Have You Played… Driver: San Francisco?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Driver: San Francisco [official site] should not be a good game. Its very premise is ludicrous, taking place entirely in the head of the main character, who is in a coma. This is third on the list of terrible plot devices after, “I have amnesia,” and, “I woke up and it was all a dream,” (which is basically the same as, “I am in a coma,” but with less potential for DRAMA).

On top of this, it adds what is on paper the stupidest mechanic ever devised for a driving game. Shift allows our comatose protagonist Tanner to magically transition between any of the cars in the city, an idea that immediately renders conventional transportation entirely redundant.

In the context of Driver: San Francisco, however, both these dumb ideas turn out to be ingenious. This is because Driver isn’t about driving as a functional travel aid, but driving as chasing down bad guys while doing wicked cool stunts. It’s an unabashed celebration of car-chase movies, and the Shift mechanic plays perfectly into this. It enables you to use other people’s cars as ad-hoc weapons to batter your quarry off the road.

Driver: San Francisco casts you as both stuntman and director, letting you choreograph your own chase-scenes and play them at the same time. What’s more, not only does the coma device allow this plainly ridiculous idea to hang together, it gives the designers permission to have fun with the world in general. Tom Jubert’s script happily accepts the absurdity of the situation, and uses it to create a playful and surprisingly humorous ride. It’s the most fun driving game since Burnout Paradise. Who would have thought being put in a coma could be so good for you?

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32 Comments

  1. walrus1 says:

    This is one of those games I intended to get when it came out. Then pickup when it was on sale and then forget about. Is it available digitally?

  2. groovychainsaw says:

    Controversially (maybe?) i would say it was BETTER than burnout paradise, more fun driving model, better city to drive around, better handling (for exciting car chases) and a bonkers commitment to its ludicrous premise. I would buy a sequel in a heartbeat.

    • trjp says:

      I agree – it’s a better, more varied, more interesting game than BP

      It has all the open world tropes – story missions, side missions, collectables, unlockables but there’s WAY more variation to the gameplay and it’s frankly a lot more fun to play

  3. Plake says:

    Loved the game when it was released and still like to go back, especially since The Crew is basically D:SF 2.0 but actually managed to screw up the driving mechanics…

  4. Billtvm says:

    It had an amazing soundtrack with a huge number of funky licensed songs. And also it had licensed cars, that single thing makes a lot of difference. Does GTA or Burnout Paradise have licensed cars?

    • Billtvm says:

      Only thing missing was, it didn’t have day light cycles, so after a few hours of playing, it felt wierd, it is always sunny in LA.

    • N'Al says:

      GTA and Burnout did not have licensed cars, no.

      Also, yes, would be weird for a game called Driver: San Francisco to be set in Los Angeles.

    • trjp says:

      NFS: Most Wanted has licensed cars and is basically Burnout Paradise with a smarter suit on (it’s a better game in almost every respect)

      Same dev ofc.

  5. MiniMatt says:

    Always wanted to get this but Ubi were, at the time, making some very bizarre DRM choices* and I went on a little unheralded Ubi boycott as a result. Truth is, missing Driver San Fran as a result was the only one I was sad about.

    * Think they’ve moved into a slightly more sensible position now (and I ended my boycott). I’m pretty easy going & pragmatic on DRM generally, but there were/are a handful of very draconian and iffy options which I’ll frown at

    • Premium User Badge

      basilisk says:

      It’s true that Driver SF came in the dark ages of Ubi’s terrible decision to use always-online DRM, but that was patched out about five years ago. (The same goes for AC2 and PoP: Forgotten Sands which were also part of that.)

      Current Ubi DRM is pretty much the exact same thing as Steam DRM and it seems to me they are fully aware of how much ill-will that move generated and are not likely to do anything like that ever again.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Always wanted to get this but Ubi were, at the time, making some very bizarre DRM choices*

      I remember it was a huge misunderstanding between Ubi PR and journalists who couldn’t explain to each other was it online requirement at launch or at the first launch only to activate your key.

      Even later, when it was clear that the game already has perfectly reasonable offline mode, Eurogamer and RPS kept telling that Driver:SF doesn’t work offline during Ubi servers migration because of its always-on DRM. They did it based on a single forum thread. The forum thread made by a player who overlooked offline mode button! It was a mess which harmed the game sales.

  6. Syrion says:

    I found this always looked a bit bland from videos and screenshots. Then I got it several years ago for 1€ when it was on sale on uplay, and it resulted in being probably the second most fun racing game I’ve played after Flatout 2. It’s just so very, very gamey, and that’s awesome. Most games tend to try to be so serious, and this is one of the games that are just about plain fun and nothing else. It highly succeeded, and I highly recommend it!

    Also, as I recently found out, it is basically as close to a successor to Midtown Madness 2 as we ever got on PC!

  7. Amplituhedron says:

    Pretty bad business to get a “have you played” like this when piracy is the only option to play it.

    Best theory is that Rick Lane has been wanting to write an article in praise of Driv6r for a while now but had a grudge or vendetta with someone involved so he waited till it was off steam for a personal vendeta / way to show his power.

    • Syrion says:

      It’s not available digitally, but at least in my country the boxed release still goes for only 8-10€ on Amazon. It’s also available used for as low as 4€, although I’m not sure if these still require uplay, in which case it shouldn’t be possible to buy used.
      Anyway, having no digital release doesn’t mean piracy is the only way to go, even in 2017!

      • mepto says:

        You could always get the console version without crappy online DRM. Yes, consoles suck, but it sucks less than needing someone else’s servers to run in order to play your singleplayer game.

    • melancholicthug says:

      What? It’s right there on the Ubisoft store dude.

  8. trjp says:

    I’ve played this a LOT and consider it a masterpiece

    There is the “elephant in the room” of Ubisofts appalling attitude to online play tho – I got it to work about once, after that I went through THREE MONTHS of emails and their only solution was to give me a new key (for which I had to make a new uPlay account) only to have that version work online all-of-once and never again!!

    So multiplayer was dead long before it was dead – if you catch my drift – but the single-player experience is awesome and unrivalled – no other game has you racing in multiple cars IN THE SAME RACE – no other game has the crazy switching technique and – frankly – no other driving game has 10% of it’s fun factor.

    Soundtrack also excellent frankly – a game I’ll replay a few times yet

  9. Laak says:

    By definition i am awful at all driving games and none of them give me any satisfaction – but this was something else – awesome and fun way to mess around with cars

  10. Inu says:

    This game was excellent, the only bad part of it was the fact that it was “all a dream”.

    Couldn’t they have realized this mechanic is a fun and special thing, and just rewrote it so the guy really did have crazy ass body switching powers?

  11. Buggery says:

    Controversial opinion: played it for about two hours and decided that would do it for me. Alright game but the staying power wasn’t really there.

  12. MeestaNob says:

    This is a properly good game, but it was a real shame the developers couldn’t be bothered fixing the 24hz HDMI bug. Only workaround was playing the game in a window (but not frameless).

  13. TheSplund says:

    Bought it in a Steam sale a short while back (Halloween/ Christmas?) but it wouldn’t run in Win 10 64bit so I got a refund. Decided about a month ago to try it again and bought a UBI key (that was actually slightly cheaper) and tried it again – still no joy in Win 10 so I went with the dual boot option and added a Win 7 32bit partition and it works like a dream – bit of a chore but it might pay off for other similar problems. Not a bad game if you can get it cheap but (as someone else mentioned) I do wonder if it will keep my attention.

  14. Danda says:

    Underrated by buyers, overrated by critics. I’d give it 8/10.

    What I most dislike about it is that Ubisoft linked one of its Uplay rewards to reaching level 5 in Multiplayer… and Multiplayer is just nonfunctional.

  15. mmandthetat says:

    How you gonna call the basis for Planescape: Torment and Xenogears the most terrible plot device ever?

  16. cosmitz says:

    You know, i’m not a car/driving game guy, but specifically, Driver: San Francisco and Burnout Paradise have been the last few driving games that i played and liked.

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