Why Driver: San Fransisco Isn’t Your Everyday Racing Game

Why Driver: San Francisco Still Offers a Once-in-a-Lifetime Racing Experience.

Driver San Francisco A Unique Experience
Driver San Francisco A Unique Experience

Racing Games have had varying popularity and quality over the years. I would not consider myself a big-time racing fan and that’s partly due to the lack of gameplay variety. Playing games like NFS Underground, I just never saw the genre get better than that. However, that is not completely true, as some truly unique games can fly under the radar.

Similar is the case of Driver: San Francisco, released in 2011, and developed by Ubisoft, this game has to be one of the most misunderstood games of the time. While the title might conjure images of traditional racing games, Driver: San Francisco throws a narrative curveball and injects a unique gameplay mechanic that sets it apart from the pack.

Key Takeaways
  • Driver: San Francisco (2011) is a unique racing game that stands out for its narrative and gameplay mechanics.
  • This game features a coma-based story where the protagonist uses his mind to control other drivers.
  • “Shifting” allows you to strategically possess other drivers to overcome challenges and complete objectives.
  • The meticulously recreated San Francisco is filled with life, featuring over 150 unique characters and dynamic reactions to your actions.
  • This game offers a refreshing twist, appealing to both racing fans and players seeking a story-driven adventure.

This racing game is a mind-bending story-driven racing game that completely changes what racing games can be by simply introducing a Shift Mechanic. 

The Unique Story Premise

Main Protagonist John Tanner
Main Protagonist John Tanner

Before I delve into the Shift Mechanic of the game, I want to talk about the off-the-wall premise of the game. Seeing the cover and title of the game, not a single person would be able to guess the plot of the game. During the campaign, you play as John Tanner, the main protagonist of Driver Games. However, this time he suffers an accident and slips into a coma.

This is where the game kicks in and players first get the unique feel of the game. First of all, the entire game takes place in the mind of John Tanner currently in a coma. However, for some reason being in the coma also gives John unique powers of his own. Again, this is all happening inside Tanner’s head, so maybe don’t think about it too hard.

He finds himself able to “shift” into the bodies of other drivers in a sprawling San Francisco. Partnered with his rookie cop partner, Alex, John must use his newfound abilities to solve the case that put him in a coma and ultimately, fight for his life.

John Tanner in a Coma
John Tanner in a Coma

I mean honestly, where have you seen a premise this unique, especially for a racing video game? The coma premise allows for a more cinematic experience, with moments where John can influence events outside of vehicles.

However, the game never forgets that you are inside someone’s head who is also in the Hospital. So you sometimes get moments like, characters talking to you in the Hospital but Tanner listening to them on his Car Radio.

The Shift Mechanic

Selecting A Car Using Shift Mechanic
Selecting A Car Using Shift Mechanic

John Tanner is granted the power to shift bodies with other Drivers in San Fransisco. It is exactly what it sounds like, with the press of a simple button the game allows you to switch into any of the NPC cars in the world. This in essence is the Shift Mechanic. I actually couldn’t believe at first, how quickly the game was able to switch between vehicles without any load times.

John can eject his consciousness from his current vehicle and possess another driver on the road. This opens up a world of possibilities. Suppose you are in a police chase trying to evade cops. You can instantly transfer your consciousness to any incoming car and crash right into the cop car to lose them. 

Moreover, if you get stuck in a slow car, you can simply Shift into a faster one to reach your objective. This mechanic is completely open to the player and there is no cooldown so you can Shift as many times as you want. 

Drive San Francisco Gameplay
Drive San Francisco Gameplay

The more you progress in the game, the stronger your power gets. This allows you to increase the overall range of your Shift. So you can shift from one corner of San Fransisco to the next one without any delay. These moments showcase the brilliance of the design, pushing the boundaries of what a racing game can be.

Scope of the Game

Iconic Car
Iconic Car

In my opinion, one of the impressive things about this game is the scope and attention to detail. Ubisoft could have simply added the Shift Mechanic as the next big thing and completely ignored the rest of the game. However, no part of the game feels incomplete or lacking any detail. 

San Francisco is meticulously recreated, with iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street faithfully rendered. But what truly elevates the experience is the sheer amount of life breathed into the city. Over 150 unique characters populate the city, each with their own dialogue and reactions.

Escape from the Cops Mission
Escape from the Cops Mission

You can experience this whenever you use the Shift Mechanic. If there is a passenger in the car you just shifted to, Tanner will continue the conversation the NPCs were having. Sometimes Tanner would even make a snarky remark that the NPC would react to. Each time the dialogue was unique and would vary depending on the situation.

The game also includes some truly unique missions fully utilizing the premise. There is a mission in-game, where Tanner freezes time in all of San Fransisco, stopping every vehicle in NPC. Then you have to drive through the city following an ambulance which is carrying the actual body of Tanner.

Driver: San Francisco isn’t your everyday racing game. It throws a captivating story twist with its coma premise, injects a revolutionary mechanic with its Shift ability, and brings a meticulously recreated San Francisco to life.

Driver: San Francisco offers a mind-bending adventure that pushes the boundaries of the genre. So buckle up, prepare to shift, and rediscover the thrill of the open road in a whole new way.

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