Monday, January 7, 2013

Game Review: Driver: San Francisco

Lately, the video game taking up the most of my time has been Driver: San Francisco.  This is pretty surprising, for three reasons:

1) I typically don't play driving games.  I've never owned a copy of any of the Burnout, Gran Turismo, Need For Speed, or Forza games.  In fact, I can count the racing games I've owned on one hand, and two of them are Mrio Kart games, and another is Wipeout, which had boats.  I had a brief fling with F-Zero for the GameCube back in the day, but multiple broken controllers and an extreme case of "rage quit" brings me to my second point.

2) Driving and racing games piss me off like no other.  This is mostly because I feel that if I lose, I can really only blame myself.  Video game controls are so crisp and tight these days, that you can control your car's movement to a ridiculous level.  So, when I catch a corner too wide and plow through a fruit cart, or I mis-aim a jump, clip the bumper of another car, and spin into the path of a semi...all I have to blame is myself.  Unless it's a really bizarre racing game, the course itself isn't the enemy, and the other competitors aren't doing anything to me at this point.  This might be why I don't mind the Mario Kart games, because there are traps and the enemy can impede your progress.  It's not my adult I lost, Luigi hit me with a turtle shell.

3) I'm not a car person.  I never have been, never will be.  When car mechanics ask me car questions, I can do "make and model" but beyond that I'm lost.  Sometimes I have to guess on the year my car was made.  I have no interest in accumulating a wide variety of cars to drive around in, and really have no idea which would handle better.  And since you never fill up the tank in these games, fuel efficiency isn't reflected, either.  Sure, some cars look great, but I bought a Suzuki X-90 at one point just because it looked cool.  I'm not the best judge of car character.

So, why did I pick up Driver?  Well, it takes place in San Francisco, a city I've visited many times, and it was cheap.  I thought "this might give me a few hours entertainment" ... And I was wrong.  It's been much longer than a few hours.

Starting at the beginning, this is a sequel to Driv3r, but that's completely irrelevant.  Here's the story breakdown:  A bad guy named Jericho that you, Tanner (honestly, I've been playing the game for days now and I don't know if you're a detective or an FBI agent or just a really concerned member of the Citizen's Watch group), put away is broken loose from his prison convoy, and you gotta stop him!

The only problem?  You're plowed into by a semi (not my fault, it's the plot) and the rest of the game may or may not be taking place in your own mind while you're in a coma.  That's not really a spoiler, as the game lays it out pretty clear early on.  However, post-accident you've developed the ability to leap your consciousness into any other person driving a car in the city!

This leads to a lot of fun when it comes to game play.  Multiple plot points involve leaping into various people to help them out, whether it's two brothers who get caught up in street racing to afford college, street cops trying to chase down drug couriers, or trying to dodge vehicles trying to knock an armored car off the road.  Some of them are straight-up racing, point A to point B in X time.  However, when the game gives you the option to shift to another driver, that's where the fun begins.

Yes, you could complete this race in the shortest time to win.  Or...why not just leap into the drivers of oncoming cars and swerve into the paths of the other racers?  Some cars want to get to a damaged bank truck?  Leap into oncoming traffic and plow into them in a full-on collision.  You're trying to nail a bail jumper?  Whoops, oncoming bus!

Now, before you panic that this is a Grand Theft Auto game where you'll leave teeth and various amounts of blood at each collision, I'll say that the game makers thought of that ahead of time.  I have never seen such agile pedestrians in the sidewalks able to dodge my poor driving, and everybody's seat belts are so well built that even in the worst collisions, people just frown meaningfully at the fact that half of their engine block is now fifty feet down the road.

There are more side missions you can play that allow you to do things like upgrade your supernatural abilities (boosting, having small ramming bursts to take cars out, and others) or buy more cars, but I don't really see much difference between plowing into an oncoming car with an Anston Martin or a Honda.  If I want speed, I just look around on the road for whatever has the biggest car spoiler.  It's kind of funny how there's no Toyotas in San Francisco, though, but maybe that's because it's all in your character's head.  Or not. Maybe.

Now, I will say I'm upset that they didn't get the cast from the last game to reprise their roles for this game (James Marsden, Ving Rhames, Michelle Rodriguez, Mickey Rourke, and Iggy Pop), but the writing is some of the best I've listened to in a video game.  When you leap into a random car, there's a pretty good chance there's a passenger whose conversation you've just interrupted, and having Tanner try to improvise his way through conversations (or straight up hit on attractive women in the car) is hilarious, and I've lost more than one race because I leaped into the wrong car and didn't leap out because I wanted to hear the whole conversation.

Even if you don't like driving games, I cannot recommend this game enough.  Yeah, I got pissed off a few times while playing (not my fault, that tow truck came out of nowhere), but I never wanted to just throw my controller away in disgust.  And in a racing and driving game, that's the highest praise I could ever give it.

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