Driver: San Francisco.
Let me preface with this: I’m not much of a driving game enthusiast. The only game I’ve really put much time into was Burnout: Revenge. The point of that game was to cause massive damage so I don’t think it trained me well on how to succeed with a game like Driver: San Francisco.
Here’s the basics. Most games would just give you cars and missions and let you go. Driver: San Francisco gives you a unique story that allows you to complete these missions. You’re a police officer who was in a pretty catastrophic accident while chasing a criminal and now you’re in a coma. In your sleeping state, your mind is still working though, trying to figure out your real life mystery about this criminal and what he’s up to. So, the entire game takes place in your mind. This isn’t a spoiler, they pretty much give you this at the very beginning.
Since it’s all in your head, you have the ability to “shift.” This is the basic building block of this game and luckily it works pretty well. You hop out of your current body and you can take over any car you want. If you’re chasing a bad guy and you want to slam a semitruck into his side to slow him down, you can hop out of your current car, take control of a semitruck, slam it into your target, and then hop back into your own car. This is really cool. It works in execution, too.
As the game progresses, more and more of the city of San Francisco opens up to you. You’re able to zoom out super far, see the city in its entirety, and then see where missions are.
It’s easy to keep track of missions and the color-coding is pretty effective at letting you know what’s optional and what’s part of the core mission.
So what works?
Like I said, the “shift” concept is pulled off perfectly. It’s awesome to hop bodies and take over any car you want. The only caveat is that some cars are off-limits to you during missions. If you’re chasing a car, you can’t take over that car and just crash it into something. But then that brings up the question… Why not? They never explain how some people are just completely off-limits. The game would be boring that way but they never give an explanation.
The city is fun to traverse but I often found myself just zooming out and then choosing missions from the city view. It’s convenient but I kind of wish the game made me travel more using cars. The city is gorgeous but it’s easy to avoid it.
The missions are varied and interesting. Some of them have zero to do with the main story, so the writers had some flexibility with the stories they told. For example, you might hop into an ambulance and have to get to the hospital in a certain amount of time. Or maybe you just robbed a bank and now you’re outrunning the police. These side missions are a nice change from the core story missions.
What doesn’t work?
Even the city is amazing to look at, it’s easy to avoid it. I didn’t want to avoid it but the game is so convenient to zoom out and choose missions that I never found myself just driving from mission to mission. Without this, I never really learned the city. In games such as Grand Theft Auto, you learn landmarks and streets and you get used to certain neighborhoods. In Driver: San Francisco, I doubt I even went through the same neighborhoods more than once. I never had that sense of familiarity that I appreciate in huge open world games. It feels like the city view option was almost too convenient.
I need to also talk about the level of difficulty. It’s incredibly inconsistent. As a newbie to the driving genre, I sucked at driving. The second or third mission was teaching me how to “drift” around corners and I don’t think I ever really got it. So the whole game was a struggle because some of the core missions are so damn hard. In races, usually you’d focus on winning. In this game though, I had to focus on destroying the other cars. I had no chance of winning. There were some missions where your race never intersected with other cars so there was no one to shift into. These were super tough for me. And then there’s the cops… The police in this game are monsters. I’m trying to escape but I was getting constantly t-boned and sideswiped and my car was destroyed most of the time. They drive faster than you can, there’s like a bazillion of them, and they have no moral conscience. These missions were the worst. You have to get a certain distance away from them to clear your wanted level, similar to Grand Theft Auto. Well, as soon as you get far away, another set of police would show up and destroy me. It was really difficult and as a casual gamer, I got a little frustrated. It wasn’t “this is fun” challenging, it was “I hate this game” challenging.
Driver: San Francisco is a really interesting game. The concept of shifting into different bodies manages to work, though the story becomes a little complicated because of these different levels of reality. I applaud what they tried though. The game is easy to play but extremely challenging missions pop up out of nowhere that really frustrated me. The visuals were gorgeous and the city of San Francisco was breathtaking but the game offered a really convenient way to miss all this. Overall, worth renting.