After such a bumpy journey the Driver games have been both classed as being brilliant and well, not brilliant, question is, has Refelection Interactive redeemed the Driver franchise with Life On San Francisco?
When you first heard that the genre-busting gaming classic Driver was going to be updated with a Quantum Leap shift mechanic used to justify a Life on Mars stylee plot, you were probably already heading for the exits. But the bunch of smart-thinking types over at Reflections Interactive have aced the next gen update, creating one a long over-due superb addition to the franchise. The 'Tanner can float between cars like a ghost because he's in a coma' Macguffin is played for laughs but is so well implemented in the gameplay, we can't imagine another iteration of Driver without it.
Driver San Francisco: Plot
In Driver: San Francisco, everybody's favourite Green Cross Code-curbing cop John Tanner is blasted into a coma by long-time nemesis Charles Jericho. The majority of Driver: San Francisco takes place inside Tanner's head, in a reality where he can make like Google Earth at a moment's notice and 'Shift' between vehicles. It's a simple device. As you're tooting around like some road dependent schmuck a press of the X button will lift you out of your body and high above the streets, where you can glide about with the left stick, target another vehicle and possess its driver.
On the road the Shift mechanic is smooth, well implemented and actually pretty useful. If you're chasing a perp, for example, and your fellow road-users aren't doing their bit by risking their life and limb to slam into the high-speed getaway car, you can do the old up and down, whoosh into their head and take matters into your own hands. Similarly, if you're falling behind your target you can use Shift to hop forward a few cars to get you back in the game. Side-missions are based on Shift as well. A number of different tasks are triggered by possessing certain citizens.
Old favourites to the genre are all accounted for; cops v robbers, stunt runs and races are all but a Shift away and more inventive scenarios such as possessing a kid on his driving lesson in order to make his instructor kack his pants are welcome. Of course, the glaring problem with having the ability to Shift is that you can go through the game without actually doing all that much driving. It means that the single-player campaign (coming in at around seven or eight hours) can be rattled through pretty quickly because its very easy to give yourself the upper-hand.
Driver San Francisco: Features
There's over 200 miles of San Francisco road out there to barrel down for a start. Again, allow us to hark back to the brilliant original Driver and you'll remember the excitement surrounding massive, detailed open-world replicas of San Francisco, LA, New York and Miami. San Francisco was by far the most fun to play back in the day with its nice long straights and ridiculously steep inclines perfect for some air time (Remember Nob Hill? Snigger), and so it makes a welcome return. This time San Francisco has been tweaked to offer only the most car chase friendly elements.
The massive hills and swooping bends have been taken and squished together to form a version of the city that's geared towards fun. It works as well, with chaotic pursuits constantly taking unexpected turns, narrow misses and the odd mid-air collision. Clear inspiration from the likes of Bullit inform every stylistic element right down to the impressive soundtrack. You also get a huge line-up of licensed 1970s cars - 100 in total including Tanner's Dodge Challenger - has been lovingly recreated in lush detail. They're a key part to creating that feel of being in a classic roadster film.
Driver San Francisco: Driving
While Shift is fun, Reflections Interactive nailed the driving experience of the first two games, which was missing from the other releases. It is superb fun that is ladled-on with Hollywood mechanics but has enough control with added boost and drift to make handling a decent learning curve.
It is weighty and cinematically realistic as ever. Obviously we're not talking simulation racing here, drifts are easily executed, there are enough jump opportunities to warrant a town planning enquiry and cinematic sizzle is at the heart of everything. It's the two elements combined that make Driver: San Francisco great.
Driver San Francisco: Verdict
So the story will get in the way at first - Reflections is obviously a bit nervous about introducing its zany Shift concept without narrative explanation - but, once you're behind the wheel, you'll realise that San Francisco is definitely a long-overdue return to form for the Driver series.
Driver San Francisco is out now on PS3, Xbos 360 and PC for £34.99 and £29.99 respectively.