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Driver: San Francisco - Game Review

A Video Game Earns My Hatred, Step by Step

About.com Rating 1.5 Star Rating


Driver: San Francisco

But where's the "Not Fun" warning sticker?


Pros: Does a good job of recreating San Francisco.
Cons: Terrible control scheme, poorly designed missions with annoying challenges.

Hatred generally does not come all at once. It develops, bit by bit. A series of words or actions that build upon themselves, leading from tolerance to mild dislike to loathing to outright, brutal hatred.

I hate the racing game Driver: San Francisco. The anger is palpable. I just put down the Wii remote, and right now my body is tense and my teeth are gritted.

The Basics: Drive as Fast as You Can Through a Dumb Story

When I started playing Driver, I wasn’t expecting to hate it, although honestly I wasn’t expecting to like it much either.

Driver begins with a cop going undercover to investigate the killing of a fellow officer. Going undercover involves getting into street races in order to get reputation that will get the attention of local criminals.

The story and dialogue are weak and clichéd, but that bothered me less than the game’s control scheme. I have always preferred driving games in which you use a steering wheel to those that use a game controller, and the beauty of the Wii remote is that it works as a steering wheel, and has often been used as such.

Driver eschews the Wii steering wheel approach, instead using the remote and nunchuk like a standard game controller. You steer with the nunchuk’s analog stick and inconveniently use the nunchuk buttons to driver forward or backward, making the game unusually left-hand centric.

The Good to Bad Ratio: A Nice San Francisco View vs. Endless Aggravations

Driver found many ways to alienate me. Driving missions are spread through San Francisco, where the game takes place. When you reach a mission spot and accept the mission, you don’t start the mission, but instead are instructed to drive to the mission start, which usually involves a couple of minutes of uninteresting driving, sometimes timed, sometimes not. If you fail a mission, you go back to this inconvenient point and have to drive to the mission start again. In missions your character or other characters you communicate with will say the same two or three phrases, like “you’re losing him, speed up” or “I’ve still got it” over and over and over again. You can earn nitro power for speed boosts by jumping over hills or driving on two wheels, but to use it you have to shake the nunchuk, which is annoying and tiring.

Driving isn’t especially fun. Besides control scheme issues, the cars don’t handle well, and I often skidded out of control and then found it virtually impossible to get my car pointed the right way again. I was hoping when the game announced there were garages that I could use them to fine tune my vehicle, but all I could do was swap it for another car in the garage, and while I found a truck that handled well, when I started a mission I was magically dropped into a different car.

On the other hand, the game does a good job of recreating San Francisco, and it is fun to drive up and down the hilly streets past the cable cars. And there were some decent features, such as the way you can use the parking brake for sharp turns and the ability to temporarily go into slow motion and easily swerve through traffic.

I actually began to think that, in spite of my initially unfavorable impressions, that the game might turn out to be tolerable after all. There is a certain excitement in flying through the streets of San Francisco, speeding through alley ways, and, when called for, taking out other cars by crashing into them, which involves thrusting the Wii remote this way or that.

Gameplay: It Gets Worse and Worse

This optimism did not last long, as the game soon found even more ways to aggravate me. In one mission I had to carefully hold the Wii remote in just the right position to make it work as a tracking device. Several times I failed the mission without being quite sure why. In the next mission I had to drive close to the car in front while pointing the remote at it.

Was this supposed to be fun? Holding the Wii remote in a weird way while driving? For me, it was not fun. For me, it was the point where the seeds of hate took root in the fertile soil the game’s previous missteps had created.

This isn’t to say that I hated the game yet. I wasn’t having fun, and I was feeling very annoyed, but I was still hoping things would get better.

Hate arrived in full force soon after. In a long mission divided up into check points, I had to follow a truck, then chase after it to repeatedly crash into it (for plot reasons so stupid I refuse to bother explaining them) and then had to chase after the car while flaming barrels were thrown out the back (which simply reinforced how dumb the aforementioned plot point was). During this mission, I would drive too close and raise suspicions – mission FAILED! Or I would get too far back and lose the truck – mission FAILED! Or I would get caught behind a tree or get spun around and not be able to get going soon enough because of the car’s poor handling – mission FAILED! Or my car would be destroyed by the explosive barrels, which were almost impossible to avoid because if I fell too far back the ridiculous plot point would kick in – mission FAILED!

And that’s when it all caught up with me. The uncomfortable control scheme, the repetitive dialogue, the poor handling, the stupid game ideas, the ridiculous story. That was when I felt complete and utter hate towards Driver, not because of something it did, but because of everything it did. Because the game was nothing but a hideous, stinking monster whose purpose on earth was seemingly to crush my soul under its ponderous weight.

Verdict: Need You Ask?

I left most of Driver unplayed. Some people claim you should play all of a game before you render judgment, but if I take a swallow of bad milk, I don’t need to finish the carton to know it’s rotten.

To say Driver is not fun would be a gross understatement. It is aggressively, infuriatingly un-fun. It is fun’s enemy. This game should have been taken out into a back alley and shot before it could hurt anyone. I hate it. I really, really hate it.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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