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Review: Driver: San Francisco


I’m going to be honest: I don’t understand the point of storylines in arcade racing games.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lover of narratives in most other games. Knowing why you’re doing stuff usually makes you care more, which should ultimately make for a better game.

But not in arcade racing games. And certainly not in Driver: San Francisco.

If ever there was a game that was rendered completely pointless by its plotline, it’s Driver: San Fran. The story actually makes you care less about what you do. Ten minutes of cut-scenes/limited Final Fantasy XIII-style “head down this straight path connecting cut-scenes” gameplay, the game throws you its first WTF.

Driver: San Francisco is all a dream. Driver fans will know/love/mildly tolerate John Tanner. Well, he’s in a coma, and this game is set in his coma dream. Dream Tanner is pursuing series villain Jericho, who’s escaped to San Francisco.

I know what you’re thinking. Arcade-style racing games need more supernatural powers in general. Well, Dream Tanner can, I kid you not, possess different bodies. Sounds crazy, and for the most part, it’s really treated as a legal way for you to carjack awesome rides/move between missions – leave your body, possess this person, complete their mission.

The good? It eliminates the boring run-around-on-foot elements of previous Driver games, and, introduces some quirky characters and side-quests. The bad? It makes the plotline even more irrelevant. Why make such a big deal about Dream Tanner catching a Dream Bad Guy, then force the player to complete unrelated missions in different bodies before they can unlock the next part of the story?

Since the story is so unimportant, it makes you wonder why they even bothered. Why not ditch the open world and cut-scenes, stick to menus and mission selection screens and, shockingly, focus on the driving?

The Driving

Well… the driving is a mixed-bag, which isn’t what you want to say about an arcade-style racing game. At times, the game is close to being the Burnout clone it aspires to be. At others, not so much.

It all comes down to car handling. Driver: San Fran’s makers have worked hard to make each of the game’s licensed vehicles handle differently, almost to a fault. While you’ll lose control over low-end vehicles with the slightest tap, the high-end vehicles are a joy to drive. Sure, it’s rewarding when you finally master a vehicle or, you know, find a car that doesn’t suck, but the reward isn’t enough to make up for the frustrating time spent wrestling cars that just plain suck.

For fans willing to put in the hard yards, there are stacks of extra challenges to complete after the single-player has finished, as well as split-screen and online multiplayer, so you can struggle controlling low-end vehicles… with equally-aggravated friends!

Final thoughts

Driver: San Francisco has its tongue planted firmly in cheek, and it’s good for a laugh or two, but really, its focus on an inconsequential plot and frustrating gameplay mechanics keep it from being much fun. Criterion wowed gamers and critics with the latest incarnations of Burnout and Need For Speed, and all Driver: San Fran proves is just how far the competitors are lagging behind.

To see what Steve thought of Driver: San Francisco‘s multiplayer mode, click here.

Screenwriter, author, gamer and purveyor of all things inappropriate. His new book, THE FIRST THIRD, is out now via Penguin Australia.