Holy cats, this turned out so much better than I expected!

Driver: San Francisco is a perfect example of how far personality can get you in a videogame. This open-world driving game is nowhere near as technically proficient as, say, Midnight Club: Los Angeles. I never thought I’d see the day when San Francisco seemed so washed out and bland compared to Los Angeles. But that’s more a testament to Rockstar world-building prowess than a criticism of Driver developer Reflections. Because as a game, Driver: San Francisco has personality to spare, with a fantastic funk, soul, and 70s soundtrack; a unique car-shifting mechanic that has you jumping from car to car, complete with a tenuous but effective story rationale; and an open world with plenty of opportunity for exploration and general faffing about. The variety of activities dovetails neatly into the variety of cars, with just enough physics lite to keep this from being a game about steering a rocket, a la Criterion’s Burnout games.

After being all but forced into high-end cars in Forza 4’s online games where no one seems interested in anything street legal, I’m delighted with how the multiplayer in Driver: San Francisco effortlessly and quickly moves through various modes. Tired of a given race? Just wait a few minutes! In one half-hour session, you might drift imports, bounce buggies down a dirt road, dodge traffic in wildly swaying American muscle cars, jostle other players to follow an AI leader, and astrally leap-frog your way to the head of a race (although first you’ll have to figure out how to get past Ubisoft’s screwed up Uplay prerequisite, which means downloading DLC instead of using the broken code that ships with the game). Pay attention, Electronic Arts. This is the sort of wheelsport the Need for Speed arcade racers should have been providing all along.

4 stars
Xbox 360