Hands-On Impression: Driver: San Francisco

Driver was one of my favorite Playstation games, and considering all the time I spent flying off of hills in the original San Francisco level, the idea that the entire game would be set in San Francisco sounds like a good idea to me. Still, time has not been kind to the Driver series. As awesome as the first one was, and the very good sequel, the quality of the series veered off course with Driv3r and Driver: Parallel Lines. Two games that, at least to me, seemed as though they were trying to copy the success of the Grand Theft Auto games instead of trying to build on the strength of the original titles.

Still, how does an older series try and stand out from the crowd, do something different, but still stay true to the fans of the first few titles? Ubisoft Reflections has decided to take the series back to the main character, Detective Tanner, who ends up in a coma (guess he wanted to forget the last two games as well) and you spend the game playing through Tanner’s coma dreams…I think. You’re able to Shift – from what I can tell, Tanner’s consciousness can choose to posses the drivers of other cars. I’m not entirely clear on the plot points that explain exactly what is going on, only how it works. When you go to the map screen the game shows you a 3D overhead view map of the city, and you can even see the traffic on the screens, and it looked a lot like Google Earth. From there you can select a car and Shift to it, taking over control of the vehicle.

I got a chance to try this feature in a multiplayer mode called Tag. In this mode all the players were lined up and a vehicle pulled out ahead of them. The first to hit this vehicle was then ‘it’ and had to remain ‘it’ for as long as possible. Almost like a reverse game of tag, the other players had to try and ram the player who was ‘it’. The person who was it up to a certain length of time would then win. In this mode you could try and bash the lead driver by just racing better than them, but you could also Shift to another car. This added a lot of possibilities. When you go to the map you can see traffic, including oncoming traffic. So you can always try to take over a car that is already headed towards the player and hope you get them that way. Or you could look at an intersection ahead of them and try to T-bone the player. There are also considerations to keep in mind, for example you could take over a semi-truck and try to just block a lane, but semi-trucks are slow and if you do get the tag you will unlikely be ‘it’ for very long. Same goes with all other cars on the road. I got a nice sports car with terrible handling and ended up sliding all over the place. This turned out to work to my favor since I kept unintentionally sliding out of the way of other player vehicles. There are a number of different strategies available, and that’s only what I was able to figure out from spending a couple rounds with the game. It was the only demo at E3 where I went back to play again because it was just plain fun.

I’m a fan of arcade style racers, and games were you smash cars into other cars, and this was a blast. While Need For Speed: The Run is a racing game that takes you out of a car, Driver: San Francisco has gone in the opposite direction and has made it so that you are always in a car. Without needing to try and focus on running around and shooting outside of a car, they’ve been able to put all their attention on crafting a driving game that I can see myself staying up late and playing with friends like we did with the original game. Seriously, I don’t know what kind of drugs they were taking when they came up with putting Tanner into a coma and having him mentally possess other drivers, but I wish they’d share it with other developers because as odd as the idea sounds, it just works.

Driver: San Francisco comes out in September of this year, and will have one of the largest maps of any driving game with over 200 miles of road. The fact that it is set in San Francisco means that there are going to be a lot of hills to fly off of. The game will include fully licensed vehicles, a full single player mode, and nine multiplayer modes. If the rest of the game is as fun as just this one mode, it could be the driving game to look out for this fall.



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