Driven Mad

Title: Driver: San Francisco

Developers: Ubisoft Reflections

Publishers: Ubisoft

Platforms: Playstation, Xbox 360, Wii, Mac OS X, MS Windows.

Release date: Out now

After several lacklustre Driver releases, Steven Balbirnie examines whether or not the latest addition can resuscitate the franchise

It is hard to imagine that the game with 2011’s most absurdly contrived plot would be a driving game, but the premise for Driver: San Francisco is somehow ridiculous enough to easily claim this accolade.

The main character, Detective John Tanner, ends up comatose within five minutes of being introduced, after a truck driven by the game’s villain hits his car. The rest of the game is played as an out of body experience that takes place while Tanner is in a coma. In this comatose state Tanner has gained the ability to ‘shift’ into the body of any driver in San Francisco; so rather than committing car-jackings á la the GTA series, you effectively play as a ghost who engages in body-jackings to try and track down your assailant. This is clearly a response by the developers to the negative feedback regarding the ‘on foot’ sections of Driv3r, but it still seems ham-fisted.

The game’s dialogue is also among the cheesiest you will ever hear; willpower is bizarrely used as a currency and Tanner’s partner Tobias Jones is an almost offensive African-American stereotype who seems to have difficulty saying sentences without the word ‘damn’ in them. Driver: San Francisco’s narrative faults could perhaps be overlooked if the game’s mechanics could provide some compensation, but unfortunately they can’t. For a driving game, the controls for braking and cornering are alarmingly temperamental and imprecise. The omission of guns from this instalment of the franchise is also a strange exclusion.

Despite its many faults, it would be unfair to write Driver: San Francisco off entirely. Ubisoft Reflections have clearly put a lot of effort into its visuals, as facial animations are almost photorealistic, the streets of San Francisco have been intricately recreated in great detail, and it all runs at a decent frame rate. The presence of 120 licensed cars also gives the game a more authentic look. The soundtrack is decidedly funky, and the game’s references to Bullit and Starsky and Hutch lend it a little charm. While nonsensical, the ‘shift’ dynamic at least has the positive effect of allowing for a greater variety of side missions such as ambulance driving and drag racing.

In the end, Driver: San Francisco is a pretty-looking game but it lacks depth.