Have You Played... Driver: San Francisco?
Bullitt to the Head
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?