I was always intrigued by the premise in Driver San Francisco: jumping from car to car in an open city. If you are falling behind in a chase, you could borrow a closer car to track your opponent; you could also use a truck to ambush him in an intersection, or use the traffic to slow him down so the chaser car can catch up.
I like arcade driving and mindless action, so I ask myself why I didn't get this game sooner. If I recall correctly, I didn't manage to find a cheap copy in Spain, and the UK version was one of those rare cases of the game being English-only. Fast-forward several years, I find the game dirt-cheap in eBay, shop it without hesitation and... Surprise, it's an English-only UK copy! Hopefully my language skills have improved...
At least, I got the standard version and not an ugly Platinum/Essentials re-release...
The game starts strong. It really nails the action movie atmosphere, with those fast-paced dialogs on the car and great driving action. The licensed soundtrack is awesome and really fitting. The city looks gorgeous, and the first times you "shift" (the main trick of the game, fly your mind out of the driver to a different car) it feels great, and even the plot justification of this mechanic is interesting. Driving controls are tight but each car feels different, bringing a lot of variety in and leaving room to express your personal taste. There is a lot to like, and I was feeling enthusiastic about it in my first hours with the game.
Once basic mechanics are in place, different types of missions are presented: racing, chasing, escaping, protection... There is a number of compulsory missions that make the story go forward, and a myriad of optional ones. They are generally funny and often let you chose to "do it right", stay in your car and drive cool and fast, or go mad and jump from car to car to cause havoc and difficult your opponents progression.
The Ubisoft style book for open-world games: fill it with blue markers!
Unfortunately, I started to found things repetitive after a while, and my initial enthusiasm wore off. And because most of the game consists of this kind of missions, you would definitely rather play in short bursts to avoid the game to get old too fast.
Tanner's missions happen every certain number of standard missions. They are often original in their setting and use of the gameplay and do a good job at making you eager to know what's coming next. For what is worth, I felt a bit "cheated" in some of them, which introduce new mechanics very late in the game and you never have the chance to use them again.
During my first run, I found the game mostly enjoyable but somehow disappointing. I expected to enjoy every minute of the game given my affinity to the genre, but halfway in I found myself skipping all the optional stuff, trying to get through the game just to be able to strike it out from the backlog. Sometimes even the main missions felt like busywork, and the ending was, to any measeure, anticlimactic.
When the main game is over, you are left alone in the open city, free to roam and do the many races, challenges, chases... And once I was free of the "main mission" and the urge to finish the game, I was enjoying it the most. Driving for the sake of driving, sightseeing, taking the missions I fancied, listening to the in-game radio... This is how this game is meant to be enjoyed!
Remember, play for fun, not for the imaginary duty of clearing your backlog!
PS: in the end, I liked the English dub more.