Hello all! Last week’s game was the only game ever made to feature the late, great David Bowie. It was ahead of its time. Kinda like Bowie.
Today, I want to talk about a game that I thought was gonna suck. Instead, it turned out to be brilliant. At least, I think it is.
Driver: San Francisco is all sorts of wacky, and that’s why I love it. It’s the latest in the long-running but sparse Driver series, which began with an excellent first installment on the original PlayStation before kind of spinning out of control. Driver 2 was passable, and almost a precursor to Grand Theft Auto 3, but Driver 3 (insufferably written as Driv3r) was beyond awful. And Driver:Parallel Lines was just kind of...there.
Anyway. It didn’t inspire high hopes for San Francisco, and I was plenty skeptical about the new Shift system; see, you can’t ever exit your car in this game. Instead, you can Shift—you’ll zoom out to a birds-eye view, target another car, and press A. And woosh—you’re now controlling another car, or rather, you’re controlling another driver.
Driver’s protagonist, Tanner, spends the vast majority of the game in a coma, and the game takes place in his coma dream, where he has the power to become anyone he wants. He’ll appear to the player as Tanner, but to in-game characters he’ll look like whoever he has Shifted into.
Also, it all looks really great.
So Tanner uses this new power to determine the big, complicated (and a bit nonsensical) plan of Jericho, the antagonist. And along the way, you’ll take part in a healthy selection of side missions, most of which are pretty funny as Tanner finds himself possessing all sorts of people in crazy situations.
Shifting also makes things interesting from a gameplay perspective; time slows down when you exit a vehicle, letting you set up spectacular crashes or Shift ahead of someone you’re chasing down. Have to disable a bad guy’s car? Shift into an 18-wheeler coming down the other side of the road and plow into him. And that’s just one example; the game encourages creativity, which is always awesome.
I remember hearing about all this before the game came out, and I thought at the time, “that’s stupid.” Nowadays, I’ll shout about the brilliance of this game to anyone who’ll listen. The smartest thing D:SF does is confine you to your car. I know, that probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to GTA fans, but Driver went off the rails as soon as they tried to emulate the series they hepled inspire. So D:SF lets you change cars at will while keeping you behind the wheel. It maintains the game’s momentum; having shooty sections would grind Driver to a halt—something we all learned with the third installment.
But what I really love about D:SF is how it 100% commits itself to its batty premise. Shifting into other people is ridiculous, and the game knows that. It wisely steers clear of any hint of gritty, grimdark storytelling in favor of telling a sort of 1970's B-Movie plot about an ace driver detective stopping a terrorist while in a coma.
I love Driver’s sense of humor, and I love how much heart it has. Rather than make Shifting a gameplay gimmick, they built a whole game and story around it. And then they ran with it, making something familiar and unique all at once.
Driver is so lovably goofy, even if it ends kind of abruptly. It’s great looking and the cars control just right. It’s one of those games that, by all logic, should be absolutely terrible. Instead, it turned out to be one of the most genuinely fun titles I’ve played in a long time. I say this a lot in this series, but once in a while, it’s great to play a game that doesn’t make you think about life really hard, or ask questions, or cry. We need games like Driver: San Francisco as sort of a pallate cleanser; it’s pure escapism, and not the heavy kind. Just something to have fun with for a few hours. After all, if every game were super-heavy, we’d be crushed. Games like Driver help us take a breath.
Thanks for reading my stuff! Leave comments and suggest games to cover! Tweet at me! And find more of my stuff (and the stuff of more talented people) at Current Digital (like my very late review of Undertale)
Next week brings us an anime-based game that perhaps featured a better presentation than gameplay. We’ll see; I’m replaying it now. Mecha and wartime drama abound.