Adrenaline Fueled Drive through the Golden Gate City - Warbuff Blog -
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Adrenaline Fueled Drive through the Golden Gate City

Most of us have expressed frustration over a game or movie that ends with the plot twist, "It was all a dream."  I give credit to Driver San Francisco for being upfront about this from the outset.   You've most likely heard by now series protagonists John Tanner is hospitalized and in a coma thanks to his nemesis from Driv3r, Chris Jericho.  Tanner soon realizes he can astral project himself over the city and possess the body of any person inside a vehicle.  If this is the first you've read about the bizarre plot and think it might be too cheesy for your sensibilities, get over it.

With Jericho on the loose and the world's best wheelman bed ridden the city needs a hero. A hero that takes control of people's mind and body while they drive, causes tens of thousands of dollars in property damage then ghosts like Swayze to leave them with the insurance bills and criminal charges.  Now that's my kind of hero!

Reflections studio has managed to create a gameplay mechanic so simple in design and expertly executed it has me wondering how it hasn't been done before.  The campy B story is just a plot excuse to explain the game's main mechanic next to driving.  At the push of a button the player's camera is lifted from their car and in a sense enters spectator mode.  Gliding over the massive city of San Francisco another button press instantly shifts the player into any car on the road.  It's this instant functionality that makes the ability so satisfying to use.  If there were any kind of loading to occur the gameplay would slow down and suffer for it.

From here the premise evolves into a culmination of city missions, activities and dares so diverse I can't think of a driving game with as much variety.  Keep in mind players cannot walk around on foot a la GTA.  In no other driving game, that I've played, did I need to ensure 2 cars placed first and second in a race by swapping control between the two.  Better still if I happen to fall behind in said race I could instead take control of oncoming traffic and physically remove my competition by destroying their vehicle.  Shifting isn't without its limitations, however, I could never possess my competition and simply drive them the wrong direction.  Thankfully the vehicles needed for the mission have auto pilot when Tanner's focus is elsewhere.

Starting an activity couldn't be easier.  As city and story missions are completed the landscape becomes populated with over 100 challenges and one-off dares.  Players have the choice of driving to the start location similar to Burnout Paradise or simple fly there in shift mode and start the activity at a push of a button.  In seconds you could be trying to jump your car 100 meters or re-enacting a chase scene from the Dukes of Hazard.

It's all in a name, and Driving is what happens most.  My history with racing games is more Burnout focused than it is Gran Turismo.  It took me maybe an hour to get a skillful grip on the fine-tuned Hollywood physics.  Despite the heavy focus on drifting around corners, the stats of different vehicles matters a lot depending on what terrain you're driving on.  Early in the game I saved up for the Ford GT and completely decimated the competition.  But once the activities moved onto dirt roads I couldn't control my tail end.  Less than a minute later I had purchased a rally car and was back in the action.  I applaud the designers and programmers for creating such a streamlined experience.

The currency in Driver SF is willpower.  The more insane stunts and missions Tanner completes the more willpower he has to purchase ability upgrades, garages and new cars.  With 140 fully licensed vehicles there is no shortage of unlockables.  Though I was able to get through the game only needing to unlock 1 or 2 cars from each class, it all comes down to preference.  You may decide an Alfa Romeo is more your style than my Ford GT.  Players are constantly being rewarded as they perform drifts, overtake traffic and the like.  Should you decide to speed around the city without an active goal, you’ll still be earning WP to spend on shiny new toys.

As I mentioned in my preview, the competitive online multiplayer of Driver SF has given me firsthand knowledge for defining the term "pulse pounding adrenaline".  Integrated into an experience progression system are traditional racing modes along with a few surprises.  Blitz mode is team game type where defenders must use excessive force to keep attackers out of a marked zone of the city.  Capture the Flag, a mode I never thought would be a driving game, is self-explanatory but wildly addictive.  Tag, my absolute favorite, plays the opposite of what we played in grade school.  A single person is It and earning points.  All other players need to tag [see - crash into] the scoring car to become It.  With the ability to shift into any car on the road each round plays out as if the citizens of San Fran decided to start a demolition derby on their way home from work.

Of the games I've played so far in 2011 Driver has my bid for Game of the year.  The addictive game play and fluid mechanics kept me in story mode for over 20 hours before I ventured online.  I hope to log twice as much tooling around the city and using the games built in film editor to create Hunter worthy chase videos.  This is the best Driver game to date and shouldn't be missed by even the casual racing fan.

Verdict 9/10