Why We Need More Games Like Driver

Game of the Year awards nominations are being discussed throughout the games writing community right now, and the same handful of titles keep popping up over and over. It’s probably fair to assume that Skyrim is going to take home a whole heap of them, alongside the likes of Portal 2, Zelda, and Arkham City. These are all, in their own ways, fairly inventive games – games that push genre, narrative and general gameplay concepts in some interesting directions, and are all deserving of accolades.

But when I think back on the year, my mind keeps returning to the latest Driver game – a game that might crack my Top 15 for the year, but which certainly wouldn’t make it to the top. As much as I’ve enjoyed plenty of other games more though, Driver: San Francisco might be my most talked-about game of the year.

Driver: San Francisco has been praised for being fun and unique, with a hilariously goofy plot and well-designed missions. It’s a blast to play, and that’s great. But for me, Driver: San Francisco sticks out from all the other 2011 releases because I cannot conceive of any piece of paper on which the basic concept could have possibly looked good. If you haven’t played it, it’s a driving game in which you play a man in a coma, jumping back and forth between cars at will. You’re always playing the same character, but he can possess other people who are driving around San Francisco and help them out with whatever they’re doing, usually by hooning around like a lunatic.

Before release, I wondered how on earth these gameplay mechanics could that possibly lend themselves to solid mission design. How was a series that used to play things so straight going to pull this off? Wasn’t the ‘the whole thing is a dream!’ concept just a bit bloody ridiculous? It seemed like the series was struggling really hard to stay relevant, and had dedicated itself to a stupid gimmick. I was far from alone in these sentiments; there was a whole lot of ‘WTF?’-ing going on.

And yet, the team at Ubisoft Reflections somehow realised that their seemingly ludicrous idea was actually kind of brilliant. We ended up with one of the most inventive driving games in years, one that allowed players to get creative in ways that no driving games ever have before, simply because they refused to listen when everyone said ‘come on guys, this is kind of stupid’. In an era of gaming when developers are all too frequently accused of aiming their games at idiots, rehashing the same ideas over and over and forsaking innovation in favour of broad appeal, this team took a high-concept, completely off-the-wall idea, grafted it onto a well-selling franchise that has been down on its luck, and ended up with a critical and commercial success.

Driver: San Francisco is original in the gutsiest way possible. It’s perhaps not the most innovative game of the year in terms of straight mechanics, what with Portal 2’s propulsion gels and DS gem Ghost Trick’s whole spectral occupation thing, but it’s one of the very few critically acclaimed unique games of the year that didn’t sound absolutely awesome from its original concept phase onwards. Driver: San Francisco looked rubbish (even the demo sucked), but turned out to be anything but. It makes you wonder about other games that have been changed before release due to fan pressure. Obviously fan feedback is important – look to Blizzard for a model example of how a company should go about incorporating it – but Driver: San Francisco is proof that sometimes, perhaps, it’s best if the developers ignore us when we try to tell them that their ideas are shit.

Right now, for instance, I’m sincerely hoping that the phenomenal team at Platinum Games haven’t checked out the internet’s reaction to Metal Gear Rising Revengeance…

James O'Connor is a PhD candidate who specialises video games and mediocre facial hair. In his spare time he writes for Hyper and Pixel Hunt. You can follow him on Twitter here.


Comments

    I've been playing the new Driver this week it is really fun but can't really find anyone online.

      I know what you mean I also have a strange aversion to commas and fullstops.

        This comment has been reported for inappropriate content and is awaiting review.

          Get off the 'net and never come back.

            I have to say that I am now very curious as to what bill said. :P

    While I agree it's good to see innovation get rewarded, the hype/pedigree/previous releases do half the job (especially in Portal 2's case) - Driver: SF is awesome but there are a lot of innovative games out the last 12-18 months that haven't gotten enough attention.

    Bizarrely, word of mouth does not matter much in gaming circles - look at Enslaved, Alan Wake, etc (I know about Minecraft, but that sort of exists in its own special universe).

      Not entirely true. Most people who really enjoy their games will go out of their way to get a game someone else mentions. I plan to get Enslaved and I plan to get this when I can afford it.
      Unfortunately, most of the people who over look these games are those who play consoles that only focus on AAA titles or else play casual games.

        I'm just going to add my recommendation for Enslaved here. A well made game that's fun and a bit challenging in parts with an interesting story. Very much worth it.

    Bet you my facial hair is even more mediocre!

    Also, I think might take a look into D:SF now. And by now, I mean hope that it goes for cheap during a steam sale.

      GAME stores have it on sale at $38 on PS360 at the moment, but I think that lasts only for a few more days...

      Online stock is out though

        I managed to grab it on PC a few weeks back from GAME for $15, I was stoked to get it for that much.

    Driver: SF is definitely in my top 10 for the year. Fun and innovative.

    Driver: SF was an enormously entertaining and fun game. Thank the gods they didn't listen to us silly billies.

    I got it on PC, and the port was a mess.

    Haven't thought to give it another go since launch, so I might have to load it up and pray for a patch.

      I got it on PC too, and my only complaint is that I can't get my game pad to work with it, the port itself works fine for me.

    I tried the demo and was hugely disappointed... I just really didn't enjoy the car handling. Part of the problem was that I was a MASSIVE fan of the original Driver on PS1 and had been looking forward to this for ages, and once I tried it was just kind of "meh".

    Might give it another chance if I find it going cheap somewhere next year.

    Unfortunatly its been sitting on my pile of shame since release, i played the first one and like it. But atleast its sitting ONTOP of the pile so once i finish my current game its next to go into the console.

      I hear you and your pile of shame. Rather than finish one game and move to the next, I'm trying to find a balance between Skyrim and the rest.
      It's not going well...

    Driver is a great game. But it's not enough to just have a quirky idea that will hopefully pay off come release time. For more games like this to exist, you need a great development team.

    Let's face it, had this game been a dud, people would have called its jumping from car to car idea a stupid gimmick that served no purpose.

    Great development made this a good idea, not the other way around.

    This could have easily become the next Wheelman. Anyone remember that turd?

      A brilliant idea is just one dodgey implementation away from being rubbish, I guess.

      And yeah, wheelman. My doctor says I'm not supposed to think about it anymore.

    I think the mechanic a great idea, but not for Driver. You don't cherish your faithful muscle car, you don't wince as you scrape through traffic an inch from the whole thing falling apart with 3 cops on your trail after a tense 15 minute mission. You don't think 'oh its on!' when a cop lights up and comes after you if you're cruising around, because that little A button is always there. It's like playing with toy cars and pushing them into each other, its fun for a while then without any real incentive to preserve them it got boring for me. Love the city and the car handling and sounds though.

    Thank you for deciding what I am playing tonight. After Forza came out I had trouble going back to Driver.

    THIS JUST FIXED THAT.

    CooDOS.

    I absolutely loved the shit outta this game. I had a ball, this was pure fun for the sake of fun. In my top 5 of 2011.
    Play it people! ditto Rayman Origins

    The idea was effectively like a football game where you move from player to player. I'd like to see something similar in an FPS. No more one-man-squads taking out armies; you're literally taking on an army AS an army, while being an FPS instead of an RTS.

    I do like the game, but.. A driving game needs proper wheel support. Because: What's a driving game without wheel support?
    That's the case on xbox 360 btw, I'm using a Fanatec GT2 steering wheel, but the game doesn't fully support it, I think that's a shame.
    ButI like the physics, the graphics and the theme a lot... So I think it's a good game, wich can be a great game.

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