You know those games that sit on your shelf, the ones that you’ll never be able to bring yourself to get rid of? The ones that you keep, just in case you decide to play it once more for nostalgia’s sake? I’ve got a small handful of those. One of them is Driver, the original sandbox vehicular action game from Reflections Interactive and the start of an extremely long-running series.
Driver included a Film Director mode that added hours upon hours of replayability: drive, record, edit film, repeat. Driver 2 added free roam mayhem for two players in split screen, plus the ability to leave your car and steal others, Grand Theft Auto-style. Once again, Film Director mode was a boon for showing off clips to get your friends in the mood for some splitscreen games of car tag. Then came Stuntman (a spiritual successor) and Driv3r. Stuntman eliminated the open world setting in exchange for linear, heavily scripted action sequences...and Driv3r went the opposite direction by incorporating on-foot shooting segments. While both had their positive sides, neither managed to keep the magic of the Driver series at full speed. Because of the games’ niche appeal Reflections had a hard time getting the original audience back after Driv3r.
What may come as a surprise is that Driver: San Francisco is the ninth game in the official series, including two mobile phone games but not including three spiritual successors. And despite the rankles that Driv3r managed to conjure, most of them were decent core games that just had too many bad ideas piled on top. How Reflections managed to get Ubisoft to back yet one more title in what was known as a mediocre lineup is beyond me. Yet they did, and we are the benefactors - in a major way.
I’d like to start off describing my experience with Driver: SF in a single word: homage. This game not only plays well and sounds well...it does so with the flair of classic gearhead films, the funk of the 70’s, the power of classic muscle cars and modern sportsters, and its own ancestor - Driver. The first track that tickled my ears and the main menu were so reminiscent of the original game that the nostalgia was almost overbearing. Then I got a taste of the driving physics, which - while not quite as unsympathetic as the previous games’ - had a slightly higher learning curve than your standard Burnout or Need for Speed.