Version Played: Xbox 360
Current CEX Price: £4
I recently tried the Wii version of Driver: Parallel Lines and found it to be an excellent substitute for GTA, on a console bereft of any versions of Rockstar’s classic open-world series. It was good to see that the Driver series had finally found its feet, after going from full on driving into awkwardly aping GTA across its first three instalments. With the fourth game, set across two time periods, we saw some original ideas and settings that made the game feel different in tone and feel to GTA – and the on foot sections had also been well done, for the first time.
So, moving on to the next game in the series – on the XBox 360 for me, though a very different Wii version is available – I’d perhaps been expecting a refinement of the formula for the then-current gen of consoles. I’d read about how this one was major departure from the other games, but hadn’t been prepared for exactly how different it was going to be.
After a shaky start in which pre-rendered cutscenes are awkwardly intercut with scenes made using the in-game engine – where we seem to be headed into GTA territory once more – the game suddenly takes a left turn straight into Crazytown. Lead character, John Tanner, ends up in a coma, but has the power to
quantum leap ‘shift’ into the driver of any vehicle in the city. Pressing the A button as you’re driving – at any time – brings up a bird’s eye view of the city – from here, you can highlight any car you see and press A again to take control of it. It’s absolutely bonkers, but also absolutely brilliant.
It’s an incredibly audacious and fantastic twist on the formula – and it feels utterly fresh and unique even now – 8 years after release. There’s a surprisingly huge number of mission types, and being able to insert yourself into situations that just randomly happen around you – such as getaway chases, as either the cops or the criminals – is inspired.
Though on-foot sections have been removed from the game entirely, the Shift mechanic adds a layer of freedom and choice that means you don’t miss being out of the car at all. There’s a huge variety of cars and missions – and the in-game map of San Francisco is huge. There’s not just a massive number of mission types available – there’s also an awful lot of missions to discover and play through, even without going near the main story.
There’s multiplayer too, but I’ve yet to try this – so I don’t know if this is something that’s still accessible or even alive in terms of player numbers, though I appreciate it’s unlikely to be the most populated of games at this stage.
Though the Quantum Leap-style ‘Shift’ feature is a silly and somewhat ill-fitting development, at least in the context of the relatively grounded stories that preceded it, it’s a refreshingly original and brilliantly implemented mechanic.
So another Bargain Bin title that’s worth trying? Despite the price edging us a little out of the usual Bargain Bin territory, Driver: San Francisco is a near-essential purchase. It’s fast-paced, expansive in scope and has a uniquely original sense of freedom. It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more of the Driver series since this one, though it’s great knowing that the series has seemingly bowed out – bar a few mobile and handheld Driver games – on an absolute high with an entry that’s most definitely stood the test of time. Brilliant stuff.
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