previews\ Jun 14, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Driver: San Francisco Preview


It has been eleven years since Driver debuted. The first game had a glossy coat of originality and was unmatched for driving action. Then it happened - Grand Theft Auto 3. Developers clambered for a piece of the action. Driver followed suit and lost its way amid a sea of clones. The original wheelman is back in the saddle, and this time, he has trick of his own to show off.

Driver is going back to its roots and shunning the on-foot sections, which were unanimously the weakest elements of the previous sequels, but the protagonist can still hop in and out of vehicles at will using his Shifting ability. In a hands-off demo, I watched as the developer careened through a narrow alley and launched off a perfectly-angled stack of plywood (aren't they always?). 30-feet above the ground, the world froze, the camera ripped away from the airborne machine and sped toward the windshield of a car down the road. Time returned to normal as the developer's former ride hurtled into the side of a building.

Many of the plot's details are still under wraps, but I do know that Tanner, from the first game, is lying in a hospital bed somewhere. Whether the ability is psychical or the dreams of an insane man, anyone driving a vehicle in San Francisco is Tanner's potential plaything. The ability is very much like that of an agent from The Matrix, except Tanner is the hero of this story.

Shifting isn't limited to nearby vehicles. In one instance, Tanner shifted into a police car that sped by with sirens blaring and gave chase to the criminal ahead. A few seconds later, the world paused again, and Tanner moved block by block until he found the big gun he was looking for - an oncoming semi. Shifting will be limited by a meter and by skill-level, so don't expect to shift into a villain's car and hit the brakes. At least, not right away.

There are over 100+ cars to take over, from a basic Dodge Neon or Ram, on up to more exotic fare from Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and a Delorean. Ever since Bullitt hit the silver screen, San Francisco and its steep, jarring hills has been the prime city for car chases. The map comes up from South San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito, and over to Berkeley. The city isn't completely accurate, pared down for space, but it's detailed enough that I knew the intersection where the developer had crashed his new car.

Driver: San Fransisco will include competitive multiplayer, including a mode based around stealing the opposition's ride. No other information was given, although the developer alluded to a cooperative mode centered on protecting a single car.

As spoken by the series' creator, and current designer, Martin Edmondson, "We're trying to stay away from the GTA stuff, none of the on-foot, gunplay, or safehouses." That sounds like a good plan to me.

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