Status: Story completed
Most Intriguing Idea: Creating an open-world game that lops out all the shooty bits.
Best Design Decision: Allowing the player to shift between drivers of different cars.
Worst Design Decision: Lack of a decisive take on the driving mechanics.
Driver: San Francisco casts the player as a detective who can move about its title city by “shifting” into and possessing the driver of almost any car. The game actually gives the player lots of opportunities to use this mechanic in an interesting way, but at the end of the day the only thing you can do in this game is drive a car. That isn’t intrinsically a problem, but Driver: San Francisco doesn’t actually have compelling driving. Every car is an automatic, and all of them feel a bit loose. It felt like an unhappy middle ground between making the cars realistic and just giving the player the opportunity to be completely awesome.
The problem feels even more acute once you start taking the other cars on the road into account. The game’s activities generally pit the player against cars that don’t feel the physics nearly as much, appear in most cases to be significantly more durable, and operate using AI so obviously rubber-banded that The Spinners should have been on the soundtrack. As a consequence, Driver: SF feels more like an open-world game that was shrunk into a driving game by removing all the on-foot content than a driving game that expanded into an open-world game by adding content. The police-oriented storyline only accentuates this feeling, as the game always feels like it’s struggling to find things for its protagonist to do that might actually aid an investigation.
If you can’t say something nice… Maybe you weren’t aware, but playing a car chase set in San Francisco is fucking awesome.