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Driver: San Francisco E3 Hands-On Preview

Driver, the 1999 title from developer Reflections, managed to capture the feel of film car chases in a way that few games have done since. As the series progressed, the gameplay gradually drifted away from the core driving that made the original such a classic. The annoyingly named Driv3r and its sequel Parallel Lines were met with some fairly harsh critical reception and the franchise has lain dormant for the last few years: until now. Driver: San Francisco promises to truly return to the series' roots and really focus on the driving and from what we saw earlier this week, it looks set to deliver.

Driver: San Francisco Screenshots

Taking place after the events of Driv3r, where John Tanner was critically injured after his relentless pursuit of the series' nastiest villain Charles Jericho, the story continues their mutual quest for revenge. After Jericho is involved in a violent prison breakout, Tanner is left gravely injured in a coma which is where the game begins. Developers Ubisoft Reflections have kept the rest of the plot secret for the time being, but a gritty experience is promised with events inspired by many of the police genre's classic films.

Driver: San Francisco Screenshots

As a result of his comatose state Tanner no longer moves around the city car jacking at will, as has been the case since Driver 2. On foot sections have been removed from the game entirely and have instead been replaced with a new mechanic called "SHIFT". This ability has different levels which can be upgraded and unlocked over time and can be used at any point during the game's missions. When SHIFT is activated the camera zooms overhead, initially from a helicopter style perspective which you can move and control at will. From this, you can move around the various roads around San Francisco and select any vehicle to highlight and take control of. While this seems particularly strange at first, it works seamlessly and allows you to stay in the action during the game's chases.

Driver: San Francisco Screenshots

Using SHIFT when driving around the city allows you to temporarily assume the identity and life of the individual whose car you come to control. This acts as a basis for choosing side missions and in the single player demo that we saw Tanner utilised an upgraded version of the ability to find two police officers chasing a suspect. The improved SHIFT resembles a satellite type view of the entire city and allows you to get a much better overview of the surrounding road layout and plan ahead. Choosing to help Tanner could freely swap between both of the police vehicles at the tap of a button which proved extremely useful as the chase progressed. On a particularly awkward corner, one of the cop cars spun out to face the wrong direction, but using the swap ability meant that the other cruiser could be used to keep up with the criminal. As the pursuit reached a particularly long straight up a gradual ascent SHIFT was used to decisively end the chase by selecting an articulated juggernaut on the opposite side of the road and steering it into the oncoming suspect.

Driver: San Francisco Screenshots

This interesting mechanic looks set to open up a number of interesting gameplay possibilities, though the developers are keen to ration this god-like power to keep the game challenging and balanced. In order to do this SHIFT is earned through impressive pieces of driving such as drifting and driving on the wrong side of the road and must be used carefully for maximum effect. In previous Driver titles the difficulty curve could be frustratingly uneven, but the developers have promised to keep the progression testing but not unfair.

Driver: San Francisco Screenshots

Driver: San Francisco is already looking impressive visually with the city itself including many of its most famous landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Coit Tower. There are over 208 miles of road within the game in an area measuring 44kmĀ² with many iconic areas such as the hilly streets familiar from the classic car chase of Bullitt. While driving around the streets are cluttered with debris, such as fences, cardboard boxes and other paraphernalia that begs to be sent flying. Thankfully the series' director mode is back, although more specific details have yet to be announced.

One of the largest changes in this sequel is the inclusion of officially licensed cars from a number of different manufacturers. There are over 120 cars in Driver: San Francisco, which can all be damaged, with manufacturers such as Dodge and Alfa Romeo having vehicles in the game. The developers commented that they were aiming for a large variety of iconic car chase vehicles to help keep the driving fresh and different. During the demo we saw a huge range in the traffic on the roads, from more modern sports models to classic muscle cars.

Driver: San Francisco Screenshots

Alongside the single player component of the title, we were treated to a hands-on multiplayer session with another three players. The game mode involved four different competitors attempting to pursue a getaway vehicle as it sped through the streets leaving a bright yellow trail behind it. The object was to earn points by staying within the trail behind the car, which also blocks anyone behind you from receiving any. However, your fellow players will try and ram you out of the way in order to monopolise the points available. This was both intense and challenging and a lot more fun than a standard road race, with some pretty intensive battles occurring as everyone fought for control of the trail. SHIFT can be used in this mode, so you can change your starting vehicle for a sportier model early on in the race or catch up to the pack if you fall behind. Currently no other multiplayer modes have been detailed, but if there is a healthy variety that use SHIFT in a similar manner then this could help to separate Driver: San Francisco from the other racing games out there.

Getting the series back on track is something of a challenge for Ubisoft Reflections, but on the basis of this early gameplay the title looks set to address much of the criticism levelled at the previous titles. If the story can prove as engaging as the driving, by giving Tanner and Jericho a little more depth than their last outing, then this could well be an entertaining plot. However, the real challenge is to match the original Driver's gameplay by providing satisfying and varied missions with handling straight from classic 1970s films. Despite Driver: San Francisco not being released until later this year, this is certainly one of the game's to watch this winter.

evilgiraffeman | 18th June, 2010
Wedgeh's picture
awesome write up there buddy, unsure of the car swapping mechanic though.
evilgiraffeman's picture
Originally Posted by Wedgeh View Post
awesome write up there buddy, unsure of the car swapping mechanic though.
Well, I was a bit sceptical to begin with but it works quite well. The main thing is that most people think that Driver has always done on foot sections a lot worse than other similar sandbox games (I mean, just look at Driv3r), so removing these entirely with this new idea seems like a good plan.

If they can really nail the driving and incorporating the SHIFT mechanic, then I think this really could be onto a winner.
Kaostic's picture
This car switching thing could go either way I think.. Personally, I think it could flop and get some rage quits online.

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