It's hard to explain the setup behind Driver San Francisco without laughing. It's a return to the title's roots in one respect - just like the first Driver game you never leave your car. That's a good thing for a series that never quite managed to do shooting right. But the method they've found of letting you swap cars is alternately genius and ridiculous, depending on who you ask. John Tanner, the hero from Driver 3, has been put in a coma by Jericho. Nearly all of the action takes place in his hospital-bound head, against an imaginary villain..
As far as dream Tanner is concerned, he had a lucky escape. He wakes without a scratch, and is suddenly instructed by billboards to help the people of 'Frisco. He quickly discovers he's got magical powers. He can perform an elasticated ram attack. He can boost. And he can astral project to a plan view of the city, and take control of any car he likes.
So, his new life involves possessing people who need help, fixing their lives and his own brain. These missions unlock story missions that lead you to the imaginary Jericho forwards. It's Life on Mars meets Quantum Leap. With the script of a kids' cartoon.
Fair play to Reflections, there aren't a huge range of everyday problems that can be solved by driving dead fast, and they've done really well to give the missions a sense of variety. A couple of teenagers racing for their college fun, a TV crew looking to film some dangerous driving, paranoid witnesses who want you to avoid main roads, and a musician who wants you to drive through the posters of a rival.
It doesn't always make sense. In fact, what you're doing rarely bears up to any level of scrutiny. Along with the dialogue, which is almost transcendentally abysmal, Driver is a game that's begging for you to sneer at it.
But it's also an easy game to get into. The coma story progresses with some genuine imagination. Just play it like you'd watch Torchwood - love the broad ideas and just roll your eyes lovingly at the absurdity. While Driver San Francisco has its weak points, none of them infect and deflate the raw, stupid fun of the driving and shifting.
However much you buy into the story behind it, jumping from one car to another works brilliantly. It gives you an alternative solution to some missions. Races can be won more easily by taking control of oncoming traffic and slamming into your opponents. The car you were in will behave sensibly while you're gadding about. Losing cops, too, gives you the option of driving skills or sabotage.
Part of the charm - or it could be a weakness, it's really hard to tell - is that the game doesn't let you know if it's in on the joke. It never shoots you an apologetic smile. If you can buy into the TV drama premise, suffer the "Previously, on Driver San Francisco" cutscenes, and enjoy the dialogue with the appropriate level of facepalm, Driver will charm the big end off of you. It's a turbo-powered drifty racer with a loveably fractured premise and a world that's full of challenges and stunts. It's better than it has any right to be.
More than the sum of its parts
- Does new things with cars
- More enjoyable that it feels it should be
- Shift mechanic works great
- Doesn't make sense
- Hilariously bad dialogue