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Game Review: Driver San Francisco

Racing games seem a lot like fighting games to me, in the sense that they’re pretty much exclusively for the multiplayer crowd.  Sure, they all have some single-player component, maybe a loose story whose sole purpose is to earn upgrades to kick the backsides of friends & enemies alike.  But to its credit, Driver: San Francisco does have a fairly solid single-player game alongside various multiplayer options.

Star in your own cop movie

I’ve never played any of the previous Driver games, but I highly doubt I missed anything that would change the story of this version.  The protagonist is John Tanner, a plain-clothes police officer (I would say undercover police officer, but I don’t think you can be “undercover” when you drive a distinctive 60’s model orange Dodge Charger) who works with his partner, Tobias Jones.  A criminal he was responsible for locking up pulls a daring escape, during which Tanner is put in a coma.  I don’t think it’s spoiling it to say this, because the game establishes this point obviously during the prologue.  Despite being in the hospital in a coma, Tanner finds himself still out in the world trying to track the criminal down.  However, he now has the ability to “shift” into other bodies, thus taking control of other vehicles.  The slick thing is, only Tanner is aware when this happens, so everyone else is unaware the person they’re sitting next to in the car isn’t the same person anymore.  Using this to his advantage, Tanner goes deep undercover to track down Jericho & stop his plans before it’s too late.

Meet our heroes

The bulk of the game is the story mode, which is an open-world driving game.  A large map displays areas of the city Tanner can go to.  This map highlights the main missions (which advance the story), side missions (required to unlock main missions) & hundreds of challenges throughout the city at large.  At any point you can shift into any vehicle & just drive around, performing various stunts to earn Willpower Points that can later be used to purchase upgrades or cars.  Upgrades include extending your ability bar, which allows you to boost your chosen car or ram other cars, & improving recharge speed.  The vehicles you purchase can only be used in the challenges, not in the actual missions.  There are many different types of missions; Getaway, Pursuit, Race, Dare & Stunts, just a name a few.  The all important Shift function is done with just the push of a button, putting you in an out-of-body experience where you can select any car on the road.  And while doing this, your main vehicle will continue doing what it’s supposed to.  So, for example, if you’re in a race & want to take over a fire truck to smash into the opposition, the race car will continue the course while you control the fire truck.

Check out the gameplay trailer at the bottom of the post for a better description of all the game has to offer.

Story: I really did like the story, even though I’ve seen some reviews call the story ludicrous.  But come on!  It’s no more ludicrous than half-organic/half-artificial aliens routinely wiping out all life the galaxy, or space marines fighting demons on Mars, or any story in video games that requires a major suspension of disbelief.  I liked it.  It’s interesting because although everything seems to be going on in Tanner’s head, we get scenes that suggest his actions are affecting the real world.  I do wish they’d been more subtle about Tanner’s condition.  Leave out the scenes of him in the hospital, for instance.  Another downside is that, aside from two, the side missions don’t relate the ongoing story in any way.  But overall I think the shift gimmick of the game helps tie an interesting story together.  Score: 4

You can’t actually run over pedestrians in this game

Gameplay: The diving feels really solid, which is good for a racing game.  Although I’ve never been in a real race before, my impression is that the cars handle realistically.  They swerve, spinout & each type has its on handling.  Some cars start out fast but have lower overall speed, some are more prone to drift, & others can take more damage.  Shifting is fast & easy, but I do wish the speed the cursor moves while you’re shifted was a little faster.  It can be hard to select the vehicle you want quickly.  You can replay the missions if you fail them, & some have checkpoints so you don’t have to restart completely, which is nice because some of the later missions can be tricky.  It’s also nice that there’s a wide variety of activity types.  However, you can complete the whole game by just playing the main & side missions & never touch the hundreds of others.  Willpower isn’t that big a deal.  The only useful upgrades are for your abilities.  Cars are just a waste of Willpower because you can only use them in the open-world.  I was also very frustrated by the AI of the other cars.  The other vehicles seem to only have predetermined paths, as they never move out of the way to avoid you.  This is especially annoying in the last three missions (which caused much frustration to me) when I kept getting knocked into oncoming traffic & the morons kept running over me.  Pedestrians move out of the way of vehicles, but they didn’t program this into the actual cars?  And I have to admit that I didn’t play any of the multiplayer options, mainly because you must have an online pass.  So I can’t speak of what type of options are available there.  However, the game does offer a split screen mode which doesn’t require a pass.  So overall I’d say the driving is good but has some frustrations & a lot of the game feels tacked on.  Score: 4

The world in Shift

Visuals & Audio:  I think the best thing about the graphics was the variety of camera options available when driving.  I always used the full first-person mode, but there’s an angle for everyone.  The graphics are nice, but I found it odd that the in-game graphics are so different from the cutscenes.  I know this is normally the case, but it’s more obvious in Driver because there are instances of a split screen with the cutscene graphics on top & the in-game graphics on the bottom.  It’s just weird.  The sound was okay.  I didn’t really care for any of the music.  It wasn’t that anything was bad, it just sounded like they were trying to go for a 70’s cop movie feel, & it just didn’t fit with the modern setting.  So the music was ignorable.  The voiceacting was pretty good, though.  Score: 3

Replayability: Overall, I’d say average.  I doubt anyone will play through the story more than once, but you can continue in the open world after finishing.  There are plenty of extra activities.  But ultimately, replayability comes down to how much you like the multiplayer.  I’m sending the game back now that I’m done, but I can see how others would keep it longer.  Score: 3

Overall Score: 3

Final Word: Driver is a fun game that I’d recommend at least renting if you like driving games.  It probably won’t become part of your permanent collection, but the driving is solid enough to give some enjoyment.

– GamerDame

Title: Driver: San Francisco
Console: 360, PS3, PC & Wii
Rating: T
Developers: Ubisoft Reflections
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: September 2011
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Filed under Driving, PC, PS3, Reviews, Wii, XBox 360

Game Review: Fragile Dreams

I’ll admit, I didn’t finish Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon.  I made it about halfway through before I became bored with it.  However, I know how it ends, & my inability to finish the game doesn’t invalidate my opinion of it.  After all, being “bored” is an opinion.  This is a game that I’d never heard of until I was searching the Gamefly website.  It sounded interesting at first.  So what happened to make me quit?

The white-haired girl is sort of your “goal” in this game

Fragile Dreams takes place some time in the apocalyptic future (because aren’t they always apocalyptic?).  Most of humanity is dead, though for unknown reasons at the beginning.  Now the world is inhabited by echos, ghost-like entities, souls without a body anymore.  You play as a young boy named Seto.  After his “grandfather” dies, Seto sets out to find more humans.  Along the way he encounters not only a few humans, but ghosts… as well as plans to wipe out humanity for a second time.

When you’re not surrounded by darkness, there are some stunning visuals in this game.

Seto wanders around the dilapidated world with just a flashlight at first.  Flashlights will be your constant companions, illuminated the darkness around you & allowing you to see ghosts.  You’ll find & purchase healing items & weapons, which you will be in constant need of.  Weapons break after a while, with some weapons lasting longer than others.  You’re given campfires that function as save points, your shop & replenish your health.  Also, you’ll collect various items that hold memories in them, which you can listen to back at the campfire.  You can also go into first-person to examine items, which is also how you pick special items up.  Most items that can be interacted with will have fireflies around them, serving as the “sparkly” for this game.  Combat is fairly straightforward.  You’ll hear the ghosts before you see them.  Once they appear, you can use melee or ranged weapons to attack.  The more ghosts you fight, the higher your level.

Narrative: The story is what made me quit the game.  It’s just too slow.  The story starts out simple enough; You’re looking for other humans in this empty world.  But the people you meet are so few & far between.  You’ll only meet seven “people” throughout the entire game (I say “people” because they’re not all living human beings).  And while I applaud the game for creating a sense of loneliness which makes you cherish finally finding someone, that means you’ll be spending most of your time wandering around trying to find the next level all alone.  The developers tried to use the memories to fill in the gaps, but it doesn’t seem that effective.  It adds to the depressing feel of the game, but you don’t really connect with the people in the memories.  I think it would’ve been better if you actually encountered the ghosts connected to the memories.  Halfway through the game you finally start learning about the calamity that nearly wiped mankind out, & the final boss is the person behind it, but it would’ve made more sense if you slowly learned about what happened in bits & pieces throughout the whole game.  Instead, you just get everything all at once.  So overall, I like the idea behind the story, but it’s just not told very well.  Score: 2

One of your ghost companions, Sai. At first I thought she was just wearing an open jacket with nothing underneath.

Mechanics: To be honest, I don’t think I’m a fair judge of Wii controls.  To be completely honest, I suck at the Wii.  I’m just not used to the motion controls.  Give me a controller any day.  That being said, most of the gameplay works reasonably well.  You turn Seto with the main remote, which also controls your flashlight, & it’s pretty intuitive.  Your main inventory space is limited, but you can store infinite items in your briefcase when you reach a campfire.  I do have issue with the weapons breaking.  It’s not so much the breaking I have an issue with (after all, they’re normal items like sticks, broom & pipes).  However, there’s no way to know when they’ll break.  More than once you’ll be in the middle of fighting ghostly jellyfish & your weapon will break.  Weapons need to have some kind of health bar.  While we’re on that note, the combat is the worst part of this game.  It feels very clunky.  Once you start a combo you can’t change the direction of your attack, & in melee it’s hard to tell if you’re close enough to hit the ghost.  And while I get that Seto’s just a normal kid, when you spend so much time fighting, the system should’ve been better.  This game also has one of my cardinal videogame sins: respawning enemies.  If you leave an area & come back, or go back to the save spot, all the enemies respawn.  This may help you level up, but that doesn’t stop it from being annoying when you keep having to backtrack.  Score: 3

Feel my wrath, jellyfish!

Aesthetics: The game presents its lonely world very well.  Everything looks suitably abandoned & rundown.  Most of the time you’re wandering around at night — or in dark places.  All of the characters have an anime style, & the ghosts are interesting & varied.  They range from ghostly birds to disembodied legs.  I also liked the sound design.  Normally the only sound you’ll hear is your own footsteps… until you meet a ghost.  Then you’re hear a noise (which varies depending on what type of ghost it is) & the music picks up during the fight.  And although the game isn’t intended to be scary, there were a few creepy moments.  Like the first time hands popped out of the wall, or running down the tunnel with writing like, “We’re going to die” on it.  (Just a note: I highly recommend using the Japanese language, the voiceactors are so much better than the English ones).  Score: 4

Replay Value: Low.  There isn’t much reason to play more than once.  And I think some people would be in the same boat with me as having a hard time finishing even once.  Score: 2

Breakdown

untitled

Overall Score: 3

Final Words: Fragile Dreams is a game that was good in theory but lacked in its execution.  It’s excellent atmosphere is undone by the scattered story & clunky combat.  The average gamer probably won’t enjoy this game.

– GamerDame

Title: Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
Console: Wii
Rating: T
Developers: Namco Bandai & Tri-Crescendo
Publisher: XSeed Games
Release Date: March 16, 2010

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Filed under 3, Adventure, Reviews, Wii