In an E3 where real surprises were few and far between, Driver: San Francisco was one of the only games that shocked me. This is a franchise I’ve completely ignored since the awesome original. Now that it's been rebooted there might be something worthwhile here. As you might expect, it’s entirely focused on car chases over a 208 mile city landmass. Driver: SF has a few things going for it that give it a fresh spin over similar games.
- You never get out of your car.
- There are over 100 licensed and fully destructible vehicles, which is a bit unusual for an open world driving game.
- Burnout style slow motion crashes.
- The main character is in a coma.
That’s right, a coma. In fact, the entire game is a dream that Tanner is having. Not a speaking naked in public or being assaulted by clowns dream – a car chasing dream. The reason for the conceit brings me to my favorite feature of the game: If you’re chasing a car and you slam into a pole --that would normally be the end of the mission. In the new Driver, you press X (when your meter is filled) and you can zoom out into a birds-eye view of the city. Moving the cursor, you lock onto various cars as they drive around, pick one close to your target and take control of the driver. This simple mechanic keeps you in the game when you’d otherwise be out of the action.
It’s also a way for you to get missions. When you zoom way out into a wide view of the entire map, icons will pop up showing you where missions are. You can jump into a cop car who is in the process of chasing down a criminal. Run someone who is late for an appointment to their destination. All kinds of different missions are available between the main story events.
The ability to rapidly shift into other cars extends into the multiplayer. We had some hands-on time with a game mode where the objective is to drive behind a target AI vehicle. The car you chase leaves a glowing trail that run off its tail lights. By driving in that stream you gain points and block other players from getting theirs. Everyone can shift out of their current vehicle and jump ahead into a new one at any time, keeping the pace frantic and exciting.
Is it a bit gimmicky? Sure. But the driving feels like a good mix between arcade racing and the more technical driving from the original. The fundamentals are sound and the chases they demoed were exciting, dynamic and oddly tactical at times. If you need to catch a fleeing car, why not take control of a semi ahead of him and block off the road? Lots of potential here, I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Releasing simultaneously this Fall on the PC, Mac, 360, PS3 and I believe they mentioned a version being made special for the Wii.