While my taste in music has practically always been set to the all ‘80s station, I happen only recently acquired an appreciation for that funky music which ruled the radio waves only a few short years prior. You know the kind. If not, just pick up any good flick from the ‘70s wherein you are treated to the sight of now-vintage muscle cars tearing their way through the crowded streets of the big city and you’ll hear it for yourself. Or, if you’re familiar with the music I’m talking about and have a hankerin’ for muscle cars roaring down metropolitan highways, alleys and avenues, then I heartily suggest you pick up Driver: San Francisco.
Not only does it feature a soundtrack that will have you jumping for joy with delight, but this game flat out hauls its own ass as well as that of anyone who plays it. Thought the story follows in the footsteps of the franchise’s previous entry, Driv3r, it is not essential for anyone to have had played that title before jumping into the driver’s seat of this one (which marks the first time the series has appeared on the PlayStation 3).
And, speaking of “jumping,” Driver: San Francisco marks a new twist on the formula — one that owes more than a passing nod to the television series Life On Mars (to say nothing of about ten-million movies and TV shows). Series “star” John Tanner returns once more — as does his nemesis, Jericho. Only this time, Tanner’s put into a coma at the beginning of the game during a near-lethal chase throughout greater San Francisco and left to get through the various mysteries and challenges the game holds by “jumping” behind the wheels of other cars (with non-vegetative people driving).
Tanner still goes through the game as if he’s fully-conscious, only with this super ability to “shift.” A simple press of the “X” button allots players a temporary out-of-body experience, to wit they are able to select another vehicle (as well as host) to commandeer. In the name of the law, of course. Well, some times. You see, the act of shifting can sometimes put you behind the wheel of a speeding getaway car, wherein your objective is to lose your fellow PD folk. Other times, you can take over the body and automobile of said fellows in order to pursue getaways. The fun extends that much further by being able to possess an oncoming car (say, a big mother-grabbing truck) which you can use to subtly “persuade” the bad guys to stop.
Other newfound abilities include the option to boost whatever it is you choose to drive: abilities that increase over time and can push you into speeds (within city limits, mind you) that would make even those NASCAR fellers green with envy. The variety of vehicles is a vast one indeed, ranging from Audis to Volkswagens and including a lot of rarer makes and models from manufacturers such as Aston Martin, Pagani, RUF and Shelby (just to name a few). A particularly grin-inducing moment occurred for me when I shifted into a DeLorean and hit 88mph — only to watch in jaw-dropping amazement as the car sped out of frame, leaving behind a trail of flaming tracks. That particular “joke” also served as the intro to one of several flashback challenges that takes place in San Francisco in the ‘70s (a choice amount of film grain and scratches present on the screen during these moments only add to the enjoyment).
Soundtrack-wise, Driver: San Francisco has 76 tracks of energetic tunes to it; all guaranteed to demand your pedal meeting the metal. The music selection here is not limited to just funk, either. It’s one that knows how to please fans of “older” tunes and “newer” ones alike, and includes the likes of Funkadelic, Aretha Franklin, Beck, Robert Palmer, The Black Keys, Beastie Boys, DJ Shadow and The Cure. There’s even a track on here by that underrated KPM Music Library guru, Alan Hawkshaw, the appearance of which basically cemented my entire appreciation for the game right then and there.
Back to the game itself, another major change in gameplay is the lack of foot movement. Sure, the enormous map of San Francisco this game has on file is an open one (new sectors “open up” in Tanner’s mind as the story progresses — there are even recaps wherein a voice says “Previously on…” which I figured I’d mention now for no good reason) and you can drive just about anywhere you want — as long as there’s a road there. Unlike other titles in the Driver universe, you don’t get the option to leave your car and walk about. You also can’t mow down your opponents with weapons. Nor can you waste any of SF’s citizens by running them over: they all have this unique skill of dodging cars that almost hit them at 150mph.
But of course, this game — in addition to being one that is “action” oriented — is also an unexpected fantasy. Most of it takes place in a guy’s head. Why would you want to walk or run when you can shift into any car in the entire city? There’s no need to slaughter innocent bystanders while you act in the name of justice (sure, it’s fun, but it’s not necessary here). Ubisoft — Driver: San Francisco’s makers — didn’t want to make another game that resembled the familiar (but just as agreeable) Grand Theft Auto series, so they opted to do something different; something that could technically be classified as relatively insane, but that they hoped would warrant hours upon end of white-knuckle virtual smashing enjoyment accompanied by some truly awesome graphics.
Guess what? They succeeded.
Driver: San Francisco is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Drug Reference, Language, Sexual Themes, Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360, PC, Wii, Macintosh, Wireless.