Format: Xbox 360 (tested), Xbox 360, PC, Wii
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
It begins with incredulity. You can’t quite believe that Ubisoft Reflections are actually going to do it. From there, you move on to begrudging admiration, “Fair play to them,” you think. “At least they’re trying something different.” And then you realise it actually works, that what should have become 21st century gaming’s latest running joke is, in fact, a twisted stroke of genius.
The it in question, is the mechanic at the core of Driver San Francisco, and it will probably stand the test of time as one of the strangest game design decisions ever undertaken.
You’re Tanner. You’re a rough, tough cop, on a mission to bring down a sleazy drug lord who put a bullet in you. Your only weapon in this one man war is your ability to recklessly endanger people’s lives with your automotive handling skills. You can drift with the best, boost your speed like no other, and you’re a dab hand at driving criminals off the road too. The only problem is, you’re in a coma. Except, that’s not a problem at all, because, for reasons best left unexplained, you can now leap into the body of any driver in the city.
That’s right, you can swoop out of your body and into someone else’s with the push of a button. It’s a glorious mix of Life on Mars, Quantum Leap and Bullit, and it works. It really, really works. After that brief flirtation with disbelief, everything clicks into place and you’re shifting between the brains of San Franciscans with nary a care in the world.
Of course, the reason the shifting mechanism doesn’t fall on its arse, is because of the game that Reflections have built around it. This is a San Francisco alive with possibilities, a bright beacon that acts as both your playground and your race track. The game is essentially a sandbox driving title, with the bizarre story holding everything in place. You slip between different people, drive around as them and complete tasks, earning willpower that you can use to move on to the next part of the narrative.
You’re cop and robber, street racer and getaway driver, sliding around a vast city that’s designed just for you and the screeching sound of rubber on concrete. The cars handle with all the fluidity of an arcade racer, letting you throw them around the streets with abandon, ploughing through crates of rubbish to burst out of an alley and into the side of an escaping perp.
Driver isn’t without its problems. Sometimes, you just want to get on with the story, but you have to complete another race or another police chase first. Other times, the formula gets a little stuck in the mud, and the fresh ideas of the first few hours start to get old. That doesn’t change the fact that Driver San Francisco is a whole boat load of ridiculous fun. It’s fast, cool, sexy and innovative, and it deserves a place on any gamer’s shelf.