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Driver: San Francisco on PS3, 360

If anyone out there is like me, you've always driven around in racing games wishing you could instantly use any car you see. Well in Driver: San Francisco, you can. And while the graphics do leave a bit to be desired, in the end this title is about as good as arcade racing can get.

In Driver: San Francisco, you follow a Starsky and Hutch-like cop duo, Tanner and Jones, as they work to take down San Francisco's biggest criminal, Charles Jericho. The story and characters have a great 80s cop movie feel (Tanner and Jones drive a racing stripe-adorned Challenger) that is enough to get you in the action but isn't going to win any awards. The story isn't really the point here; the real star of the show is Driver's new mechanic: Shift. In Shift, Tanner has the ability to instantly jump into any other car in the city (with the exception of race opponents, pursuing cops, etc.) and do whatever the player wishes. The mechanic is perfectly integrated into gameplay, with fun and original missions that do a great job of putting it on show. Nothing is overused, and the game is constantly throwing new mission types your way. One mission will have you trying to shift between two racers to finish a race in1st and 2nd, the next you'll be destroying fuel trucks with oncoming traffic, then five minutes later you're racing to find a car low enough to fit under (yes, under) an 18-wheeler trailer to defuse a bomb. Near the end the game gets really interesting, with one mission having Tanner driving a car while looking at it from the window of another car. Rarely is a mission type used more than once, and nearly every mission incorporates Shift in some new and exciting way.

The game also lets you buy garages to unlock any of the game's one hundred and forty one vehicles (so you don't have to search the city for some of the more hard to find cars) as well as upgrade your boost meter and other abilities. You do this with willpower, the game's currency, which it gives out in abundance for everything you do, be it missions or drifting.

Garages also allow you to purchase challenges, which will test your driving skills in a variety of situations. Some take away all of your abilities in scenes from classic movies and shows, in which the whole city is drawn back into the appropriate time period (the aforementioned Starsky and Hutch makes an appearance here). In addition to the challenges, there are activities scattered around the city that offer more difficult versions of story missions you enjoyed, as well as dares, which function as mini missions that have you trying to reach a certain drift or jump distance or jumping over a certain number of cars in a short amount of time. None of these challenges, activities, or dares are necessary, you can completely avoid them if you wish.

Multiplayer features 11 different game types, most of which incorporate shift in some creative way. It is a lot of fun in general, but it's not what you're buying the game for so I won't go too far into it. You can rank up, get new cars for racing, or participate in some really original game types ,such as trailblazer (in which you rack up points for following in the trails of an AI-controlled car) or tag (which is tag).

The game's main downside is it's graphics. They aren't awful, but isn't Gran Turismo 5 either. However, the reduced detail in understandable due to the fact that with four button presses you can be looking at the entire city from thousands of feet in the air, and with four more button presses you can be down on the other side of town in a completely different car with absolutely no loading. I would have liked to see more done with the game's slow motion takedowns, as of now they are quite unimpressive and get old fast. Cutscenes are up to par with any other game of this generation.

Overall, Driver: San Francisco isn't tied down by a couple of minor problems. Shift is a well implemented mechanic that is exactly what was needed to revitalize the Driver franchise. The story isn't what you would call award-winning, but it gets you behind the wheel and wraps up without any loose ends. Whereas a month ago I was dreading what I thought would be another lackluster entry in the series, now I am eagerly anticipating what Ubisoft Reflections will do with the property next.





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