Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview – San Francisco Short Stories

Richard Walker

Ever since seeing Ryan O'Neal systematically disassemble an orange Mercedes in The Driver and ever since watching Barry Newman tearing through the desert in a 1970 Dodge Challenger as Kowalski, we've been hooked on car chase movies. Two Lane Blacktop, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, The French Connection and Bullitt have all showed how great car chases should be done and the Driver franchise has always carved its own niche in open-world wheel-spinning speed. With recent Driver games failing to live up to expectation however, Driver: San Francisco has a lot riding on it, but following our latest hands-on, it looks like the series might be back on track, despite its somewhat hokey set-up.

You're John Tanner once again, on the trail of Jericho, who having been sentenced for shooting Tanner in the back at the end of Driver 3, manages to break free from his shackles using an acid pellet while being transported in a prison wagon. Chasing Jericho in the game's signature yellow and black Challenger, Tanner finds himself bearing the brunt of an impact in a nasty crash, leaving him in a coma. That's where your suspension of disbelief really gets stretched to near-breaking point, as you soon find that Tanner is blissfully unaware that he's in hospital and having an out of body experience that enables him to 'shift' between any car he likes, doing a 'Quantum Leap' of sorts, where he inhabits the body of various drivers.

If you can swallow that, then there's a lot of fun to be had in seamlessly zooming out with a tap of A and floating around San Francisco looking for a car to swoop into and possess. Each vehicle has satisfying, robust handling in this current build too, which bodes well for the finished product and there's a whole variety of different tasks to complete within its open-world San Francisco setting, based upon an accurately mapped recreation of the city, meaning you can live out your Dirty Harry and Bullitt fantasies, should you so wish. There's a fantastic selection of licensed vehicles on offer too, from iconic 70s muscle cars to modern saloons, vans, trucks, supercars and much more.

The game's central 'shift' conceit enables Driver: San Francisco to tell a whole range of stories, as we soon find out. As soon as Tanner enters his coma, he finds himself taking the role of Ray the ambulance driver, chattering with his buddy in the cab while Tanner is in the back. Don't think about it too much... It'll make your head hurt. Anyway, these conversations are played out as neat little talking heads superimposed onto the HUD, with Tanner on one side and your passenger on the other. Driver: SF does a lot of this, combining CG cut scenes and its film grain infused in-game footage to great effect, with split-screen edits and other stylish touches. So much so, that it's impossible to see the joins making for some brilliantly cinematic moments. Driver: SF seems to have its own line in tongue-in-cheek humour with its in-car chats, and some of the situations you'll find yourself randomly horning in on are a bit silly. Examples include Tanner assuming the role of a mother driving her whiny teenage son around or a guy taking a new car for a test drive.

These are just vignettes from around the city of course, and there's real story to be found if you look hard enough. One such instance involves jumping into the driver's seat of one of Jericho's goons on the way to a meeting, being chased by cops. If you fail to shake the cops and turn up late to the meet, there are dire consequences for the stupid lackeys, and Tanner won't discover the essential information he needs to find Jericho. Or rather, the coma version of Jericho... We're as confused as you are. Forget all that for a second though. There are other activities to engage in dotted around San Fran, including performing stunts for the local KEOC news, completing Dares like speeding for a certain distance before time elapses to gain unlockable upgrades, like a ram move performed by holding the left bumper to charge before releasing it, or the enticingly named 'Thrill Cam'. You could even conceivably lose hours just engaging in police chases, shifting between pursuing cop cars to nail the fleeing crook.

Completing activities like these also grants willpower (WP) points, which enable you to purchase garages where you can store your acquired cars and fast travel from garage to garage. The more cars, garages and other assets you own, the more you earn too, so spending is its own reward. WP points are given out quite generously in our demo, so we manage to buy ourselves a Dodge Challenger SRT8 and an unmarked Gran Torino with a cherry siren on the top (Harry Callahan, eat your heart out). A cursory look through the other vehicles on offer reveal that you'll eventually have access to an extensive selection of vehicles, from buses to garbage trucks, classic 70s muscle and even contemporary greats like the Pagani Zonda or McLaren F1. Other marques include AMC, Audi, Ford, Maserati, Lamborghini, Nissan, Volkswagen and Lancia, which shows you'll have a decent variety of cars to keep you going.

Driver: San Francisco seems to be quite a departure from the series' more tightly structured story and action, but it also looks as though it'll be a positive step in the right direction, even if that direction is markedly different from what's gone before. With it's recreation of San Francisco running at a super-smooth 60 frames per-second and some smart tricks under the hood, Reflections should be looking at a return to form for its wayward franchise, even if the shift stuff does take some getting used to as an idea. Leave your reservations about the game taking place within Tanner's comatose mind at the door however and Driver: San Francisco ought to be both a fun and refreshing driving experience. Lets just hope that all that shift and coma nonsense eventually makes sense by the end...

Driver: San Francisco is shifting towards an August 30th, 2011 release.

  • Wants Somes Gameplays Froms This Games.
  • Memories of playing tjese games on ps1 during school holidays, cant wait to see gameplay footage
  • Wow can't wait to play this game. I live in San Francisco it'll be fun to drive around the city in a video game.
  • Want this game!!! Driver 1 and 2 were some of the first games good games I bought on ps1 that werent all cartoony kids games like ape escape.
  • I had to try out the previous Driver games for the nostalgia. I'm gonna buy Driver: San Fran. Even if it sucks or no, I have them all! Bwahaha!
  • looks good! I played Driv3r for ages when I was younger and had a ps2. it was probably my favorite game at the time, although I never actually played the story. I just mucked about in free roam ;)
  • I really hope Driver makes its well deserved comeback with this game.
  • Sounds like great fun! :-))))))
  • Driver 1 and 2 were great games on the PS1, love it if it was like them.
  • i'm with #6, i think this'll be great for just tearing around the city causing shenanigans.
  • Im more than likely just going to rent this, but it looks pretty good so far!
  • I might buy it. If it looks as good as that screenshot and has an accurate enough handling model to make it fun to free roam, it'd definitely keep me interested as one of those games I just throw in and drive around for a bit.
  • wow 2 thumbs down for just wanting to see game play footage. It all sounds fine but I also want to see how this game really looks in game. @2 ya i remember this game from the good old days.
  • Hey Ubisoft... WHERE THE FUCK IS GHOST RECON ? I will continue to write this same exact post EVERY time i see news from Ubisoft and it has nothing to do with Ghost Recon. Its been a year and no news or anything. All there has been is delays upon delays. What... wa it a total scam just to get people to buy Splinter Cell Conviction? Cause thats all it seems to be anymore. I WANT NEWS YOU FUCKS !
  • @14 there most likely waiting until this years E3 to give out new info so calm down man.
  • Paralleled lines was pretty poor, but im gonna give this one a blast but they out of body thing sounds kinda stupid, but im not gonna be totally negative about it until ive played it.
  • I hope for the line "I don't know no Rudy" to return from the first game. It made me lol. It looks fun though.
  • Sounds like it might a have a shitty story. Still treating it as arcade racer it sounds fun enough. Would like too se more of gameplay myself!
  • I haven't played any Driver games since the first one on PS1! That was so much fun! I never made it past the 3rd level xD
  • i liked the 2nd driver game on the xbox 1 really fun but traded can't wait too try this one
  • this game looks amazing, cant wait until it comes out, its going to be a must buy!!!
  • I thinks this nog gonna be for me :(
  • I'm getting it because of the '70 challenger, I want one when I'm older, just like in America. But I'll be going down to Morrisons where they're driving their Golf GTIs listening to umm... Hey Mambo... "Sup boys" "where'd you get that, a cereal box" "Where'd you get your car, japan, ooooohhh burn butch!" Then we race around the car park and then I'll sat "oooooohhh, burn botch!"
  • @14 I think ya need to calm down junior. If you actually looked there is news on this site. OT: Never played a Driver game, but this sounds intersting enough. Although just reading the synopsis of the story makes my head hurt.
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