The Driver franchise was dying. The original was a great 70s style car chase game on the PSone that quickly garnered a cult following among auto heads everywhere. Driver 2, while okay, never earned the love of the first game. The less said about the abysmal Driver 3 the better and 2006’s Driver: Parallel Lines did little to restore the franchise’s ailing reputation. So it is with some surprise that Ubisoft are trotting out another entry in the series. What is even more surprising is that Driver: SF is not only great but possibly one of the most original and entertaining arcade racers in recent memory.
Driver: SF wastes no time in bringing the player into this world of car based shenanigans. An explosive opening leads the player through one of the most ridiculous plot devices in game history, the ‘shift’ mechanic. You play as Tanner and, due to a concussion/coma/out-of-body experience, you can posses any driver in the city, taking over any of the 160+ licenced cars in the process. What sounds like the plot of a B grade German horror flick actually translates into the one of the most interesting features ever seen in a driving game. Losing a race? Simply crash your competitors by shifting into oncoming traffic and ramming them. Want to stop a criminal from taking out your car? Shift to a bus and block his route. Need to get from one side of the city to another in a hurry? Simply shift into your pick of car on the other side of town. The mechanic is fresh and never gets old, leading to an amazing amount of depth and tactics very rarely seen in this genre.
The rest of the story has more cheese than a triple cheeseburger with added parmesan but it works well in the game. You witness your nemesis escape from justice and set out to track him down and foil his evil doings. The story is told through a wonderful amount of in-game dialogue between you and your partner as well as “Alan Wake: previously on…” style cut scenes. The whole vibe given off by the story is that of a 70s cop movie and it suits the game to a tee. To continue this movie theme, the game offers up recreations of classic car chase scenes from flicks such as Bullit, Dukes of Hazzard and The Blues Brothers. There is even a great bonus mission unlocked by driving a certain car at 88mph. This sort of fan service is sure to bring a smile to your face.
The driving itself is both entertaining and accessible. Drifting is easy, cornering is fun and there is a real sense of speed, especially in the high end supercars on offer. Some frustration may be encountered as you crash into oncoming traffic for the one hundredth time but there is a superbly implemented AI rubber banding system in place to help you catch up in any event that you may be competing in. In fact this rubber band AI and the shift mechanic ensures that any race is winnable no matter how far behind the pack you may find yourself.
There is a lot of variety in the events on offer. From traditional races to protecting a stationary van from oncoming traffic with any car in the vicinity, Driver: SF continues to keep things fresh and interesting for the whole game. You’ll experience a sense of excitement as to what the game is going to throw at you next. Very rarely has an arcade racer been able to boast variety as a selling point but it is certainly a badge that Driver: SF wears proudly. To add to this, the large amount of meaty cars on offer always gives you a new beast to control in your quest to finish the game. The cars are all unique and while you won’t find many your mum would find suitable, there are enough V8s, Turbochargers and Supercars to make your inner bogan cry with joy.
The excellent open world in the single player leaves it up to you how you wants to tackle the story. Multiplayer is a tightly focused, white knuckle experience that will have you on the edge of your seat. Classic multiplayer modes have been given the Driver makeover, all with the shift mechanic in mind. Capture the flag, and domination have both been given a petrol head lick of paint and they work well, however the most fun can be had with the original modes. The two most notable are Tag and Trailblazer. Tag is as simple as it sounds; tag the flashing player and get away as quick as possible. While you have the tag you are scoring points. Keep in mind that the other players can shift into any other car on the road meaning that the tag will change hands often. Trailblazer has the competitors jostling for position behind a lead car. This car has a trail following it and while your car is in the trail you are earning points. Once again the shift mechanic is put to great use and the constant bump and grind of cars as they struggle to stay in the trail is a joy to participate in.
Really there is very little to fault in Driver: SF. The racing is top notch, it has originality in spades and the multiplayer is an absolute joy. If you are the sort of player that likes a large dose of ‘different’ in your racing games do not look any further. If you want to fiddle with the gear ratio of an Italian supercar you are in the wrong place because Driver: SF wants you to have fun – ‘driving a bus into an out of control fuel tanker’ style fun.