Of the three big games that came out on September 6th, Driver: San Francisco was the one I had the lowest hopes for. I picked it up partly due to nostalgia over the first game that came out thirteen years ago, and partly just to have another genre of game to play. I played the original pretty heavily, but I also played a lot of Pilotwings in those days. 1998 was a confusing time for any kid, but I figured a long-lived franchise like that might be worth revisiting. My thoughts? I’ve had more mixed feelings than a cocaine/heroin trip.
The story starts out terribly, and like any Nick Cage movie, only gets stupider from there. I was floored to see that the reviewer at IGN called the story not half-bad. In my opinion, the story is so corny it shows up in your shit. Furthermore, though the game does have some great driving mechanics, those don’t show up in the cutscenes, and you’re left with the distinct feeling the story scene graphics were lifted directly from the first game. The fact that the game loads between each character talking helps give the feeling that you’re reading an old telegraph (stop). Picture a white cop and a black cop, driving an old muscle car, and talking sarcastically with each other with every sentence. If you can think of a way to inject a more played out and stereotypical story into a game, congratulations. You could design a WWII game.
And just when I was starting to get pissed off for spending money on this game, the game stopped trying to tell me a story, and let me just drive. And I actually found myself starting to enjoy the game. The weird premise behind it, that you can jump into any car in the game at any time, actually began to become fun, and allowed for some interesting strategy decisions when it came to races and chases. It took some getting used to, but I found myself just wanting to try one more mission, unlock one more car. And when the story was far enough behind me, I was able to actually see this as an actually well-done and original driving game.
The city is just plain huge, and you can at any time zoom way out and choose from tons of missions from around the city. The sheer variety of missions, the challenge of most of them, and the well-balanced money earning system help keep you playing. All the cars are real and faithfully reproduced and there are tons of them, though I found myself staying true to the Ford Mustang for most of the game (until I unlocked the Dodge Viper, of course). And that’s the thing, the city and cars are represented in such a great way, and the physics and mechanics of the driving are so well done, its a shame they had to go and ruin it with a story concocted up by their janitorial staff.
Is this an amazing or groundbreaking game? No. But it is rather fun to play while we’re awaiting some of the bigger blockbusters of this season. Don’t go spend $60 on it, but if you’re looking for a unique experience and have to wait another month before March of the Penguins 2 or Big Game Hunter 2012 comes out, then by all means pick it up.