Surely this couldn't be anything but another unnecessary sequel trading on accolades and a fanbase that are both a firm piece of the past, could it? Well, believe it or not, Driver: San Francisco bucks the trend. It is an engaging, entertaining driving game, pumped full of gas that returns the franchise to its roots, while throwing a huge curve-ball in the shape of a supernatural element that breathes new life, and a raft of new possibilities into the genre. The general premise is ridiculous, but it's the good type of ridiculous: after all, who wants yet another city-based driving caper when they could have that with the added wildcard element of a Quantum Leap style narrative conceit that sees the Driver - or John Tanner as he is more conventionally known - able to "shift" into other people's bodies to help them with their driving-based needs. Of course, it's all a fiction created by his comatose brain (the product of a nasty car crash - drive safe, kids!), but that dreamscape setting allows for a whole new world of possibilities. This Shift feature isn't just a plot device you see, as it allows the player to shift from one car into another during missions in-game, relying on the player recharging the Shift meter through driving skills such as power slides, jumps and driving on the wrong side of the road - as if one accident induced coma isn't enough. As the game progresses, the Shift ability is also upgraded, allowing for better range. This entirely changes the way the player must think about the driving experience: rather than a linear process, in which the driver must take charge of his own car to the best of his abilities and seek opportunities to better opponents, he can now directly affect how the opponent uses his car. Not directly of course, as that would be a shift too far, robbing the game of its competitive edge (which is thankfully avoided), but the player now has to think laterally, about shifting into cars in advance to block off the opponent, or causing crashes to interrupt and disrupt. Anything that can add a whole new aspect to an established genre, particularly one as entrenched as the driving game already deserves praise, but the fact that San Francisco does it with such aplomb, and with such a complex new feature to boot is even more impressive. While some of the later missions tend to feel a little samey, the gimmick never grows old, especially when fully upgraded, and the possibilities it offers are endless in the vast openworld environment. There's definitely a touch of the tongue-in-cheek in the Shift feature as well, which actually spreads across the entire game, from the obviously silly dialogue and the intentionally ludicrous plot to the lack of realism in the driving experience. This is not meant to be a realistic experience at all, so to have super realistic handling would rob the game of that extra gloss of fun that makes it feel appropriately trashy, and makes the leap to accept the very silly premise easier to make. The cars are the real star of the show, aside from that ridiculous/genius narrative conceit anyway, with full licenses meaning they all look spectacular, and there's a great selection from small commuter-style "everyday" cars to sparkly penis-enhancing supercars like the glorious Ford GT. Add to that a realistic damage feature, and you'll be avoiding dangerous driving to the best of your ability to preserve the paintwork - which is just plain not an option given the rewards for dangerous driving. Gone is the ability to get out of the car, a feature which joined the franchise at Driver 2, and which is now part and parcel of the park and ride, cops and robbers genre these days, or whatever you want to call it. And with that decision the game has returned Driver to its roots - it's not like it's called Sometimes Pedestrian after all - and the increased time in the car ramps up the entertainment factor from last time out. That added driving time is a must, considering the enormous open-world city map (which is matched in the size stakes by the sheer amount of content). Seriously, there is a whole of playable and unlockable content here: aside from the general missions, there is also the opportunity to unlock more through garage purchases, as well as the chance to pick up collectible tokens around the map, which unlock a number of levels inspired by the movie world (there's a load of cars taken from Hollywood to unlock as well). You can't use your Shift abilities in those special levels, but the fun is something completely to the rest of the game within them anyway. All-in-all if you're a 100% purist, and insist on completing every aspect of the game before moving on, you're going to be with Driver San Francisco for some time, which is not a bad thing at all. Additionally, there are six different modes for multiplayer, including split screen (though there is a slight frame-rate problem there, and in particularly busy stretches of road in the online mode), and an excellent, addictive Tag mode that meshes traditional Catch the Flag gameplay with a Twisted Metal/Destruction Derby fell thrown in. And then there's the very welcome return of the video editor, which lets the player record and edit your own short movies, which can then be shown off online for extra bragging rights. Unless you only film spectacular crashes or any glitches you can find, which is precisely what I plan to use mine for from now on. Anyway, however you look at it, that's a whole lot of bang for your buck. In the end, Driver: San Francisco has more than enough to revitalise the franchise, and put bad memories of the last addition firmly behind it. In the Shift gimmick, Ubisoft have pulled out a brilliant trick, and it is still hugely exciting to be met with a new spin on an old formula that encourages new, reinvigorated enjoyment of the genre. If it was a film, it would be made by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, and would star Nick Cassavetes and Jason Statham. Basically, bonkers. But damn fine work all the same. Driver: San Franciso is available to buy now on XBox 360, PS3, Wii and PC. Look out for our video review coming next week.