Release Date: September 6, 2011
Publisher: UBI Soft
ESRB Rating: Teen

Driver: San Francisco is the fifth console iteration of the series, and the first on the current generation of hardware. Ubisoft’s Reflections studio, the same studio that created the original Driver, once again takes the lead in development as it has with every other title in the series. Their passion for their creation is evident, as well as their desire to return it to its former glory. Driver: SF was in development for roughly five years, ever since 2006’s Driver: Parallel Lines. In a marketplace where publishers quickly move successful franchises to two year, if not yearly release schedules, the fact that Ubisoft allowed Reflections to work on this game for half a decade is a testament to their dedication to this franchise.

Driver: San Francisco, also marks a bit of a return to form in both style and substance. The plot is the first since Driv3r to follow the series’ original protagonist (undercover cop Tanner), and you can say goodbye to the GTA-esque elements shoehorned into earlier incarnations of the series to make them more competitive with, well, Grand Theft Auto games. There are no gunfights, and you can’t make Tanner get out of the car and run around. That’s right, kids, in a game called Driver, all you do is drive. Luckily the driving to be had here is fun. There’s a wealth of mission variety offline, and some genuinely fun play to be had in online multiplayer. It all adds up into what might be the best Driver game to date.

It’s not all addition by subtraction however. Although he may not be able to wield a 9mm or take a leisurely stroll anymore, Tanner does gain the totally awesome ability to Shift. Basically at any time, (with the exception of some missions), you can zoom out to a Google Earth type viewpoint and zoom back into any other car on the road that you might want. See a Lamborghini you want to take for a spin? Shift over to it. Need something heavy to knock this getaway car around? Shift into that armored car over there, or better yet Shift into that bus in the opposite lane and ram into the enemy head on. Some single player races will require you to use this ability wisely to make sure your team finishes in first and second. It also plays a big part in multiplayer games such as Tag, which is exactly what it sounds like and can be a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately the game’s main innovation is also the source of its Achilles heel. After all, how do you explain such a fantastic ability? Ubisoft had the answer in three words: unflinchingly ridiculous storyline!

Driver: SF opens to long-time series villain Charles Jericho’s successful escape from police custody by hijacking the prison truck transporting him. Tanner, the person responsible for apprehending Jericho in the first place, witnesses the attempt from his own vehicle and gives chase. The intro culminates in Jericho using the prison truck’s superior size to push Tanner into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer. Naturally, the resulting crash gives Tanner super powers instead of, you know, broken bones and stuff. Over the course of the first couple missions Tanner will learn to make his consciousness leave his body, at which point he can project it onto any other driver on the road. Over the course of the story missions, Tanner uses his newly-found power to find out Jericho’s plan and whereabouts. Until Jericho comes looking for him. That’s when Tanner finds out that his enemy can Shift too. Think it sounds ludicrous? That’s okay. Ubisoft can explain it away with two words: coma dream!

I’m glad Ubisoft did what they had to do to make Shifting work though. Aside from being a convenient way to start the next story mission or side event, it also comes in handy in the scores and scores of races, story missions, chase events, and ‘Dares’ to be found on Driver: SF‘s beautiful, if not quite Google Maps perfect, rendition of the streets of San Francisco. A solid physics engine, tight arcade style racing, and a large roster of licensed vehicles make Driver: San Francisco a pretty good game. The Shift feature makes it a great game, and the storyline makes it just a pretty good game again.