Driving is difficult to extrapolate in a video game. Unless you’re willing to invest in a wheel and pedals for your console of choice, you’re inevitably going to be using the controller. There’s a reason no one’s ever tried to rig up a real car so it can be controlled with the A button and a joystick: it would be suicide. Consequently, cars usually control one of two ways in games: realistically, where all it takes is one pothole to mess up your day; or fantastically, where 180 degree turns in heavy traffic can be accomplished with the press of a button. Driver: San Francisco falls into the former category, but with a twist.
You play as John Tanner, or clone #13843 from the clichéd protagonist factory. Tanner is a rough cop on the edge, he can drive like no one’s business, and he’s always got something witty to say to the bad guys. But after having a nearly fatal wreck, he gains the ability to take over the body of any other driver on the road, anywhere in the city. When he discovers this ability he doesn’t overly burden himself with the whole, “great power, great responsibility” racket. No, John takes time out of his busy day to do things like posses the body of a new driving student and literally scare the crap out of his instructor. The plot borrows elements from shows like “Life on Mars” and a tone from “Starsky and Hutch.” The story is pretty tongue-in-cheek, but revels in it enough that it becomes endearing.
The ability to “Shift” into any other car can be used in some very inventive ways if utilized correctly. During a street race John can shift into a car in the oncoming lane, plow headlong into his opponents car, then shift back into his race-car and fly ahead another place as both his victims try to figure out what the hell just happened. Often Tanner will shift into a car with a passenger who was mid conversation with the person he just possessed. It makes for some hilarious situations in which John has to ram an escaping criminal and calm the frantic spouse in his passenger seat at the same time.
Presumably, cars handle very realistically. Hand-break turns, unless done absolutely perfectly, will leave you spinning out more often than not. Bigger vehicles like trucks are incredibly difficult to handle, and have a tendency to flip over. On the not so realistic side of things, Tanner gains the super ability to “boost” his car to great speeds without the use of nitrous. It makes coming out of turns easier in some instances; others it just makes you spin more. Sometimes it seems like the game tries to hard to help you win. If you should happen to spin out and flip over, the game will patiently put you back in the right direction and let you continue. What’s even more insulting is if you get too far behind in the race, your opponents will actually slow down and wait for you to catch up.
Multiplayer is obviously not the main focus of the game, but there are a couple of modes. Friends can team up in Split Screen, but only for three different activities. Players can go online and chase each other around the city, or play “capture the flag”. Unfortunately, none of these modes utilize the shifting mechanic that brings depth to the story campaign.
Driver is absurd is the best way possible. It’s impossible to kill any pedestrians or other drivers, and you can cause untold property and vehicular damage and no one will care. It’s fortunate that the game isn’t very long, because things become rather repetitive around the middle. If you’re looking for a game to spend some time with over the weekend, you couldn’t do much better than Driver: San Francisco.
By: Joseph Francisco