Those last few Driver games weren’t so hot—I think this is something we can all agree on. Still, you have to appreciate a studio that sticks to their guns, and Ubisoft Reflections (formerly Reflections Interactive) is doing just that. Their upcoming game, Driver: San Francisco, is the sixth game in the series, and it’s been in development for over five years.
A protracted development, a seemingly tired series, and little press coverage all seem to indicate disaster, but I’m not so sure about that. Driver: San Francisco not only looks fun, but it’s got some fresh and crazy ideas to boot. I’m excited for it, and here are a few reasons why you should be excited too.
The Original Driver was Really Cool
Before Grand Theft Auto III rewrote the game design rulebook, the original Driver had some really exciting things going for it. The open world was still a novelty back then, and Driver’s city was quite immersive, even if you couldn’t walk around in it. More than anything, though, Driver had amazing car handling for the time.
Driver carried a reverence for old chase films, with chunky, intentionally sluggish handling of iconic American muscle cars. This resulted in cinematic chase sequences with wide power slides and neck-destroying collisions. You could even record them and edit them into short chase films.
The biggest mistake Reflections ever made was letting their hero out of the car. However, Driver: San Francisco seems to be a return to form, keeping the action behind the wheel. They’re even bringing back the ability to record chase sequences, and while I haven’t tried it myself, the cars appear to have that heft that made the series so exciting.
How do you give someone an open world in 2011 and tell them they can’t get out of the car? Well…
The Story is Insane
So I guess in Driv3r (affectionately known as Drive-Three-Er), our hero, Tanner, is caught in a rivalry with a man named Jericho. Apparently, Jericho is pissed because Tanner stole his Legos in Driver 2, or something like that. Anyways, Driver: San Francisco picks up from there, with the rivalry turning sour for Tanner, who ends up hospitalized and in a coma.
Here’s where things get crazy—the rest of the game takes place within Tanner’s comatose mind, where he has the ability to possess other drivers on the road at will. Other than that little quirk, everything else about the world in his mind is business is usual. So you’ll be driving real cars in a realistic San Francisco, except you’ll also have ghost powers.
It sounds really, really stupid, except that…
The Story Makes the Gameplay Unique
If you’re interested in Driver: San Francisco, chances are you’ve played a fair share of open-world driving games. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had your fill of the same textbook list of missions that most of these games feature. That’s why being a crazy ghost driver might end up being really fun.
What your powers of possession allow you to do is jump from car to car, manipulating the progression of a mission on the fly. Tired of being hounded by those maniacal cops? Possess a nearby 18-wheeler and send it careening towards them, and then jump back into your own car and take off.
The whole thing is presented in a sort of Google Maps interface that lets you quickly zip from car to car, even leaping into a vehicle on the other side of the city. One mission type requires you to get two cars to your destination, forcing you to leap between them, or protect them with other possessed vehicles.
Maybe that’s one step too crazy to be considered a “return to form” for the series, but the mechanics sounds like a ton of fun. Fun that will be even better if…
You’ve Been to San Francisco
Just like any game that features a real city, Driver: San Francisco will be enhanced if you’ve been to SF before. Not only that, but the San Francisco layout is prime real estate for epic car chases. It’s the original setting of the Driver series, and the only city that could handle Steve McQueen.
While the game doesn’t appear to be a graphical powerhouse, the tech that allows you to zip around the city instantly (and at 60 frames per second, no less), is no slouch. I’d imagine that the constant overhead map navigation and open-world nature will make it one of the most memorable game worlds this side of Liberty City.
All that said, Driver: San Francisco still has a lot to prove. We won’t know if it’s truly good until the game is in our hands and the reviews start rolling in. Still, I’ve got a hunch, a very hopeful hunch, that this will be one to look out for before its release on September 6.