Driver: San Francisco

PS3, 360

It's not often that you expect to find a story campaign in a driving game. But just as you would expect from driving games, two have turned up at once in the shape of Need For Speed: The Run and this latest episode in the Driver franchise.

It may not be the most renowned of franchises, but the series has been around since its arrival on the PlayStation in 1999. This is the first iteration to make it onto the current generation of consoles, and although its appearance is a tad late in the day, it's parked up at a most welcome time.

Sheer bunkum. That's the best term to describe its story mode. John Tanner, the games' protagonist, learns that he wasn't the only one to survive the shoot-out that occurred in Driv3r; so did the baddie Charles Jericho. Jericho has managed to escape prison transportation and has take refuge in the cultural US hub that is San Francisco.

Here comes the 'science' bit. Whilst in a coma Tanner dreamt he had the ability to take over the body of another person at will. With these dreams still lingering when he finally becomes conscious, he realises that he actually does have the power to inhabit another being, a process he refers to as shifting. It's about as believable as the time Bobby Ewing dreamt up an entire series on Dallas.

This sci-fi nonsense is totally crazy in the coconuts stuff, but it did free up the developers to create a truly original concept for a driving title. Initially, the idea of being able to shift from one vehicle to another is a weird one. A press of a button sees you turn into this floating entity that can just move around the city at will. Simply hover over another vehicle you'd like to drive, push another button and voila, job done. You can then get to drive that vehicle wherever you want.

This gives the player an incredible sense of freedom, particularly when you consider that there are various challenges, stunts, missions etc. dotted around the expansive playing area. What it does away with, rather cleverly, is the necessity of having to stop a car, find another one you want to get into, before going on your merry way once more. Shifting is very fluid and incredibly intuitive when you get the knack.

boom game reviews - Driver San Francisco image
But officer, I've been playing driving games all my life, and I've never needed a license before!

One of the downsides to Burnout Paradise was the vast amount of driving around you had to do, just in order to do some more driving in a mission. Just like siphoning off a petrol tank, it drained all of the fun out of the game. It many ways, this game takes a lot of the good elements from that particular game and improves on them.

For one thing, the game's location is a far prettier one to drive around. Visually it's dusted with a delightful graininess, giving it a cinematic seventies feel. This is reinforced by a suitably orchestrated score, the kind that you might find in early Starsky & Hutch episodes. It also has a great selection of tracks to listen to in the in-car radio too, that could easily compete with the best that the GTA series has to offer.

But if you want to do some stunt missions, you can. Racing missions? Not a problem. Chase down a baddie and knock them off the road? Go for it. But the beauty of it is, is that you can dip in and out of these modes whilst you play through the story mode. So if you want a linear path, you have one. But if you want to just go off and do other stuff once in a while, you can do that too.

You would imagine that this whole shifting malarkey might get confusing in multiplayer, and it does, but deliciously so. A simple game of tag becomes quite an event, with players desperately wanting to get as close to the tagged vehicle, often aiming for the same vehicles.

Of course there are some modes, like straight up racing events, where the shift ability is turned off. But overall, there's enough here to keep the most sociable of drivers happy.

One criticism that could be aimed at the multiplayer is the handling of some of the vehicles. Actually, any of them on the sand tracked areas. Suddenly it's as if they are all auditioning for Dancing Cars on Ice (which is probably coming to Channel 5 very soon). It can soon become a free-for-all if you happen to be in with a group of players who think it's funny to behave as if it's a demolition derby. It's not.

If you were one of those that were disappointed by Burnout Paradise then you should definitely take Driver: San Francisco for a spin. And that also goes for anyone who enjoys getting behind the virtual wheel of a modestly priced family car and ramming it into oncoming traffic just for the hell of it.

Believe it or not, the game's developers have done something quite impressive with the inclusion of their 'shift' gimmick; it's not quite re-inventing the wheel stuff, but as far as racing games go, it's damn close.

four out of five