The original Driver and Driver 2, more so I would argue, were stone cold classics. You remember Driver 2? You remember how amazing it was to actually be able to get out of your car? You remember the impossible final mission?
Such a small thing as opening a door and standing up seems no big deal now, in this post GTA world, but it was back then. In fact, There’s a good argument to be made that GTA and the like would not be what they are today without the first couple of Driver games.
Of course, as we know, the series went off the rails a bit with the not so good Driver 3 and slightly better Parallel Lines. Could San Francisco be the thing that would breathe new life into the franchise?
On the face of it, the central premise of this game is utterly ridiculous.
It starts with Charles Jericho, Tanner’s mortal enemy, making a bid for freedom while being transported in a prison van. During the course of the chase, you (that is, Tanner) crash and end up in a coma. Don’t worry about spoilers, this is the first couple of minutes!
After that, things get a bit… unusual.
You see, from your hospital bed, you are able to ‘shift’. That is, jump from car to car and take control of the driver of that vehicle.
Like I say, ridiculous.
It is a credit to Ubisoft Reflections that this gameplay element works so well. In fact, it works brilliantly, and adds a much needed extra layer to gameplay that helps lift this release well above other driving games.
For example: you shift into the body of a police driver as they are chasing a criminal. As you pursue them, you can shift between yours and other police cars and wear them down, or shift into a car further up the road and use it to block your targets path.
There are loads of side missions like this – like scaring a driving instructor or taking on the roll of a movie stuntman among them, and the make great use of the shift system.
The player has a choice to take these on or to pursue the main story arc, although some of these missions need to be unlocked by playing side missions.
I should also mention the environment here too. It is huge. I have never been to San Francisco, so cannot comment on how accurate it is, but it certainly feels realistic. And did I mention just how big it is? Well, it is. Huge.
Graphics are astonishing, with some of the cut scenes being almost CG movie in quality. Voice acting is very good too, and the banter between characters is fun and funny.
I also loved the control system. The shift element is surprisingly easy to use, and the cars all handle well. The physics are not too realistic, making it fun for the casual player like me who isn’t a hardcore FORZA nut!
And as well as all this, we have online play.
This is fun too, although being the aforementioned casual player, I am sometimes out of my depth with the more… serious players out there. But there are some nice online missions and the developers have obviously given a lot of thought as to how they can utilise the shift ability to the greatest extent.
So, can this breathe new life into the franchise?
It can indeed, if you have time to catch your breath.