IGN Review of Driver: San Francisco
The Wii has suffered its fair share of shaky ports over the years, not least from Driver: San Francisco's publisher. Yet rather than shoehorn a compromised version of the HD game onto a less capable console, Ubisoft Reflections has opted for a different approach. Though protagonist John Tanner is the star once again, the car-possessing Shift mechanic is no more, and in its place we have a brand new story detailing Tanner's first ever undercover mission for the BAPD. That the results are mixed isn't especially surprising, but it's certainly not for a lack of trying.
The game begins with Tanner's partner being murdered in an unexpected drive-by shooting. The man responsible is Solomon Caine, an ambitious criminal who aims to disturb the fragile peace between the city's other gangs. With Tanner still a little green when it comes to undercover work, he's assigned back-up in the form of Tobias Jones, a more experienced cop who represents the cautious yin to Tanner's impulsive yang. The game's story mode sees you alternate between all three characters across 11 chapters of breakneck racing, crashing and shooting.
After an insultingly easy tutorial – we know how to drive forwards and backwards, thanks very much – you're immediately free to explore the city, taking on story missions or side quests as and when you feel. The vehicle handling is similar to the HD versions, if a little more accessible and responsive, and while San Francisco isn't as slick or as detailed on Wii, the action maintains a terrific pace, with the frame-rate only hitting snags when things get particularly hectic.
And it's not long before they will. The game's difficulty ramps up significantly after the misleadingly simple early missions. Whether you're being chased by police or gang members, your pursuers are aggressive and persistent. Throwing them off is no mean feat, and the often lengthy chases can push your mission times well beyond even the bronze medal target. Each medal you do manage to earn gives you an experience boost, allowing you to upgrade your vehicle or the other abilities that unlock as the story progresses.
This is particularly important because, as you'll soon learn, your driving skills alone won't be enough to survive. One early pursuit sees Jones chasing and shunting Tanner in an attempt to maintain his cover, while Tanner's new gangster 'friend' Vinny throws explosive barrels, which must be dodged. Tap left on the remote's D-pad and you can activate Slo-mo mode, giving you more time to swerve and avoid the blasts. Later, you'll earn Reckless mode, which allows you to shoot at enemies by pointing your remote at the screen. The game would be too easy if these features were available at all times, so it's sensible that you're required you to charge your ability bar through dangerous driving and stunts before you can toggle them.
That said, with the game's drop-in, drop-out co-op mode, a second player can pick up a remote and help you out – which means any mission requiring you to take out cars or cause destruction is instantly rendered laughably simple. Fortunately, there's enough mission variety to compensate for this, with the gang races in particular proving a serious challenge. But then the second player is left with little to do, unless there's a DS to hand – in which case, they can check the map for nearby police cars or collectibles, or place roadblocks to deter pursuers. It's a novelty, sure, but it's also a nice touch that sums up the effort that has gone into this Wii version.
Unfortunately, however, the controls seem less thoughtful, utilising the nunchuk alone for speeding up and slowing down. Clamping your finger down on the Z button to apply the throttle feels less than natural, and actually becomes a little painful during prolonged play. There's no option to customise the controls, and that's perhaps down to the addition of waggle-based melee attacks.
The theory is that you swipe the remote to the left or right and your car will smash into an opponent, but it's so feeble that you're better off ramming into the back of the car you're attempting to run off the road. Or you can pick up player 2's remote and shoot them instead – the only thing you'll lose by dropping your own remote is the ability to pull off handbrake turns. Meanwhile, you'll need to shake the nunchuk so ferociously to activate a nitrous boost that an hour's play could potentially leave your entire left arm out of commission for 24 hours or so.
©2011-09-06, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved