What can you say about the Golden Gate
That hasn’t been said before
Christmas in San Francisco
There is no place quite so dear
It’s the closest thing to Heaven
How I wish that you were here
– Russ Lorenson, Christmas in San Francisco
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage.”
It is the 25th December 2011. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol remains at the top of the box office in its 2nd weekend. Wherever You Are by Military Wives featuring Gareth Malone is the UK Christmas No. 1. Absolutely Fabulous returns to BBC One after seven years. I play Driver San Francisco for the first time.
Back in 2011, Driver San Francisco was my most anticipated release of the year. That summer, after coming home from school, the first thing I did every day was go to YouTube and rewatch the “Comeback” trailer. At this point, there hadn’t been a Driver game since Driver Parallel Lines in 2006, and that had controversially featured an entirely new cast and was completely unconnected to the rest of the series (basically, a whole other game cynically marketed as something it wasn’t in a crude and lazy attempt to lie to the audience using brand recognition that didn’t work because that incarnation has never been seen again). At E3, this had been Ubisoft’s main push, their flagship title for that year.
As a patient fan of the series, who’d been playing it since basically for as long as I can remember, being able to watch the trailer for the first real Driver game in seven years was a big deal. What was even more surprising was – given the controversial quality of the prematurely released DRIV3R – how good the game actually looked. Gone was the pretentious grit of before, and here again was the unapologetic fun that made the original game so beloved. In fact, “fun” seemed to be the main theme word of that trailer: the sun shining, the Californian heat tangible, the feeling of being in a cop movie. In other words, just like the series was supposed to be. After such justified lack of confidence, even after my first viewing of that Comeback trailer, I knew they’d nailed it. They knew exactly what they were doing.
So, there I am actually playing it on Christmas Day 2011. By New Year’s Day I’d have completed the story. This was so long ago that my bedroom was arranged differently: the chest of draws upon which I keep my PlayStation 3 was facing a different wall, and I was still using my old TV. What immediately stuck out to me was the graphics. It was, after all, the first PlayStation 3 game I played. I generally don’t talk about graphics but in that moment I was impressed. It’s probably not specifically because of the game per se, more the system, but as the first game that I played on it, I’m naturally going to connect those two things. Also, the controls were a little strange. Having grown up playing driving games on the two previous PlayStation models, I was accustomed to accelerating with X. On the PlayStation 3, the standard is R2. It makes sense to me now, obviously, because there’s a greater degree of input and control that way and it’s more ergonomic but it still took a while to get used to it – whereas, when I went back to Driver (1999) in order to review it, I frequently found myself having to adapt back to X again.
What really matters is the feeling of old newness… or do I mean new oldness? Something completely familiar, which fits like a pair of old slippers, yet is also completely undiscovered, like boots not yet worn. The only car you’ve ever had but the new car smell has come back. I suppose you could say that it’s a bit like Christmas itself; the same decorations come out, the same songs are sung and for a little while we enjoy the reassurance of the season’s unchanging nature; and yet, each one feels different in its own way.
From the moment I started playing Driver San Francisco, I slipped right into it, totally in tune with the style. I’m driving a muscle car through San Francisco in the blazing sun to spectacular music in a way that no other series has ever managed to capture. At the same time, it’s the opposite of that. Just as the theme tune is a reworking of the iconic original, so too is this game. The beats are the same but how we get there is different and unpredictable. The vehicles are brand new and I need to acquaint myself with them. Same parts, but everything’s been refitted. The perfect fusion of old with new during a festival older than anyone alive today but celebrating birth and restoration.
That’s the feeling.
I’ve been here before but I have no memory of this place.
– the Purple Prose Mage
The Purple Prose Mage rewrites his author’s blurb every time he publishes a post because he keeps changing his approach to things. He’s currently working on a documentary about the Driver series for its 20th anniversary next year (follow).
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing through thoughtful, long-form reviews. We’re a community aspiring to pay our contributors and build a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing and culture. See our Patreon page for more info!