Driver: San Francisco (PC)

Source:  Driver: San Francisco (PC)    Tag:  skull x ray markers
Driver: San Francisco PC title screen logo
Today I'm having a look at Driver: San Francisco by Reflections, makers of Shadow of the Beast, Destruction Derby, Stuntman and a whole lot of Driver games.

To be honest I've never been much of a fan of the Driver series; I found the first game to be pretty painful to play, Driver 2: Are You Sure You Want to Restart is astoundingly unforgiving, the third game seems like it's a broken mess and Parallel Lines... I can't even remember why I don't like that, but I'm sure there must be a good reason. Still it introduced me to the track 'Suffragette City' by David Bowie, so it's not all bad.

There's actually two versions of Driver: San Francisco: the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/PC game I'm playing and the Wii version which has an entirely different story despite the fact it has the same name and cover art. In fact the Wii game is a prequel to the first Driver, so basically they were straight up trying to mislead people with it. Hey Ubisoft, here's an idea: if you're releasing a different product DON'T SELL IT IN THE SAME BOX.

(Click the pictures to expand them into a glorious 1280x720 resolution).

Nice, a pre-rendered intro and they're using the 'set up the story with a news report' trope too! Actually I'm pretty indifferent to this, but I'm trying to show some enthusiasm here.
"This is KEOC News, your eyes on the city, with me, Jessica Adams. Next up, it's a big day for justice. Convicted cop-killer and international smuggling kingpin Charles Jericho faces sentencing later today."
Then it cuts to show the man himself in his cell, chatting with another inmate about what seems to be his own impending escape.

Okay I've just got to stop this here for a second. What the fuck is that thing up there on the top right corner ruining my screenshots?

How the hell did Ubisoft manage to make a screenshot tool that captures its own 'screenshot saved' message box? That's just amazing. It's also jpeg compressing the crap out of them, ruining all my pristine pixels.

This is the first time I've ever used Uplay by the way, as the game made me install it and set up an account. Though apart from it initially trying to convince me that the game wasn't installed and needed to be downloaded all over again from scratch I haven't found much to complain about so far. I ignored Uplay's lies and started the game up without a problem.

Hey is that a pre-rendered video clip on the top synched up with real-time graphics on the bottom? They're a little out of time for me, but I'm still impressed.

These two keeping an eye on Jericho's police van are Jones and Tanner, the cops who finally managed to bring the notorious mob boss in at the end of the previous game... well the game immediately before the last game... they arrested him in Driver 3 is what I'm saying. The series went off on a detour for the fourth game, Driver: Parallel Lines, which had an unrelated storyline and different characters

But the original protagonist and his partner are back again for this game, though Driver 3 stars Ving Rhames and Michael Madsen have been replaced in the meantime by two considerably cheaper voice actors, with considerably different voices and performances. I'm not sure that I'm ready to accept a funny, likeable version of Tanner that I can actually give a shit about, but I'll do my best.

Disaster! Jericho has made his move, aided by a merc firing a rocket launcher at the cop cars below from a news chopper. Tanner and Jones kind of saw this coming and are soon in pursuit of the hijacked police van.

It's funny to me how the developers picked this car in particular, the Dodge Challenger R/T, to be the game's hero car, as it's one of my all time favourites. It's like they know my weak point and they're hitting it with everything they've got. I've loved this car ever since I first played Interstate '76 back in the late 90s.

Not a Driver: San Francisco screenshot.
Even when it's made of a handful of polygons and ultra low-resolution textures this car looks awesome to me. Though the thing about it being so low detail is... it's very easy to mistake it for a different car. I always thought this was a 1970 Dodge Challenger, when it's actually a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda (cunningly renamed in the game to be a 'Picard Piranha').

Whatever, the cars are basically twins in real life. They're both awesome.

Alright I've been given control of the car and now I'm chasing Jericho's van as he smashes through unfortunate motorists. Not really sure what else I can say about it really; the car handles pretty well, graphics look nice..

I especially like how it hasn't forced me to restart the level every time I've made the slightest mistake like the earlier Driver games were fond of doing.

After a few corners Jericho managed to give us the slip in a narrow side road, which is pretty impressive considering that he's driving a bloody huge police truck leaving a trail of debris everywhere he goes, and we're in a high performance muscle car.

Oh hey, there he is! He had hidden his truck around a corner and now he's coming up fast to ram us from behind. This shouldn't actually be a huge problem as we just have to keep ahead of him long enough to reach the wide-open street ahead.

Oh right, oncoming traffic, forgot about that. Well that's going to leave a leave a dint (in his skull).

Seriously, Tanner looks pretty beat up after this. We even hear the sound of someone calling for a defibrillator... but then he just wakes up and he's actually fine! Guess I'd better go chase Jericho some more then.


BUT THEN....


Well we caught up to him, only for the the bastard to blow up his own truck right in front of us! He must have hated the idea of being executed so much that he'd rather die than be captured again.

But before we have a chance to maybe try getting out of the car and searching the area on foot just on the off chance that the guy didn't blow himself up along with the truck, the camera suddenly gets hit with an effect that looks like the inside of an eyeball, and begins floating away. It seems that after three games of this shit Tanner's soul has finally thrown in the towel and is making a run for it.

His disembodied consciousness didn't get all that far though, before being drawn back down again to possessing the body of a nearby ambulance driver, Quantum Leap style. So... that just happened.

By the way in case you're not familiar with the Driver series, the Tanner games have all been serious-business gritty cop thrillers up to this point as far as I'm aware, without the merest hint of anything even slightly supernatural. So this development is kinda coming out of left field.

Hey, maybe these guys are the ones I heard calling for the defibrillator earlier...

But anyway, the ambulance needs a driver and we're the guy in the driver's seat right now, so it's up to us to save our passenger's life.

I pressed X to bring up my objective and it said 'get to the hospital and keep the heart rate above 20', so I've been swerving around oncoming traffic like a maniac, drifting around corners, smashing through lampposts, but nothing seems to help get the cop's blood pumping. You know, I'm starting to think that it's actually just a good old fashioned timer that stops when it gets down to 20 instead of 0.

With the wounded cop safely in his hospital bed Tanner is able to return to his own body, which has been driving around town like a zombie while he's been out and about. It seems that Jones didn't even notice anything was up though, just like he's not overly concerned that the billboards have gotten really specific with their target audience recently.

By the way, I love the crap these two come up with while we're driving:

Have you ever had an out-of-body experience?

You been eating mouldy waffles again? I told you about cleaning out your fridge.

Hey! We agreed never to mention what happened on 'weird Tuesday'. You promised.

Tanner's curious about this newly discovered super power though and decides to see what he can do with it.

Now I'm allowed to fly Tanner's astral projection eyeball around the streets freely, possessing anyone I feel like... as long as they're driving a car. Pedestrians are apparently immune to possession. Bikers and train drivers I'm not sure about yet. The jury's also still out on aircraft pilots, unicyclists, tobogganists, surfers, astronauts and people on horseback, but I'll be sure to investigate my options diligently.

Uh, what the fuck? Seems that I can't return to my own car until I've helped other drivers with their own personal crisises. I'm fated to become the hero that San Francisco needs (just not the one it ever asked for).

When I float around the streets I can hear nearby motorists in need talking inside my head like I could hear the ambulance crew earlier. Though I also get big icons pointing towards them as well so they're not exactly hard to find.

Alright I'll go spy on complete strangers then and see what I can do to help.

Hey, a cop mission! Tanner shouldn't struggle with this too much, seeing as this is the actual job he's supposed to be doing right now. All I have to do here to help them out here is to catch their crook, by ramming into them over and over until their car's a smoking wreck. Standard police procedure.

Man, look at that reflection on the bonnet. I guess a developer called Reflections has to be extra careful about getting effects like that looking right, just like how Rockstar always goes the extra mile to put together great soundtracks, and of course Electronic Arts always makes sure that everything they put out is art. Things like the checkpoint markers are reflected on the car as well, which tells you a lot about how seriously they're taking the game's story.

Shame this camera view makes for terrible screenshots, because I've always preferred being inside the car in these kinds of games. I'm always a little off my game in third person, but I'll switch back just to make you guys happy.

Talking about switching...

I can't believe that actually worked! I left the cop car and floated over to take control of a nearby taxi instead. Time slows to a crawl when I'm in my ghost form so I was able to catch up and surprise the guy with a side-on collision while he was still being harassed by the cop car I just left. Seems that when I jump cars the original driver immediately takes over from where where I left off, following their own goals.

Don't worry about those pedestrians by the way. No matter how hard you try, you can never run them over. They're just way too fast.


LATER.


Jericho? Huh?

Oh right, he's that guy I'm supposed to be chasing! I got so caught up in hijacking taxis, test driving sports cars, and catching crooks that I forgot that my arch nemesis is still on the loose. He's probably killing cops and taking part in international smuggling as we speak.

Also I've apparently completed Drivers Ed. and gotten +10 U, whatever that is. I'm such a total Uplay noob.

Oh I see, these things are basically like achievements, except there's only four of them. Fair enough then.

I gotta say, I appreciate how I can exit Uplay here with just a controller, seeing as I've been using my Xbox 360 pad to play the game. I also appreciate how the game still loaded up when my internet connection went down for a while. No always-on DRM bullshit here.

Alright time to pause and have a look at what we know so far: Jericho has escaped. That's pretty much all we know.

Wait, does that say "Patient - Tanner J."? Why am I looking at a wall of skull x-rays here?

Oh damn, I guess that clears up any ambiguity. Tanner's in a coma and everything that's happened since the crash has been a dream. Not so supernatural after all.

But Tanner's dreams are way more interesting than the real Driver universe, according to the first three games anyway, so it actually works out better this way. We're stuck in a fantasy world with no consequences, free to do whatever we want without ever harming a soul. So I guess now I don't have to feel bad about that time I possessed a taxi driver, brought him into a high-speed police chase against his will, then drove him right into the fugitive's car with enough force to cripple it.

Meanwhile inside Tanner's head, he's gotten a power boost. Now he's able to pull back even higher in his ghostly form to observe the city from on high. This is good for getting around quicker and spotting little icons like this, leading to new point scoring opportunities.

Completing stunts and missions (and just generally driving like a man possessed by a lunatic) earns me Willpower, which is the currency of the dream world. 

Once I've gotten some WP I can spend it on new cars of my own in a garage. As a ghost. Doesn't make any sense, but that's fine because it's a dream.

It seems there's 140 cars in the game I can get my imaginary ghostly hands on, but not all from this garage. I'll need to unlock the rest as I go somehow. The game does show each car's stats by the way, so it's possible to make an informed decision on what I want to spend my ghost-dollars on.

I'll just grab this Pontiac Solstice. Seems relatively crap, but then it's also relatively cheap and I'd like my ghost to have its own ride for the times when Tanner's real body refuses to let his consciousness back in. Once I've bought a car it's mine forever, no matter how much I smash it up or where I abandon it. I just fly over to a garage and get another one of them.

I can also access challenges and upgrades from inside a garage. Ghost power upgrades, not car upgrades that is. There doesn't seem to be any car modding in this at all. Can't even choose the colour.

I'm not sure what the deal with these Uplay challenges is though. Are they trying to sell me DLC or something?

Oh so that's what the deal with the U points is. I've got 10 points from completing the first chapter, plus 10 free points for signing up with Uplay, so I can grab Tanner's Day Off right now or hang on until I've earned enough for four other challenges. The game gives out enough points to get all the rewards without buying more with real cash, which is cool because you can't buy more, it's not that kind of system.

I'm not sure what to think about this system really, as it kinda feels like they've sliced out part of the game content and stuck it as DLC. But seeing as you unlock this content by completing in-game achievements, the same way you do any game content, I guess the only real difference here is that you can use your progress in one game to unlock content in another.

Right, so this is Tanner's Day Off Challenge... it's a checkpoint time trial race. Fair enough, I can always use more races.

Oh I haven't even mentioned the music yet. Man I love the soundtrack to this game. If I was going to describe it in one word it'd probably be... funky. The theme tune (youtube link) sounds like it's been lifted from some 70s cop show, it's amazing. (Though it's actually based on the theme to the original Driver, composed by famous Amiga composer Allister Brimble, so there's some trivia for you I guess.)

And the reward for completing my challenge: 20,000 Willpower and 8193rd place on the leaderboard. Not bad, not bad. I can replay it for another 20,000, but I have to beat my previous best time to get it.

Anyway, I mentioned ghost powers earlier...


CHAPTER 1.


Now that I've completed the prologue the game's awarded me with a 'ram' ability, which lets me charge up a supernatural burst of speed to smash through other cars. So Tanner decides it'd be a cool idea to test this new power on basically any car he sees.

Yep, my mission here is literally to use my ghost powers to ram random motorists with a truck. Well I suppose I didn't have to use a truck, but it seemed like the thing to do. You think this sucks for the people in the cars, just think of the poor truck driver I've possessed. He ain't ever getting out of prison after this.

The thing is, the game's not blissfully unaware of the dark consequences to what I'm doing, it just does not give a fuck.

Here I've been asked to possess a random motorist, ram a police car, then start a high speed chase so that this guy with a camera can film it for an early evening low-budget "people are stupid" TV show. I'm helping out you see, making a difference in this film crew's lives.

Okay here are my options now. The yellow circle with a lock in it on the bottom left means that the next story mission with Jones in Tanner's own car is locked until he's helped enough people out in his own cheerful 'ends justify the means' kinda way. Plus there's all kinds of other activities and dares scattered around the map in blue, which can be played (and replayed) to earn Willpower.


LATER, IN CHAPTER 2.


Another pursuit activity, but this time I've got a couple of new abilities to help make things just that little less fair for the unfortunate criminal: recharging ghost nitro and rapid shift. Ghost nitro's pretty self explanatory and so's rapid shift I guess. I can hit a button to instantly switch between cars skipping the out of body experience.

What that basically means right now is that every time I screw up my drift around a corner and smash right into a wall, I can immediately switch to another cop car and keep up the pursuit. As long as I've got AI sidekicks around there ain't no way that anyone can lose me now.


LATER.


Oh shit, she just lost me! In my defence I have just reached the end of the map, but try explaining that to my partner! Tanner basically just pleads with Jones to trust him, seeing as he can't really explain game mechanics to him without sounding like the crazy person he is.

Man, he definitely shouldn't be telling him that he was seeing these red barriers even before his head injury.

I guess this would be a decent enough place to turn the game off. Not that I particularly want to.


CONCLUSION

There's a lot to like about Driver: San Francisco for sure, but my very favourite bit about it is the way they decided to market the game.
"A Relentless Manhunt - Uncover a thrilling character-driven storyline in which personal revenge fuels Tanner's relentless manhunt for Jericho."
A thrilling character-driven story line in which Tanner scares the shit out of a car salesman, helps a truck driver commit insurance fraud by driving into oncoming traffic on the freeway, and makes a difference in the life of a young student by winning illegal street races to pay his college tuition.

Though there was that bit where I saved a chemist kidnapped by Jericho and trapped in the boot of a car by possessing her and looking out the back to see where she was. That kind of involved the relentless hunt for Jericho a little.
"With Jericho on the loose, Tanner and his partner Tobias Jones engage in a frantic manhunt across San Francisco. Jericho clearly has a plan, but what is it? Tanner must track down the most dangerous man he’s ever faced, because the stakes have never been higher."
Frantic you say? So that'd be the opposite of 'one story mission every now and again if you feel like it' then? And that's only in Tanner's coma dream! In the real world it's more like 'with Tanner in a coma, his partnet Tobias Jones frantically sits by his bedside and watches TV'.

Of course that could all change next chapter for all I know, but so far this has basically been a comedy with very little to do with the earlier Driver games. Sure Tanner and Jones (and Jericho) are back, but with new actors and new personalities they're basically entirely different people, with charm and wit and all the other things that the series had been missing in the other games.

Gameplay-wise it's a bit like a GTA or Saints Row game without the shooting I guess. Unlike the earlier games you can never step out of a car, so all problems must be solved with driving. But that works for me as it means they were able to focus on making the driving really good! Oh, it also has multiplayer, which I guess should be pointed out even if I haven't tried it yet myself.

Honestly, I love this game so far. The only massive flaw I've noticed is that it only lets you have the one profile on PC, so if you want to start again or let someone else play, you'll have to back up your user data then wipe your save game. Bit of a pain in the ass really. Oh, plus the PC port is apparently missing some of the post-processing from the console versions so it's got less of a glow to it.

    


Next week on Super Adventures... it's likely going to be Driver: San Francisco again as no one's going to be able to claw me away from this game. Sorry. But anyway, leave a comment, drop me some feedback.