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Driver San Francisco (XBOX 360)
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Essentially because we are not exactly in the physical world our top down view of the San Francisco map is through Tanner’s "spirit" looking down on the city and we can zoom in to look at any area or marked mission on the map. We can then enter the mission by possessing the body of the driver assigned to that mission… or any other driver in the city for that matter. Yes, we said possess…
This would be completely ludicrous if it was done in a serious way but it is clear that Reflections knew this and so our characters are very much in on the this insane idea and it works because of this and a decent plot which drives things along.
This "Shift" mechanic that allows us to move from mission to mission also plays a huge part in the missions themselves. For example we can be playing through a section which requires us to stop a tanker full of chemicals reaching its destination, to do this we must cause it as much damage as possible so we "shift" into a vehicle, ram the tanker, shift into another and ram again. As the action hots up it creates a tense and action packed gameplay segment and one which can be tweaked for varied gameplay. In other areas we could for example work against the clock to get four different vehicles from their current location (where they have been stolen) back to and inside police trucks… one of which is moving. Everything is over the top in Driver San Francisco; trying to win a race is easy, well how about trying to come first and second in the same race, at the same time…
As well as the single player campaign Reflections have also included local split screen multiplayer which can be played in various modes including free-drive or co-op and competitive missions are present as is online multiplayer. The modes available varied and fun, using Trailblazer (which is similar to a mission in the campaign) as an example we have to follow another vehicle, staying its trails to accumulate points. Other modes are more destruction based and therefore will please those who like to see as many high speed smashes as possible.
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Particular highlights on the visual side of things are the facial animations and detail present on the characters in cut scenes, how well the paintwork of the cars is rendered and there are some great road and light textures and effects which work well in the game, especially when driving at high speed. Speaking of speed, that is something which there is no shortage of in this game. While each vehicle (and road surface) drives differently and there are some slow and sluggish vehicles in the game it is fair to say that the majority of our gameplay takes place in powerful cars and later on in supercars. Hit top speed in them and then apply a boost and the game really excels in delivering a feeling of speed, it looks and feels great.
That said, when we slow down and actually look around the city there are areas which are a little bland, though this is forgivable given the massive gameplay area created by Reflections. We also noted a few occasions where the framerate became an issue during significant crashes.
Audio wise the impressive experience continues, a great selection of licenced driving tunes makes up the soundtrack and while there are a lot of generic voiceovers in the game these are littered with nice one-liners. For the main characters the voice acting is good and again the script decent, in fact on a number of occasions it is genuinely funny, playing on the absurdity of plot.
Much of the success of driver is a result of the "Shift" gameplay mechanic. Partly because it adds something new but also because it means Reflections are able to keep things fresh in a game which could have been repetitive. For example just when we think that a style of mission (let’s say bomb defusing) is going to be the same as the last, a twist is added which means we need to shift to a vehicle half way across the city, choosing a low height model, then manoeuvre underneath a moving truck on the freeway to deactivate the bomb… before having to do the same a few times more against the clock.
We also liked the fact that on a few occasions we drop into the body of characters we have seen earlier in the game, in particular two boy racers who get in with the wrong crowd but keep winning races and become embroiled in Jericho’s gang because we keep winning the battles for them in order to pass the mission and unlock the main story elements. The dialogue between the passenger and his friend possessed by Tanner is great.
As we noted earlier the game also looks and sounds good, in fact we would go as far as to say it looks better than the most recent GTA… and offers a different feel when driving too, especially in terms of how much speed we are offered by the cars playable in this game. It is also hard not to be impressed by the size of the gameplay world, it is pretty big about half way through the game but becomes massive later on.
As long as the player is willing to get on board with the absurd aspect of the plot which allows us to "shift", Driver San Francisco offers a fantastically action packed, over the top, thrill ride of a game. Those looking for a GTA clone are best to look elsewhere; those looking for an alternative may well find one of the best driving games in a long time.