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Submitted by Gwynne Dixon on July 26 2011 - 17:02

We have a poke around in near-final code for Driver San Francisco as the game nears release...

Some games are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. If Driver: San Francisco is going to aspire to any of these categories, it'll be the middle one. The title certainly won't be born great, such is the disappointment of former instalments in the series - for the same reason, it seems unlikely that anybody is going to be thrusting greatness upon it. This leaves achieving greatness as Ubisoft Reflections (formerly Reflections Interactive) strives to reinstate the Driver name after a series of poor design choices in the three major instalments following its 1998 debut. And as far as we can see having sat down for a sizeable hands-on with Driver San Francisco's multiplayer and opening single-player act, Ubi Reflections has been working very hard to produce a game of formidable polish.

Take, for example, how far the code has come since we first saw it this time last year. At the centre of the gameplay is a 'shift' dynamic that allows you to teleport freely between any car in the game's open world (we'll explain why later). In our first hands-on with the multiplayer this time last year, the bird's eye view of the city that you used for shifting was featureless and colourless. Buildings and roads were uniformly grey, almost as if the game was in a proof-of-concept stage at the very start of development. In the current build though, this bird's eye view is fully rendered with all the textures and colours that you'd see from the default driver's perspective. The developers were taking on a hefty task with the innovative 'shift' dynamic - smoothly rendering a full open-world with no noticeable drops in frame-rate or pop-up is a daunting prospect at the best of times - so it's great to see that they've been refining and optimising the process so successfully over the last twelve months.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with the development of DSF though, here's a quick recap: it's billed as a return to the classic gameplay of the original Driver, where the focus was squarely on driving - gone are the GTA-style on-foot sections and gunplay of subsequent sequels. The hook, though, is this 'shift' dynamic. Ubisoft Reflections makes sense of it by placing Tanner, who returns as protagonist, in a coma after a coming together with his long-time adversary, Jericho. Within that coma, Tanner learns that he can shift into any car across the city of San Francisco and embody the driver at that vehicle's wheel. Across the game's main story, Tanner uses this ability (unawares he's in a coma) to infiltrate Jericho's gang and embody his various henchman as they complete jobs for their ringleader. With these details alone, DSF is already the most story-focused pure driving experience in any game of recent times, but it's the variation that Ubisoft Reflections appears to be managing through all of this that's particularly striking.

During a couple of hours with the single-player, we experienced everything from car chases (as both cop and criminal) to illegal point-to-point street races, one mission where we embodied a journalist trying to capture footage of reckless driving, and another where we had to rescue a kidnapped woman in the boot of a car (the key was to take out the kidnapper's car with oncoming collisions by shifting to cars just in front of him). The gameplay hook of shifting really has allowed Ubi Reflections a wide range of tools to flesh out a discernible plot and the studio clearly hasn't shied away from the challenge. Each vehicle you shift into with either a side or story mission attached to it has discernible characters on-board with plentiful lines of dialogue and even minor back-stories to flesh out. There's the driving instructor who bullies the confidence out of his teenage student until Tanner embodies the young boy and scares the living daylights out of the instructor with some crazy driving antics, or the street racer who's trying to win some cash to send his younger brother to college. The scope and breadth of what's going on here is as fresh and invigorating as it is technically impressive.

Of course, no Driver game comes without its focus on American muscle car-style handling, and what better location to frame that than the series' original setting, San Francisco, where Steve McQueen's antics in a Ford Mustang have made the film Bullitt so enduring over the decades. True to the game's heritage, handling is weighty through the corners with a focus on handbrake turns and rung-out drifts. The steep hills of San Francisco make for plenty of ludicrously airborne moments as you chase down the game's various objectives, all of which is then latched onto a Burnout-style currency system. Driving into oncoming traffic, time spent jumping, and drifting all add to the amount of money available for buying new cars and parts, while 'boost' and 'ram' gameplay perks that emerge as the game goes on do manage to keep the driving experience fresh.

From what we've seen of the multiplayer, shifting lends itself as well to the gameplay here as it does in the story missions. Two modes were on offer during our hands-on, one of which was a variant of tag and the other your basic cops and robbers experience. In the tag mode, one player has a trophy and all other players have to steal it off them - the person who holds the trophy longest wins. Shifting has obvious advantages here as you scurry to shift into a vehicle as close as possible to the trophy holder and take them by surprise. The cops and robbers mode, on the other hand, pits numerous cop players against a single robber and, once again, using shifts strategically as a group of cops will soon have the target car pinned into a corner. Ubisoft Reflections has promised 19 multiplayer modes in total (11 online, the rest split-screen) which is a pretty tantalising prospect, although it'll be interesting to see how many of these turn out to be variants on a theme.

As the arcade driving game genre misfires on current-gen consoles, it's refreshing to have Driver San Francisco come in and fill that void with all kinds of refreshing ideas across its gameplay and storyline. There are genuinely shades of Burnout's previous-gen brilliance here.

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User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sat 27th Aug 2011 00:45, Post No: 6

shift is an original idea which tells you tht driver sf is completely different from all the other racers out there this is a great game u shouldnt let what ppl say or think stop u from buying this amazing new game in a long and creative series

User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Fri 26th Aug 2011 16:44, Post No: 5

@anonymous post#4

"game stores don't make nearly as much as developers make it out to be".

but as developers don't make a penny out of pre-owned, and they do lose a potential sale of a new game.

the is a proliforation of more and more DLC so developers CAN make some money and sooner rather than later games will cost £5 for 1 hours gameplay with an extra 40 hours gameplay for £40 unless the preowned sales eroding new sales is stopped.

User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 21st Jul 2011 16:48, Post No: 4

here's why things like passport and psn pass are a bad idea. DLC. lets say i think this game is worth $30, new it sells for $50, but its a few months old and used so i can buy it from gamestop or w.e for $30 go home and play it, few weeks down the line iv'e beaten the game gotten some more $ in my pocket and decided i want to get in on that DLC. i go and spend more money on the game, right?


well if i know it will cost $40 because i want the online, but i don't value it at $40, i'm not going to buy it, now in 4-6 more months maybe the game is down to $20, and with the pass it will cost me $30, that was reasonable before, but the games got 6 months worth of population erosion now, am i going to play a dead game no? am i going to buy DLC for a game i never bought?  obviously not. 


developers feel entitled to somethign that they really are not entitled too, they made there money at launch and on all the new copies sold. they see gamestop posting huge profits, but what they apparently don't realize/consider is the gamestop is a retail outlet with employees to pay, utilitie bills at there retail locations, the trade in purchase price themselves, and lastly a good retail location, which costs a pretty penny. so how is gamestop and other companies like them making so much money? it's qunatity. they mite make $8 on a used game sale after all is said and done, maybe even less. but when you're putting out games hundreds of thousands at a time every month at say $8 profit a sale, it adds up for sure. 


in the end i think people are going to stop buying used games as much, and as a result less people will buy the DLC, as they don't have the game, unless game stores are willing to drop the prices $10 to subsidize the online passes, but as i pointed out game stores don't make nearly as much as developers make it out to be.

User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Wed 04th May 2011 18:46, Post No: 3

I hope that the shift thingy wont be some kind of a gimmic which gets tired or repetative.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Reflections

User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Tue 30th Jun 2009 21:57, Post No: 2

show me proof and I'll believe you

User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Mon 26th Nov 2007 00:41, Post No: 1

Driver 5 is being made right now for the pc, it even has a site.