Single Player Ė One, Multiplayer Ė 2-8
2nd September 2011
Back in the early days of the Playstation One, Reflections Interactive hit the big time by releasing many great driving games, but none so great back then, then that of Driver.
Driver was an action driving game or experience if you will, this is mainly due to the fact of how hard some of the games in game missions were, and most people had problems just getting past the first level which was simply the driving training.
Throughout the years though Reflections have tried to take the series in new and bold ways trying to experiment by adding new life into what was simply a dead genre by the end of the Playstation One days.
Some of the ideas worked, whilst many failed such as trying to make the series too much like grand theft auto and not a driving experience in which it was trying so hard to be.
So fast forward now to 2011 and Ubisoft Reflections as they are now called have released the long anticipated Driver: San Francisco which sees the hero from the first and second game John Tanner take on his arch enemy Jericho, in what will no doubt seem like an explosive finale to the story arch.
The cockpit view in all its glory, Multiplayer though looks nothing like that!
Game play = 7/10
Reviewing game play in a racing title can no doubt be quite a tricky subject, as many people will just say does it do what itís supposed to do and can you actually drive around at high speeds.
To both of those questions my answer is yes but with Driver: San Francisco the Game play goes deeper then that as it tries to accomplish many feats, some work whilst others donít.
When you first start to play the game you will be thrust upon the games main car the Dodge Challenger and at first the handling is a little hard to get used to, but once you finally get the feel for the sluggish controls of the car and how to take tight turns in alleyways you will no doubt find that the game is in the end really easy to pick up and play. Unfortunately though not all of the cars in the game handle quite as well as the challenger, most muscle cars have problems when it comes to steering tightly and most feel really sluggish when they shouldnít do.
Most of the European sport cars in the game though seem to come with the most fluid control system in the game though, as I found that whilst travelling at high speeds in a Lamborghini or McLaren I could easily manoeuvre the car to wherever I wanted it to go, and if I wanted to drift into a tight alleyway then all I would need to do is slow down ever so slightly and angle the car into it.
Since the game was announced many have pondered what the difficulty would be like on this game, as the Driver franchise has been known in the past for its ludicrous difficulty. Many gamers will be happy to hear though that San Francisco is actually very easy to pick up and play, the story missions and even the city missions themselves are relatively simple compared to missions from the past games.
You have missions such as racing quests, or even driving to a certain destination in a time limit, but the catch is that your only allowed to use back roads to get there else your passenger will get paranoid and you will fail the mission.
Granted whilst some of the missions may seem rather difficult upon first glance, once you actually play through them it becomes all but clear that if you can work out a certain route or even know the tricks of how to beat that type of mission then everything the game gives you story wise is a piece of cake.
All that can't be said though for the challenges and the dares, and obviously they are called challenges for a reason. These could easily pass for missions from the first few Driver games with how hard some of them can be, such as one of the challenges is to actually redo the very first mission from Driver 1 which was the training mission, and for anybody who doesnít remember that far back or who never got to play the game, you pretty much had to pull off a bunch of manoeuvres in sixty seconds else you fail.
There are also menial tasks like pull off a one thousand point drift in sixty seconds, now this will probably be really easy for anybody who is good at drifting at the game but for players like myself who canít drift all that well then tasks like that can prove to be more of a hindrance then enjoyment.
One of the biggest frustrations I had when it came to playing the game though is that, sometimes and it doesnít happen very often but sometimes you will be driving along and you will ever so slightly clip a wall with your wing, the next thing you know is that your car will either come to an instant stop or a part of the car will get stuck on the wall or game world meaning you have to fight to get your car back out again.
Like I say it doesnít happen very often but when it does happen, that can normally be a major deal breaker in the game especially if youíre in the middle of a race against the rubber banding AI or online with friends or competition. As you can literally get stuck on there for a good ten seconds, and even though that doesnít seem long in a fast paced racing game such as this, that can have you in the lead in first place all the way to the back of the pack with no sign of a comeback in sight.
The single player campaign of the game wonít take you all that long to complete though as all nine chapters of the game can be completed in around two nights with ease, there are a good lot of missions to work through but with the easy difficulty and with how short some of the missions are you will find yourself wondering why your blasting through a chapter in around an hour or under.
The biggest draw back though with the campaign in my perspective even though it is absurdly short is the fact that the final two chapters you find yourself fighting Jericho your arch nemesis over and over again but under different rules and regulations Now this wouldnít be so bad if there was more to the final missions then just take him down whilst he throws cars at you, but sadly there isnít. Itís pretty much the same mission three times over until you get to the end of the game. That to me felt really cheap and Iím sure that the development team probably had different ideas for the finale so Iím not sure why they decided that this would be the best route.
Not only that though but the final boss battle can be hard in itself without needing to go through it three times over until you finally beat the game, this proves to be probably the only thing that really lets the campaign down on a whole.
Whilst the single player may be really short without doing the challenges or dares, the multiplayer is a real different kettle of fish, and I would by lying if I said I didnít have my doubts about how the multiplayer was going to work or if indeed it was going to be fun.
You will be glad to hear though that the multiplayer in this game is extremely fun and not only this it is also extremely well balanced and fair, the unlock system works well and all the upgrades and power ups you earn from levelling can only be used in certain game types that allow them meaning nobody online will have the unfair advantage over anybody else in the game.
After spending many hours enjoying the multiplayer portion of the game and trying out all of the different modes that the multiplayer has to offer, its easy to see that each mode is completely different to the other and each has its own unique attribute.
The development team has clearly took some time to think about how to go about the multiplayer and not just tack it on like many games do nowadays as more and more gamers demand online gaming to be part of the package.
The only mode in the multiplayer that I had a problem getting to grips with though was the shift racing as that can literally come down to who can go into shift find the nearest car closest to the next checkpoint and hop into it before anybody else and go through the checkpoint nice and easily. Apart from that though all of the other modes that the game has are all really fun to play in there own unique and individual way.
Itís a shame to report though that even though the game is still relatively new the online community is already starting to dwindle a little bit, which makes me wonder how long this game will stay popular before gamers start to move onto the next big thing. Hopefully with constant updates from Ubisoft and future DLC the online portion of the game will stay active for some time to come, as it really is the most fun I have had playing multiplayer for some time.
One of the biggest gripes when it comes to multiplayer though and something that not only I have witnessed but many of the comments I have heard in the game whilst playing it online is that when you get slightly nudged out of the way by an opposite driver, you can normally tend to either erratically get thrown against the nearest barrier or you will spin out. This may be down to the arcadeyness of the game mixed in with semi realism or this could just be a slight balancing issue that could be updated with a future patch.
Overall the game play in Driver: San Francisco is really solid and whilst it does have its downfalls itís nothing that canít be updated with a patch in the future.
One of the many police chases in the game, which side will you take though though?
Graphics = 8/10
The graphics within this game are pretty outstanding in all honesty, not only does the game run at a very smooth 60fps to give off that feeling of travelling and stupidly high speeds, but itís also done with pixel perfect car renditions to boot.
Each car that is featured in the game looks very much the same as its own lifelike counter part, and add in the fact that Ubisoft Reflections have managed to acquire 120 different licensed vehicles for the game driving around and watching the scenery or even looking at all the different looking cars can look quite eye pleasing.
I personally lost track of all the times I would be driving around the map to lose focus and start to guess what the car in front of me was before racing up to it to take a closer look.
Whilst the cars may look good though unfortunately parts of the game world and even the character models look pretty bad.
Lets talk about the character models first as that is ultimately a shorter part of the game then that of the actual game world itself. The pedestrians that you see walking around san Francisco and even Tanner himself look pretty tame compared to character models seen in other top triple A games at the moment, granted though seeing as this is supposed to be a games based solely around driving, Ubisoft Reflections probably believed there wasnít much point in adding all that much detail as you wouldnít be focussing all that much on the character models as opposed to the cars.
Same can also be said though for the game world, even though it is really fascinating to look at and there is so much variation within the world itself, if you get close to a wall of a building, ultimately that is all it is, a wall with a texture on it. Not a whole lot has been done to try and make these buildings stand out and come alive or even add that much flare to the buildings themselves, and I only really witnessed this from an off sight whilst being bashed around in a race during multiplayer.
Doors look like they were pretty much painted on and there are no real indents in the walls to allow for windows, Iím pretty sure that with a little more time and effort crafted into the game world itself, maybe Ubisoft Reflections could have ended up with a city that looked like L.A Noire in detail.
Its not all doom and gloom though as the CGI cutscenes in the game look astounding and there are parts of the game that the cutscenes even overlap with in-game engine scenes to create for something truly unique whilst watching.
Even when doing the missions in the city and the main quest line, when you shift into one of the cars your supposed to do said mission in your normally meted with a good looking moving graphic conversation at the top between Tanner and whoever he is interacting with. These do really make the games presentation outstanding.
One of the main draws over the last few years when it comes to driving games though is the cockpit view, normally any game that doesnít feature it is either being lazy or it just looks a plain mess, in Driver you will be happy to know that the game does included a cock pit view for each of the different cars available in the game, and just like Need for Speed: Shift they are all highly detailed and you can even take a look around them whilst your busy driving around, it is nice to see that kind of care and attention displayed on a title like this.
A view of the presentation used to highlight the story in the game
Sound = 8/10
Driver features a pretty unique soundtrack and as soon as you boot up the loading screen you feel like your taking part in a 70ís action move throwback. Donít let that fool you though as the rest of the soundtrack to the game is pretty mixed, not only do you have older type songs to go along with car chases but some newer upbeat material is also present during the game itself.
Whilst playing through the story and using the shift mechanic to teleport into other peoples cars you will often stumble across some rather amusing conversations, especially when it comes to the story and city missions itself as Tanner must literally be full of one liners, as they really donít seem to stop during the conversation.
Even when Tanner isnít making fun remarks its normally left to the sub characters or the passengers to say something mildly amusing which will normally have you laughing in your seat as your driving to your next destination.
One of the main draws of any racing game though when it comes to the sound department is people always want to know, do the cars roar and screech like there supposed to? I am happy to say that yes it appears that all of the cars in the game have their own different style of sound, no matter if its just the engine rumbling as you sit dormant or if your screeching away via a wheel spin, everything sounds different for each of the cars.
The sound department seem to have really nailed this area of the game and it is genuinely good to listen to.
The main star of the show
Difficulty = 6/10
As I stated in the introduction to this review, Reflections Interactive have been known to make there driver games insanely difficult, but with this game it seems they have managed to find the right balance between difficulty and fun.
None of the main story arch missions or side quests appear to be all that difficult to complete and most are normally straight forward, there are only a few that will make you want to pull your hair out whilst the others may take a few more attempts in order to succeed at the mission in question.
Obviously as the game gets further in and you complete more and more chapters in the main quest then eventually the missions do start to get a little tougher, but most of the missions normally feature a checkpoint system so if you fail half way through a mission you can always restart from the last check point. This makes it insanely easy to complete the missions where you have to defend a car or deal out damage whilst trying to take the least amount of damage to your car as possible.
Donít be fooled though by the difficulty when it comes to completing the story arch missions as this is normally turned on its head when it comes to doing the challenges and dares that are littered throughout the games world. Most of the dares will normally take quite a few attempts to succeed at or even the correct car in terms of pulling off stupidly long drifts or jumping a large distance over x amount of cars.
Some of the challenges can be relatively simple though like take part in a race and win it or come 2nd but again some of these you will need to be in the correct car for the type of race else you wont stand a chance For example there is no point taking a low slung sports car into a dirt track race else your just going to be doing donuts all day long.
Couple these facts with the fact that the game uses rubber banding in the races and chases, means that no matter how fast your car is compared to the other cars on the field your never going to be all that far in front of the pack at the end of the day, and vice versa if you crash and spin out in a 720 flat spin, the race technically isnít always over right there as normally the AI will slow right down and allow you to play catch up again.
Trailblazer multiplayer mode in all its glory
Achievements = 7/10
The achievements with this game can be pretty much summed up as a mixed bag, you have your standard story progressions achievements but you also have achievements for doing all of the dares and challenges throughout the game.
Not only that but you have your standard collector achievements which resemble little movie icons dotted around the map in which if you get a new challenge for every ten that you discover. After finding ten movie icons you get an achievement, then the next one comes at sixty followed by the last which is for one hundred and twenty.
You have achievements which are for doing random things like driving down a bendy street without colliding with anything but also making sure your travelling at least twenty miles an hour all the way down.
And you have your standard multiplayer achievements which in all fairness is probably where youíre going to end up spending most of your time seeing as a lot of the achievements will take a long time to achieve seeing as they are rather grindy. For example placing third or better ten times in a certain event, if your not very good at racing games this will no doubt take some time to achieve unless you play the game pretty late when nobody is online.
Donít get me wrong the achievement list is rather solid but a few more single player or at least story achievements would have been really nice, as there was too much focused on the player spending countless hours replaying challenges over and over.
Shift mechanic showing off part of the world map
Driver: San Francisco is a game that Ubisoft Reflections can definitely be proud of. Not only does the game succeed in taking itself back to its roots, it also succeed in trying to do things the series isnít exactly known for.
The humour in the game is really something to be heard and was a major playing point whilst playing through the story. If it wasnít for the banter between yourself and random passengerís cars that you shift into, I personally donít think the game would have been all that fun to play.
Whilst it does run nice and smooth, and even though the online is actually really well balanced and a lot of fun to play, I still feel like the game could have been improved upon in many ways, more activity types or just generally more stuff to do whilst going around the city for example.
It will be nice to see where the series heads from here on out as this really does seem like the winning formula that Reflections Interactive has been seeking ever since Driver 2.
The game is relatively easy to pick up and play and even lose yourself in the world of San Francisco as you take on the role of John Tanner, and for that reason this game is really something you should pick up at some point.
Overall: 7.5/10 Great
We would like to thank Ubisoft for supporting us and letting us review this game