Its been over a decade since I’ve actually enjoyed a Driver game, which is due to the lackluster sequels after the franchise made its debut on the PSX back in 1999. After 12 long years, can Driver finally reclaim the sense of style we all know and love from the first game? Well, I can safely say that John Tanner is back and he’s proven that he’s capable of delivering a fantastic experience.
The story in Driver: SF takes place six months after the events of Driver 3. Charles Jerico, John Tanner’s arch nemesis, has escaped from prison and hijacked a police vehicle, and in the ensuing chase, Tanner ends up in a damn near deadly crash, leaving him in a coma. This simple storytelling tool explains Tanner’s ability to “shift” into another person’s body, taking full control. To everyone else, he looks and sounds exactly like the person he’s taken over.
As crazy as that sounds… well, it really is crazy. In fact, the story in Driver: SF is so damn stupid that it makes the game great. Without the shift ability, Driver: SF probably would have been a very dull and boring experience. Instead, it has become one of the most innovative driving games I’ve played this generation. The addition of shift opens up so many avenues that it creates an enormous experience you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
The story in Driver: SF progresses in ways similar to Saints Row 2; You’ll have to do secondary missions in order to unlock the main story missions. One unfortunate fault of this system is that the story and game seem to suffer from repetition. In Saints Row 2 you have the option of completing dozens of secondary missions in any way you see fit in order to progress the story, however that isn’t the case in this game.
Instead, each chapter in the game consists of around two to four story missions and these cannot be played until players complete two secondary missions, which unlock one story mission. Not only is it a convoluted system, you as the player in this virtual world have arguably no say in the matter. You literally have to play every single secondary mission because there are only four to eight in each chapter. If you happen to get stuck on a certain mission, you can’t choose an alternative in order to progress through the otherwise interesting story.
To make matters worse, each of the nine chapters are riddled with the same cut and paste mission style. You’ll always have to complete one race, two missions as the police chase you, one mission taking control of a criminal, and very rarely, a mission where you record footage for a television series. These vary between defusing bombs, protecting a truck, escorting criminals and so on.
One of the the more creative secondary missions in Driver: SF is also the most frustrating. Thankfully, I only encountered one throughout the game’s 9-10 hour long (if you ignore the game’s dozens of side missions) story mode. The idea of having to race two cars at the same time sounds great on paper, but in reality it’s ultimately a broken mess. You’ll need to use the shift ability in order to race both cars to the finish the line. While this would be great if you had four hands and played two consoles at once, the AI that controls your “teammates” car is downright mentally challenged.
The AI never fully makes use of their vehicles capabilities and if you manage to get one car a lengthy lead, the second you shift into the second car well the AI basically slams on the brakes. In addition to their sudden stop tendencies, the A.I. pathfinding is also mentionable as I witnessed them crash into other vehicles a number of times.
Fortunately, Driver: SF’s story missions make up for the lack of variety in the secondary missions. These events are usually displayed through the eyes of Jericho’s allies that Tanner controls in order to further progress the ongoing investigation into Jericho’s whereabouts. Moving up through the ranks of Jericho’s crew until the point where you end of chasing yourself through the seat of a different vehicle, provides one the most unique experiences I’ve ever encountered in a driving game.
As you progress through the story, you’ll earn “willpower” (or WP) which the game uses as virtual currency. You can use WP to purchase garages, vehicles, and upgrades such as lengthening the ability bar size, recharge speed, token finder and more. With each purchase of a garage, you’ll also unlock new vehicles to buy and receive an increase of income. The more garages you own, the more daily income you’ll receive.
Activities like “smash” can become tiresome as completing the titular action of smashing through objects over and over again does, in fact, become boring. Races are exactly as you’d expect them to be and play out quite simply. Driver: SF also offers around 80 “dares” which provide excellent stunt practice. These vary from smashing into objects, performing drifts, driving cars under semi-trucks, hitting a top speed and much more. Such a small addition definitely adds a lot to the replay factor of the game.
There’s a ton to be had here in Driver: SF and the game also offers a new game plus option, which is always welcome. You’ll also have well over 100 collectables throughout the massive city, and unlockable movie challenges with leaderboard standings so you can compete with your friends. There’s also a pretty awesome survival challenge where Jerchio uses the shift ability to throw cars at you. It’s tough, but it’s fucking awesome. There’s no need to worry about the lack of content here.