Second Opinion – Driver: San Francisco
In his recent review, Richard Wakeling quite rightly focused primarily on the ‘shift’ feature of Driver: San Francisco. As a completely innovative feature that reassesses the relevance of the Driver series in 2011, it undoubtedly warranted a large percentage of the article. But ‘shift’ is not the saving grace of Driver: San Francisco. It is simply its defining feature.
The reason ‘shift’ is such a technical success is because Ubisoft have created an ever-evolving city of manipulative possibility. Traffic moves naturally through the city’s varied roads and the characters’ impressive kernel of dialogue gives a sense that you aren’t their superiors. You’re just Tanner, recklessly dancing about your peers. And it’s perhaps for this reason that the real highlight of the 200+ missions are the getaway missions.
Whether you’re playing fox or hound, being a part of a chase has a genuine sense of urgency attached. In an equally-balanced car, the only effective way of altering the gap in your favour is to weave through lanes of oncoming traffic at the fastest speed possible. The tyres fight your change in direction as you reach the highest speeds, screeching with resistance as you attempt to make that exit off of the highway to send your pursuers a checkmate-dummy. Searching for an unpredictable route to end the war, whilst holding down the short-term battle for enough breathing space is a difficult cognitive compromise.
The sheer aggression of A.I. drivers elevates such pursuit modes above those seen in the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV. Opposing vehicles will grind against yours with a full 150mph force with little regard for the city’s aesthetics. Unlike Rockstar’s take on car chases, Driver’s exclusively take place behind the wheel. There’s less urgency when trapped as you cannot be ejected by an on-foot character, but this is compensated for by vehicular aggression. Once the car is destroyed, there’s no second-chance to hijack a replacement. Whilst early chases feel disappointingly unrewarding, the difficulty consistently increases over the later chapters, making those high-speed drifts between two closing busses not only euphoric, but essential.
In fact, it’s these modes where shifting isn’t an option that stand as the most iconic over the main game. The dialogue is consistently entertaining and appropriately playful as your confused passenger wonders quite where this sudden flair for burning rubber appeared from in their pilot. Shift, if anything, is best served as a unique tool of a ludicrously-engaging story. As Richard explains, the self-awareness of the sheer barbaric nature of the power presented the writers with an unexpected level of creative freedom. It all ties in seamlessly with the somewhat-exaggerated, arcadey take on 00s San Francisco. From an impeccably-appropriate soundtrack to the very 70s artistic graphical flavour, the city has a refreshing character that’s a nod to Vice City, rather than the somewhat-dry Liberty City of GTA IV.
Driver: San Francisco has its niggling faults that prevent it from being held quite in the same light as the classic original, but it’s an embodiment of a series resurgent. It’s perfectly viable to say that the shift feature has been crucial in finding the series’ new direction, but it’s the underlying mechanics and the attention to detail in rectifying the flaws that undermined Driver 3 that truly allow San Francisco to flourish. It’s the ideal tonic to mask the bitter taste of a generation lost.
Truly Richard, I hope you debated shifting to a nine.