Driver: San Francisco is an entry in the long-running action racing series. The story, which is entirely different from the Wii version of the same name, takes place six months after the events in Driv3r. Protagonist undercover cop John Tanner and antagonist Charles Jericho have both survived the final shootout in Istanbul. Jericho is facing sentencing after being tried in San Francisco, but escapes his prison van. He is chased down by Tanner and his partner Tobias Jones. During the pursuit, Tanner’s vehicle is struck by a Big Rig and he ends up in the hospital in a coma. The majority of the game takes place in Tanner’s coma-induced dream where he continues to track down Jericho.
The player has access to the entire city of San Francisco with the freedom to explore it without boundaries. Players can choose to follow the main storyline, where Tanner gradually learns he is actually in a dream, or take on the many vignette-like missions with mini-stories along with regular races and stunts, even participating in the recording of a movie stunt scene for instance. There are many different licensed cars to collect, with 140 types ranging from Volkswagen to Lamborghini. A return to the gameplay of the original Driver, players are no longer able to exit the vehicle or explore on foot. The entire game takes place inside a car. Streets are filled with traffic and often certain obstacles can be used to perform stunts. Pedestrians can never be hit, they dive out of the way. Next to the main driving controls players can boost and perform ram attacks on cars. Footage of the racing can be captured in the film director mode, which was absent in the previous game Driver: Parallel Lines.
Entirely new to the series is the ability to Shift. Since Tanner is in a dream, he discovers he is able to dive into the body of any other driver in the city. During chases or when losing the tail in a pursuit, this allows him to quickly jump into the body of another car’s driver and continue from there, often to the horror of the passengers. There are many conversations during the racing, and the characters are shown through portraits near the top of the screen. Shifting adds a new dimension to car chases as one crash does not mean the end of a pursuit. The technique can also be used to crash cars in front of the opponent to create additional obstacles, put trucks in the way, and travel to the other side of the city in a few seconds. His nemesis Jericho is however also able to Shift, and he can even take over Tanner’s body when he has moved out of it.
Multiplayer is available both offline and online with different competitive and cooperative game modes. Players can for instance work together to escape from the police or take down a street racers team. Shifting is also available in multiplayer, but is disabled for certain technical races.