Published Nov 01, 2011Old-school racers – y'know, the kind your dad used to sit in at the coin-op arcade – simply circled around tracks. And even their most-realistic modern progeny, like Microsoft's just-released eye-popper Forza 4, still follow the same basic circuitous route.
But the original 1997 Grand Theft Auto proved that driving games could head in a different direction by trading racing tracks for urban sandboxes. The 14-million-selling Driver franchise whooshed out of the gates in 1999 (the original is now available as an iOS download), following GTA's open-world lead. Inspired by '70s chase films (including, but by no means limited to, Walter Hill's 1978 classic, The Driver), the series even eked out a few wins, until GTA 3 hit a new high gear.
Driver: San Francisco features franchise star John Tanner, an undercover cop and ex-race car driver, who gets into a car accident while pursuing arch-nemesis Charles Jericho. The rest of the game plays out inside his coma dream. Yes, really.
It's an eccentric idea that neatly explains away Tanner's new game play ability to Quantum Leap, er, "shift" into other people's bodies and, of course, drive their hundred or so licensed vehicles. This adds welcome variety and side-missions to the main campaign and really takes off in multiplayer.
Unlike most plot-driven driving games (including the 2006's GTA-aping Driver: Parallel Lines), you can't exit your car, giving San Francisco its own unique coat of paint and creating a streamlined experience. Too many now-gen games try to be all things to all gamers, but only a few are good enough to carry such conceit.
So Driver wins by not trying – unlike its near-franchise-killing predecessors, San Francisco boils the game down to its essence and by doing so manages to create something unexpectedly unique. It's not likely to be remembered as a classic like the original, but for chase fans, it's well worth the ride to San Francisco. (Ubisoft Reflections/Ubisoft)