There’s not much to smile at in Watch Dogs Legion’s grim dystopia, but last night I hopped into an electric car (one of those that looks the same at both ends) and there above the license plate was the logo for Driver. Ubisoft Reflections’ venerable street chase series has been long dormant, so any reference is welcome sustenance to neglected fans. But it’s also frustrating. Why no sequel? Couldn’t we screech through those alleys one more time?
In truth, this isn’t the original logo for Driver at all, but the version seen in Watch Dogs 2, attached to the ‘Driver SF’ app on Marcus Holloway’s phone. But it’s inextricably linked to the series, since Reflections designed the car handling for Watch Dogs 2. The studio’s approach has always been to treat driving as childhood fantasy rather than simulation, for each car to be a character with its own quirks. San Francisco is classic Driver’s backyard, and so Watch Dogs 2’s breakneck driving missions were the perfect tribute.
There’s no such equivalent in Watch Dogs Legion, sadly. While timed postal delivery runs provide opportunities to scream down London’s roads at 100mph, the unsatisfying reward is cryptocurrency, which only has a bearing on your avatars’ clothing. I miss the distinct and inventive driving challenges that Reflections secreted into early Watch Dogs.
Most of all, though, I miss Driver: San Francisco, the wild sequel that confined protagonist Tanner to a hospital bed as a coma patient. From there, he simply dreamed up the events of the game, floating high above California and swooping down to possess whatever driver and car he desired. It was, quite literally, a flight of fancy. And today I can't even find it on Steam.
There’s a business argument for going back, as well as a nostalgia one. Even before San Francisco, the Driver series had sold 16 million units worldwide. That’s not shabby at all, even by today’s standards. And Reflections has proven itself time and again as a headline studio—just look at Grow Home and Grow Up, two of the decade’s smartest and loveliest platformers. While Ubisoft has made good use of the studio’s expertise across its many open-world vehicles, Reflections deserves more than to be a support studio on the bigger projects. It’s time to let Driver’s developer loose, and let players burn some rubber again.