Driver San Francisco is an interesting game. Its at once nostalgic and novel. It comes from a franchise of Driver games but it really shakes things up enough that it may as well be an original title. What could have been a banal driving mission game has really done something new and interesting to make it worth your attention.
The game starts off with an explosive cinematic sequence. You should get used to these as cinematic sequences happen frequently throughout the game. You might expect that to get annoying bu they really do help with transitional scenes and providing a bit of reprieve from the game’s otherwise non-stop flow of driving action.
Aside from the cinematic sequences, the game features a good mechanism for propelling story and dialog during game-play through a stylized and intuitive picture-in-picture style overlay as characters engage in conversation. It feels natural and fluid with good segues preventing jarring transitions.
The main thing to look for in Driver San Francisco is the unique ‘shift’ mechanic. Its unfortunately named since it has nothing to do with shifting gears. With a few simple button presses, players can shift into the driver’s seat of virtually any vehicle on the road.
This goes way beyond car-jacking as you might find in the GTA franchise as your character supernaturally possesses other drivers on the fly. It allows for some innovative -opportunities and really makes this game feel fresh and exciting. Your ability to leave your body, float over the city, and fly into another vehicle can really make this game shine. Because of this, Driver San Francisco suffers from almost no downtime with constant driving action being showcased at all times.
The non-punishing game-play and lack of cumbersome tertiary mechanics, thanks to the shift feature, mean that Driver San Francisco is fun from the instant you pick it up, even if you’re a novice at such games. There are no lengthy tutorials to deal with and not much in the way of a learning curve. Just start driving and floor it!
Once you have the basics down, the game offers players with a variety of game-play opportunities with different mission and event types. If you’re bored of the story, why not go try a race or a challenge mission, for example? You are really free to do as you please here, yet unlike many sandbox games, this one prevents you from getting bored. Even with such freedom, you can rapidly transition between activities without having to clumsily walk across town or interact with annoying characters.
There is a great soundtrack to this game too, with lots of 70s and 70s style music to keep things from sounding stale. There is a lot of variety in what you here yet it all manages to work together too and make it a more immersing experience. As a pleasant bonus you can control the music with a simple press of the d-pad too in case you want to skip a song.
The graphical treatment is quite solid too with a well realized city that feels expansive and organic. There is always a decent amount of foot and vehicle traffic on the streets preventing it from being too sterile. The cityscape itself never feels repetitive or formulaic. Even the vehicles are officially licenced, lending an additional layer of detail to the game world.
It seems like every aspect of Driver San Francisco has been precision engineered to deliver a steady flow of action without getting in your way like other games tend to. Even the expandable map is positioned in the top center of the screen, to keep you from having to shift focus away from the action.
The game has the distinct feel of a 70s cop show or movie with a slight influence from the wonderful TV series ‘Life on Mars’. Of course setting it in San Francisco only makes these connections more obvious, as does the distinct color toning and carefully curated soundtrack. If you’re looking for a car simulation this may not be the game for you but if you want action and an accessible game you can just pick up and play, this may be just the ticket. I was pleasantly surprised with Driver San Francisco and I think you will be too.