest to the suspect. Imagine you’re trying to ram the bad guy off the road, you miss and your car careens down the wrong street. The suspect is getting away. No problem. Just “shift” into a closer cop car and proceed. Or, shift into a gasoline truck and block the car’s path.
This is just a taste of the options available as the “shift” mechanic opens up to you through the game.
All the other stuff is as you would expect. The licensed cars won’t be mistaken for the ones in “Forza 4” but they generally behave as you would expect. The story is as silly as the “shift” idea but it works well. The open world of San Francisco reminds you why so many great car chases have been filmed there – hills and sharp turns make for fantastic jumps and some challenging cornering.
Still, there are plenty of welcome surprises. The scripted dialogue you have with your partner is decent but not nearly as good as the one-liners that spill from Tanner when he shifts into a car and picks up random conversations with passengers (They don’t know it’s him. They think they’re still talking to whatever stiff is supposed to be driving the car.)
The missions are surprisingly varied. I tend to get bored with open world games after awhile because I like a little structure in my freedom. In “Driver: San Francisco,” the story and side missions are unique and plentiful.
And the music on the interactive radio – while not GTA quality – is a fine balance of funk and rock that doesn’t get old.
Aside from a problem with my online code – if you have the same problem, just try getting on for free and you should be all set – my major complaint with this game is Tanner’s car. The Dodge Charger is the first car you drive and you will drive it a lot. It’s a beauty but it’s also a poor handling whale that you probably wouldn’t choose for most of the missions in which it is used.
There are a lot of games trying to get your attention right now. I should know. I’m supposed to be playing many of them right now for reviews. “Driver: San Francisco,” however, keeps making its way into my rotation.
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