Driver: San Francisco Review

By Jonathan Deesing - Posted Sep 07, 2011

Step into the mind of John Tanner, driver supreme. Then step into his coma mind to drive in his dreams. Then step into the mind of every driver in San Francisco and steal their cars.

The Pros
  • Insanely fast-paced vehicle switches
  • Hilariously stupid plot
  • You can buy a Hudson Hornet
The Cons
  • Fast cars handle like dune buggies
  • Almost on-rails lack of exploration
  • Limited multiplayer maps

Driver: San Francisco Review:

Do you ever remember dreams in the morning and wonder how you were so calm about the situation you were in? Like you’re in a plane accident but at the same time having a calm conversation with a bear about Big Macs? That’s kind of what Driver: San Francisco is like. No, that’s exactly what it’s like.


Set Your Brain to ‘Coma’

The game starts out with a paranoid John Tanner watching his nemesis Charles Jericho being transported to prison. However, Jericho escapes and in the process leaves Tanner in a coma. From there, you play the majority of Driver: SF lying in a hospital bed having some of the weirdest damn dreams imaginable. Implausible? Yes. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

By placing the game in a dream world, Ubisoft was able to effectively supersede traditional game mechanics that typically hold open-world racing games down. The most notable feature is coma-Tanner’s ability to “shift” from car to car, basically possessing the driver of any vehicle in San Francisco. This serves two purposes. First, it eliminates the frustrating process of running from vehicle to vehicle and dragging out its driver. Even better is that it allows players to shift while driving, creating countless possibilities for missions, races, etc. So, if you’re chasing a street racer in a cop car you can simply shift into an oncoming truck, ram the racer and shift back to the cop car in time for a coffee break. The other fantastic part of the shift ability is that when Tanner leaves his car he becomes a disembodied…thing, floating high above the city, effectively serving as a massive, beautifully rendered map.

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Take A Ride on the Sidewalk

With the amount of madness going on in Driver: SF it’s nice that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. But in more than a few places it struggles to fulfill its role as a driving game. The first problem I noticed was with the handling of many of the vehicles. The faster the car, the more unwieldy it became, in some cases making the car almost impossible to drive. Because of this I stuck with my “low end” Audi TT for the vast majority of the game. Nursing an exotic speed demon so it would stop spinning out was obnoxious enough to make most of the coolest cars too frustrating to drive.

For being an open-world game it’s also surprisingly restricted. Don’t expect to cut across parks or skid through parking lots to make a quick short cut. In fact, there is no terrain in the game that will necessarily slow down your tank-like vehicles save only scant dirt roads. I exploited this for much of the game, simply barreling down sidewalks, mowing over bus stops and street signs while suffering no consequences. I couldn’t even hit a bystander (seriously, San Francisco must have some of the most quick-footed and agile pedestrians on earth). The badass jumps are few and far between and collectibles just litter common roads because there isn’t really anywhere to hide them. This wouldn’t be an issue for a standard racing game, but for an open world game it quickly becomes maddening when trying to escape cops or slow a pursuer.

Driver: San Francisco

Multiplayer Offerings: Not Enough Daisy Dukes

As surprising as it may sound, the first time in a long time a video game had me in tears of laughter was while playing Driver: SF with my buddy. One of the co-op games called Survival Mode featured a car race setup in which you and a friend race from point to point, gaining a new car every third checkpoint. The kicker is that the entire time you’re being chased and rammed repeatedly by cop cars. Oh and the cops can possess whatever car they want in order to slam you into submission. The result is a hilarious quagmire of car accidents in your wake while you try to escape psychotic policemen and slide your banged up car through the third checkpoint where you’ll get a new one. It’s straight out of The Dukes of Hazzard.

Unfortunately the rest of the splitscreen multiplayer modes aren’t nearly as fun. They’re all a twist on single-player missions or just straight up racing, but they suffer from the same difficulties of the campaign without the benefit of its tongue-in-cheek gameplay. The online multiplayer, which requires a Ubisoft Uplay Passport (this means if you buy they game used you’ll have to dish out $10 to play it online) is refreshingly satisfying. Featuring ever-popular leveling and unlockables, mixed with a variety of gameplay modes, it’ll have racing and action fans alike entertained for a couple hours. However, the gameplay modes are restricted to one of three maps, dooming the multiplayer to a crippling few levels. It almost feels as if Ubisoft wanted to guarantee some more coin by providing more maps later with paid DLC.

Driver: San Francisco

A Half-Hearted Wave of the Checkered Flag

Driver: SF is stupid fun. And I mean stupid. The plot is ridiculous, the gameplay is almost cartoonish, and the dialogue is laughable. But it takes the classic open-world driving game and turns it on its ear. Even the classic but hated follow-but-not-too-close mission is fun, as it’s done at a comfortable 80 mph. The variety of missions is lacking, but they are all so fast-paced you’d be hard pressed to notice. I struggled the entire time to figure out the point of Driver: San Francisco and never quite got it. But once I stopped thinking, it became so much fun I couldn’t remember why I ever cared.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?