Sparking its developmental cylinders, Ubisoft Reflections pulls out the garage with the paranormal inspired Driver: San Francisco.

After a long hiatus the Driver series makes its debut on the "next-generation" consoles with Driver: San Francisco. Set after the events of Driv3r (2004), developer 'Ubisoft Reflections' maintains their concept of a sandboxed crime racer, however, the gritty idea of playing as a criminal wheelman has transferred into a semi-comical action game. Conceptually ambitious, Driver: SF tries a more cinematic approach mixed with an unusual sci-fi twist. Driver: San Francisco might not be the most concious heavy title in the series, but it is the most dynamically charged.

Not your typical cops-and-robbers tale
Before we get to the hocus-pocus, 'Driver: San Francisco' focuses on the pursuit of the criminal mastermind, Charles Jericho. Playing law enforcement officer, John Tanner, your mission is to hunt down Jericho and bring him to justice. Although this typical "cops-and-robbers" theme isn't so cut-and-dry because of an surprising sci-fi ingredient. This unexpected curve is a paranormal ability, one that allows Tanner to “shift” into another person's body while retaining his persona. When "shifting" Tanner will look and sound exactly like the person he has shifted into allowing for several interesting twists in the plot and secondary mechanics. Now this might all sound crazy on paper, however, 'Ubisoft Reflections' has done an excellent job carrying out this small dose of spiritualism into the confines of a sandbox racer. While it's not your typical mechanic for a "car game," it defiantly makes for a more interesting ride then hiding in alleyways.

Along with tracking down Jericho, Tanner can also partake of a wide assortment of optional activities that range from stunt driving to street racing. Unlike the monotheism spiritual transfer, the range of activities are the normal assortment events that you would expect. In total Driver: SF is packed with 30 challenges and 80 dares to keep you busy; all which can be completed at your leisure. Best yet, using the “shift” ability allows you to zoom out the map to an orbital vantage point so you can quickly navigate the world with a click of a button, which drastically reduces needless driving time.


Shifting - the good, the bad, and the ridiculous
As you might have guessed, "Shifting” makes for some interesting situations. However, it is ironically the strongest and weakest point of the entire experience. For the good "Shifting" is the quickest way we have ever switched into a new vehicle. On the fly shifting does away with the standard GTA on foot car-jacking, which is a good sign because we all know third-person action isn't the way to go with the series. Secondly, "Shifting" is cleverly inputted into the games prose, even if its silly and unfathomable. Third, playing hopscotch and leaping from car-to-car while in pursuit of a get away vehicle is extremely rewarding and puts a new spin on what can be done with a "car game." I know we've seen somewhat similar mechanics in games like 'Vin Diesels Wheelman' and 'Pursuit Force,' yet, both games can't boast the speed and ease of Driver: SF's transfers. Fourth and last on the good front is the somewhat enjoyable segments when you take over and unsuspecting person when "shifting." These random exhibitionism sessions make for some memorable car rides while providing a break from the normal runaround chase sequence.

As a narrative driven tool "shifting" amalgamates into a confusing mess of serious and foolish situations. Without a common "feel" to the game, the foolish bits take away from the girth of the main plot. How Tanner has time to go joy riding with a bunch of teenagers instead of tracking down this deadly criminal is oddly frustrating and could have been avoided by toning down the adolescent humour. It's not like I wanted Driver: SF to be overly serious, but its little too disconnected. Additionally, they never really explain what is happening to Tanner while he is possessing another body. We know he is still with his partner, but aside from the one liners, but what is really happening? Understandable the concept is completely bonkers, but even so it could have been a little more flushed out.

While I'm grumbling, Driver: SF takes awhile to into gear. The progression of the narrative is unveiled with good intervals; although i wish they would have made haste to unlocking Tanners abilities, or had them all unlocked once you get the “shift” ability. It understandable why they wanted to dangle the carrot in front of gamers with the promise of new abilities every half-hour or so, but damn some of those features like ramming could been useful in some of the earlier missions.


Fully loaded
Gearing back up to the good, Driver: SF is loaded full of missions, expanded to cover optional side-missions and variations on each mission. Police missions are a highlight that are seconded by the stunt missions, which reward you for driving like beast. All the racing antics are only amplified with backdrop of the winding city of San Francisco; a wise choice for a cops and robbers tale. San Francisco is huge spanning 200 virtual mile and while it's a little visually dull, it's good enough to keep your reflexes sharp and your eye fastened on the racing.

A multiplayer aspect has also been included with 19 different modes of play (if you included the variations and split-screen.) The multiplayer section has been handled with care, complete with a built-in experience and unlocking system. In an odd decision only two modes are available at first (Trailblazer and Tag) with the other modes needing to be unlocked. More unlocking isn't exactly productive to getting gamers right into the game, yet, it makes it feel like there is more meat on the bones. Bottom line there is a good variety of spice when “shifting” from between the two options of play. This also includes a split-screen mode for some of that “in the same room” gaming. So if you're the type of gamer who doesn't mind chaotic arcade racing, you will likely be hooked. The light hearted competition fondly reminded me of the classic arcade racer 'Midtown Madness' and unlike some other racing games, it was easy to get in and start racing.

Lastly, what would a "car game" be without the cars. Driver features 120 vehicles ranging from the 1960s until no. Each care is realistically detailed, fully damageable with a cockpit viewing options. While fixing up cars and buying cars seems like a waste because of your heavenly car-jacking ability, it is still fun to check them off your list. Again we have another unlocking system in place before you see all the flavours on the road. However once you do, Driver: SF becomes much more satisfying. For example expect everything from Ford pick-ups to ultra fast Lamborghini super cars and all the way back to your common Dodge Neon's and Volkswagen Beatles. It's your typical assortment here, done right.


Driver: San Francisco is a successful revival of the Driver series. The new approach might be a little odd and silly compared to the core subject matter, but it works. Shifting in-and-out of different cars while in the middle of an intense mission is rewarding; or simply eliminating on foot car-jacking seems like a blessing. Driver isn't perfect as you might expect, the finicky unlocking system is a pain and the concept behind the main feature isn't totally flushed out. Still, if you crave some sweet, fast arcade racing, Driver: San Francisco is a fun and unique racer that is worth investigating.

  • Reinvigorates the Driver series
  • The oddball concept of shifting works as a game mechanic
  • Some interesting and funny moments while shifting
  • Story progression is unveils at a steady pace
  • Split-screen and multiplayer racing
  • San Francisco makes an excellent racing playground
  • Some shifts feel too disconnected from the main objective
  • Too much UNLOCKING!
  • Multiplayer modes and in-game rides take too long to acquire
  • It's all a little too ridiculous and at times unfocused
Quote: "Driver: San Francisco is a successful revival of the Driver series. The new approach might be a little odd and silly compared to the core subject matter, but it works."
Reviewed by DowntownJimmy | 09.19.11

Similar Games: Driv3r (7.0) | Test Drive Unlimited 2 (7.0) | Driver '76 (7.5)


San Francisco




US Release
September 2011


PS3, X360

Players 1-2
Online MP 2-8
HD 720-1080p
5.1 surround
D/L Content