Published on July 1st, 2010 | by prime0
Driver: San Francisco – Preview
Who saw this one coming, then? Yes, there had been murmurings ever since Ubisoft snatched up the Driver license a couple of years ago, but until that familiar yellow logo burst out of the HD screen in the boardroom of Ubisoft Newcastle, the idea of a brand-new Driver just felt a little… daft.
Nevertheless, here we are, watching as the original mind behind Tanner et al, Martin Edmonson, gives us a rapid fire demonstration of Driver: San Francisco. It’s not a reboot, but a continuation of the series from Driv3r (conveniently ignoring Parallel Lines) which sees players slip back into the leather shoes of undercover-cop extraordinaire Tanner, he of considerable four-wheeled expertise.
There’s still work to be done, but Driver: San Francisco has potential to restore faith to this fallen franchise
Actually, the whole ‘shoes’ thing is a bit misleading, as you’re actually only in Tanner’s mind. Sound weird? You haven’t heard anything yet. Tanner’s in a coma, although he doesn’t realize it, and somehow this means he can solve crimes by jumping from body-to-body and controlling any vehicle on the San Francisco streets.
If this makes no sense, don’t worry. It took the crew of journalists a while to get used to it, too. It’s a mechanic Ubisoft Newcastle is calling Shift, and it’s integral to how Driver: San Francisco works. With hands-on time, it starts to make sense.
Picture the scene: you’re in a typical Driver chase scene, hurtling through back alleys and dodging incoming traffic to try and catch a high-speed perp. You swing around a corner, the back end starts to creep away from you and crash, you end up sideswiping a Mini. Pause, restart, and wait for it to load… well not any more. Now, the second you feel that back end swing towards the terrified granny in the Mini, you can hit Shift, and the camera will lurch backwards as you watch a slow-motion, out-of-body view of the road. Simply hover your cursor over a better-positioned vehicle, hit Shift again and you’re back in the action without as much as a break or pause to load. It’s mental, but it might just work.
You can even use Shift to access side missions. Our demo ended with a quite staggering use of the esoteric mechanic. The camera pulled back, as before, but this time it shot skywards, revealing the entire city buzzing below. Hundreds of faces appeared on the screen, all talking in unison, before we focused on a cop. As quick as a flash, the camera sped back down to street level, and we were inside the cop’s head, chasing down criminals. It’s a novel approach, although the concern that the cop had been possessed by a psychotic, driving-obsessed coma victim didn’t seem to bother anyone. Ho hum.
This would mean nothing if Driver’s handling model wasn’t enjoyable in the first place, and it is. It’s not as punishing as the original game’s muscle-car wrestling, but every vehicle – of which there are well over 100 – has a weight and a heft to it that feels satisfying to throw around a Bay-area hairpin.
Edmonson and company chose to relocate the series back to San Francisco for two reasons. Firstly, it’s iconic. Not only thanks to the movies which influenced the series in the first place – Bullit, The Rock – but also the PSOne original. A decade on, Driver might be almost unplayable now, but it’s an influential relic, unquestionably.
Hurtling around the streets is enjoyable. It’s rough around the edges at the moment, not quite managing to clutch at the graphical heights of its competition, but there’s still plenty of time for polish, particularly in multiplayer, which is brimming with potential.
We were only privy to one mode, but it was enough to keep us happy for a good 60 minutes. The premise was simple: tail a car, staying in its slipstream longer than the other three drivers around you. Of course, when we all realized that we could Shift into any car on the track, things suddenly got a lot more interesting. Jumping into a Zonda when everyone else is driving taxis is highly amusing, and it leads to tactical play that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.
There’s still work to be done, no doubt, but Driver: San Francisco has potential to restore faith to this fallen franchise. And if you disagree, they’ll jump into your head and crash your car into a wall.