Review: Driver: San Francisco

Review: Driver: San Francisco

The willing suspension of disbelief is at the root of what makes video games entertaining. For a brief period of time we simply forget what is rational and blur the line between possible and impossible. Certain stories, however, require one to suspend their disbelief a bit further than others and Driver: San Francisco is one that requires just that.

Driver San Francisco

The story is set just a few months after that of Driv3r and yes, both Tanner and Jericho have survived. Their rivalry is once again the root of the issue and as mentioned before, that story is quite a trip.

Jericho manages to orchestrate an elaborate plan that will allow him to escape during his cross town prison transfer. Tanner and his partner Jones don’t sit idly by and run the risk of letting Jericho escape again. While in hot pursuit, Tanner manages to lose sight of Jericho and ultimately finds himself on the receiving side of a rear end assault in a narrow alleyway. With nowhere else to go, Tanner pushes forward and attempts to thread a busy intersection only to be met with disaster. Dazed and confused, he is soon broadsided by a semi and finds himself falling into a deep coma… where the entirety of the game will occur.

The drastic change of events and choice in storytelling mechanics may leave you scratching your head a bit, but before you write it off as entirely implausible, give it a chance. There is so much at play here and the writers have done an incredible job weaving together the events within the dream world and those of the real world that it is quite thrilling to experience.

The whole thing plays out like an extreme episode of Starsky & Hutch as you race around the streets of San Francisco in your yellow Dodge Charger lift kit sports car. Cut scenes are shown quite often and lend a unique style of presentation to the game. Rather than a simple static camera angle, you will often be treated to several onscreen cameras at once, depicting various events happening at simultaneously or just simply different perspectives on the same location. Not to mention, the car chase scenes are top notch and a blast to watch. The story is so bizarre that I hesitate to speak any more about it for fear of accidentally giving anything away.

A Bird’s Eye View

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, Driver is an open world action game where the emphasis lies solely on driving. At no point will you leave your car to meander around on foot. Rather, everything is done via your car, the map, and probably the most unique feature to wind up in an action racing game in a long time… shifting.

Tanner quickly discovers that he has the greatest super power ever. He has the ability to shift out of his body and into somebody else’s at the drop of a hat. This mechanic becomes your sole method of traversing the city and acquiring new cars on the fly. Initially, you can only shift out and see just above your own car and the surrounding area, but after awhile you gain the ability to shift up to a super bird’s eye view and warp to the other side of the city in a matter of seconds. It’s really quite an entertaining mechanic.

Shifting also plays an integral role in almost every mission you undertake. Seeing as how Tanner is attempting to locate and take down Jericho, he can use his shifting power to enter thugs’ cars and pull information from the passengers without them knowing he’s there. Throughout the course of the game you will become quite proficient at rapidly shifting from car to car to complete your mission.

Since the entire game takes place in Tanner’s coma, anything is possible, but he doesn’t quite realize that yet. As the story progresses, you will learn new abilities that allow you to manipulate the world around you in a variety of ways. You gain the ability to boost, which is a bit wonky to control seeing as how you have to press forward on the left stick while you attempt to weave in and out of traffic. You also learn how to conserve your power and charge it up for a massive ram attack capable of bringing most vehicles to a screeching halt.

 Never Taking Itself too Seriously

The game presents itself in such a manner that begs comparison to another racing game of this style; Burnout Paradise. Everything from the huge, sprawling world to the dense traffic and aptly titled takedowns and their incredibly similar slow-mo crash cam all scream Burnout. That is far from a bad thing, though as Burnout is the best at what it does.

How you progress through the story is every bit as unique as the game itself. The main story is broken up into eight different chapters and you can only progress through the chapters by completing Tanner’s quests. However, Tanner’s quests are locked until you help out the people of San Francisco with the local riff raff problem by completing City Missions. The City Missions technical act as supporting missions for the main story as the people you take over are generally doing something that pertains to the main plot. These missions often reveal pertinent information which Tanner then uses to unravel the mystery surrounding his circumstances.

The City Missions consist of everything from street racing and package delivery to high speed chases on both ends of the law. Although never very long, they are quite entertaining and well executed.

These main missions are far from the only things to keep you occupied with during your stay in the Bay Area. Scattered around the map are numerous other tasks which include dares, stunts, races, speed laps, smash courses, and other challenges. Most of these can completed in a matter of a few minutes each – some in less than 5 seconds, but there are a handful that will really test your skill with specific vehicles; that is if you can find the best vehicle for the job.

Despite the entertainment levels of most missions, there were quite a few that drove me absolutely bonkers. The ones that consisted of evading the cops generally tended to suck pretty bad because for some reason the San Francisco Police Department is fully stocked with high end sports cars and battering ram style SUVs that are more than capable of ending your mission rather quickly. Similar to GTAIV, you have to escape the radius of each police officer and then stay outside of it for at least 10 seconds before you will be off Scott free, but that rarely happens if you drive the way I do. Your best chance of evading the cops is by weaving through oncoming traffic at an incredible rate of speed or by careening down the sidewalk. Don’t worry, every single citizen has an incredible 6th sense and will move out of the way before you hit them, even at 200mph.

Everything you do in the game rewards you with willpower points (WP) which are used as currency in the game. A massive power slide or a  jump off one of the city’s many ramp trucks will reward you with a fistful of WP, but completing dares and stunts is the fastest way to stockpile the money. Once you have accumulated a good amount of money, you can purchase one or more of the many garages located around the city. Each garage gives you access to a different selection of cars and upgrades to buy which will aid you in the missions. If the mission doesn’t supply you with a specific car you are stuck with the last one you chose from the garage. Naturally, I stockpiled all of my money right away and bought the most expensive car right off the bat. It made the rest of the challenges quite easy.

 Wrecking In Style

The game is absolutely crammed with 100% licensed vehicles in every shape and size from an equally wide array of manufacturers. You will more than likely gravitate towards the sports cars and heavy hitters like the Dodge Charger, but you also have the option to jackknife a fully loaded semi into oncoming traffic or hookup a car to a tow truck and take it for a spin around the park. Everything from the Lincoln Towncar, Chevy Volt, and Crown Victoria to the Shelby GT 500, Ford GT40, and Lamborghini Murciélago are waiting for you to smash them to bits.

Each car is beautifully rendered inside and out and comes ready to be fully destroyed. They all handle quite well and in a manner that I assume to be representative of their real-world counterparts. I have owned or test driven several of the cars within the game and can honestly say that they handled basically the same as what I remember. Although, if that is true, the game gives you a pretty decent idea of  just how crappy an Aston Martin is at drifting around a dirt corner at 120mph. I’ll give you a hint… not well.

The only complaint that I have with the cars is that despite the incredible amount of damage modeling on each, head on impacts at 200mph have absolutely no effect on the car’s performance whatsoever. Each car has set a of statistics including speed, strength, and drift as well as a damage bar, but a full speed crash with a semi will leave your car running the same as if you just pulled it off the lot.

 Hand Wash With Warm Water

It’s obvious that an incredible amount of effort went into crafting and recreating the city of San Francisco, but you can definitely tell that something is a bit off. The whole world has this strange yellowish hue to it which does quite a bit to make you feel as though you are actually operating within a dream state. This can tend to ruin the visual experience of the game a bit at times; kind of like ramping up one of the color contrast ratios on your TV while watching your favorite show. It’s not overdone at all and it certainly gives the world the necessary dream-like feel, but it would have been nice to have as an option rather than a requirement. Especially since you get to see what city looks like without it at some point and it is absolutely stunning.

The only other noticeable issue was the default level of the game’s music – which is stellar by the way! Upon first entering the world I was nearly blasted out of my living room with music, which left me struggling to actually hear what the main characters were saying. However, a quick jaunt into the menu to lower the music volume to almost 0 solved that problem

 A Bit on the Short Side

The main story can easily be completed in less than 10 hours, but that doesn’t mean it is easy by any stretch of the imagination. The final series of missions takes a fair amount of skill and good deal of luck to scrape by before you can call it quits. Again, I don’t want to delve any deeper for fear of dropping a spoiler, but just know that the story is actually quite well-done and worthy of your attention.

Don’t worry about completing 100% of the side quests before you tackle the final mission as you will have the opportunity to return to the city to mop up after you are done. If you did finish everything before you beat the game, then you can opt for another go in New Game Plus instead and see how you fair against more difficult enemies within the missions.

 Driving With Friends

Finally, the multiplayer is almost exactly as portrayed in my Demo Impressions article from last week, so I will share that again.


As the name implies, this mode revolves entirely around jumping your car and racking up the furthest total distance compared to the other players. The match generally takes place on a hill street or one loaded with jumps and ramp trucks. Make it quick though because you only have so much time.


This mode was by far the most difficult and perhaps the least fun of the five. You are tasked with trailing a marked car which is emitting two yellow streams of light from its rear end. Your goal is to stay in contact with those yellow lines and rack up points for doing so. Whoever reaches 100 points first is declared the winner. I only played a few matches of this, but the difficulty level was quite high. The marked car was incredibly sporadic and you were battling with other cars for time in the ridiculously small streams of light.


Again, as the name implies, this mode is dedicated to driving as fast as humanly possible for the duration of the match. Whoever comes out with highest average speed is the winner. Pretty straightforward and insanely short.


Tag is by far my absolute favorite mode in of the available choices. This mode is essentially a gigantic game of schoolyard tag, but with less crying and more sports cars. A random car at the beginning is marked and whoever touches it first becomes ‘it’ and it is your goal to smash into them and grab the tag. Once you have the tag you want to high tail it out of there and make for the hills. The longer you hold the tag, the more points you rack up. Sound easy? Think again. Remember, each player can shift into other random cars at will and interrupt your escape route. You have to constantly be on edge and on the lookout for bolts of lightning in the distance as they indicate a car that has just been taken over by another player. If you find yourself at on the other side of the world from the action, a quick press of the R1 button will teleport your to a selection of cars nearest the tag. Be careful though, because you may get stuck driving a garbage can on wheels or a semi without the slightest hint of speed. Again, the most addicting and fun to play game mode seen so far!

All in All

Driver San Francisco really brings a lot of new ideas to the table, some of which may be a bit tough to accept at first, but what the game lacks in execution it certainly makes up for in ingenuity. The story is presented in such a way that really keeps you guessing right until the very end, especially if you are into any number of cops shows currently on TV.

I don’t really see this game having a massive amount of replay value once you have completed the story and all the side missions, but the online component helps increase the longevity of the game a tad. All in all, it’s more than worthy of a playthrough and a must buy for any fan of the Driver series.

Score: 8.5/10

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