Demo Impressions: Driver San Francisco

Demo Impressions: Driver San Francisco

The streets of San Francisco are wrought with crime and only one detective is man enough to hop in a yellow Challenger and take to the streets. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a proper Driver title, but with all the hype this one is receiving, is it shaping up to be any good? I took the demo for a test drive and simply put… oh yea!

The events of Driver San Francisco take place a few months after the Istanbul shootout at the end of Driv3r. Yes, both Jericho and Tanner have survived and find themselves at odds once again in the Golden Gate City.  Jericho manages to get himself caught but quickly overpowers the guards transporting him and takes control of the truck. Tanner and his partner Jones are soon on the receiving end of full on assault in an alleyway. Tanner is unable to evade the prison transport vehicle driven by Jericho and ends up being broadsided by a tractor trailer. As a result of the crash, Tanner slips into a deep coma, where the entirety of the game will occur.

Despite the wild left turn and somewhat cerebral storytelling devices, the game itself is gearing up to change the image of the Driver series. A title that has generally been overshadowed by other, more popular sandbox-style driving games, Driver San Francisco may be the push the series needs to overcome the odds and gain a bit more attention.

Despite all the hype, it all comes to down to how the game looks and feels in action and thanks to a recent demo released on the PSN (and Xbox Live), gamers have a chance to kick the tires and see what’s under the hood of this impressive action-driving game.

What’s New

Several new gameplay mechanics have made their way into the game that seem to be a bit of an odd choice for a game that is generally grounded in some realm of reality. However, don’t forget that this game is taking place within Tanner’s coma. Tanner now has the ability to shift from his body into the body of someone else in a different car.  This is not an unlimited feature, though. The shift meter is recharged by doing stunts, power slides, big jumps, and driving into oncoming traffic. Think Burnout’s boost meter and you get the general idea.

To aid you in the process of recharging your shift meter is a boost system built into each of the 120 officially licensed cars. The boost recharges simply by you not using, so its pretty much always available. To activate it, simply press up on the left joystick.

The game is also going to feature over 200 missions that will span a total of 210 miles of San Francisco roadways, 19 multiplayer modes and a full set of online leaderboards.

Right… But How Does it Play?!

The demo lets you select from three different missions, each of which introduce you to a few of the various game modes, mission styles, and game mechanics you will encounter throughout the game.

The first mission, The Escapist, has you simply trying to prove to Jones that you actually posses the power to shift from one body to another while driving. Obviously Jones does not believe and you proceed to find a way to show him it is true. You are immediately met with a red sports car barreling through traffic and decide now is the best time to prove a point.

As you speed around following this sports car, you are introduced to the concept of quick shifting. A press of the R1 button activates Shift Mode, which was inspired by Google Earth as the game slows down, pulls out, and gives you control of a cursor with which to select your shift target. The left joystick moves the cursor while the right joystick rotates the camera and allows you to shift into cars that are around corners. Once you’ve selected your target, a quick press of the X button shoots you into the other car.

The mechanic is quite intuitive and the control scheme seems easy enough to do, even in the tightest of situations. However, you do not always have to select your shifting target.

The second mission places you smack dab in the middle of a street race where you control a father/daughter race team who is hell-bent of securing 1st and 2nd place. Your mission is to make sure that happens. There are only a total of four cars in the race, but quick shifting is essential to making sure that both cars make it to the finish line in time. Pressing R1 in quick shift situations will instantly transport you to the other controllable character without so much as missing a beat.

This mechanic works exceptionally well in these racing situations because you may find that you miss a turn only to go careening into a wall and suddenly plummet from first to last. Luckily, your AI controlled partner is still running with the pack and you can seamlessly shift into that car and let the AI take over for the car that is struggling.

A combination of well-timed shifts and a liberal amount of boosting will generally be enough to get you to the finish line in once piece, provided you don’t end up as someone else’s hood ornament.

Once you’ve mastered the intricacies of shifting and boosting, you are dropped into the third and final mission where you are tasked with transporting a client to his destination, all while evading the cops. Unfortunately, you do not have any other cars to shift into so this time you are on your own. Apparently, the city of San Francisco places a rather large emphasis on police enforcement as each cop drives an insanely over-powered sports car of some sort. Corvettes are mainly the ones you will find chasing you in this mission with a few escalades sprinkled in for some meaty flavor.

Evading the cops quite similar to the mechanic established in GTAIV. You must simply outrun the cops and remain outside their visual radius for a total of 10 seconds. You can be 1 inch or 1 mile outside that radius; it doesn’t matter.

As for controls, I was expecting the game to have some rather floaty car controls, but after a few seconds of figuring things out, I was sliding through corners and boosting through busy intersections with ease. Unlike GTAIV, the cars don’t generally feel like they are constantly hydroplaning or weighted down by a ton of cement.

Each of the four driveable cars – Dodge Challenger,  Nissan GTR, Audi R8, and Chevy Camaro – all felt unique and distinctly different from each other in terms of speed, handling, and overall performance. Each car is beautifully detailed inside and out so whether you prefer the comfort of the chase cam or the intensity of the cockpit cam, you are going to have a good bit of eye candy to look at. This game is truly going to be a car enthusiasts wet dream.

The overall damage modeling is all fine and well, but is nothing entirely out of the ordinary. Brushes with other cars will swap bits of paint while full force, head on collisions will result in a rather devastating amount of damage. I was unable to run any of the cars to failure, but then again each mission had a very short time limit in which you could operate. Either way, the damage modeling is quite well-done.

My only complaint so far is the control choice for the boost feature. Pressing up on the left joystick makes accurate steering almost impossible as you must keep the stick pressed firmly forward in order to use the boost. Although, this may be an intentional feature put in place to make you pick and choose the best times to use the boost. Do you risk boosting around a corner and crashing into the wall or wait until you have a clear straight away and a solid shot at taking the lead?

Oh, and if you are of the mindset where driving on the sidewalks is your thing, know that you will be entirely unable to mow down any pedestrians. It appears as though the denizens of the city have all been genetically modified to have a stellar environmental and situational awareness that allows them to jump out of harm’s way at the absolute last second. Bummer.

 

Multiplayer Impressions

After waiting for quite some time to find a match, I was dropped into a quick changing dast-paced multiplayer lobby that was incredibly entertaining. The demo featured a total of five different modes that really showed off how much fun the online for a racing game can be

Jump

As the name implies, this mode revolves entirely around jumping your car and racking up the furthest total distance compared to the other players. The match generally takes place on a hill street or one loaded with jumps and ramp trucks. Make it quick though because you only have so much time.

Trailblazer

This mode was by far the most difficult and perhaps the least fun of the five. You are tasked with trailing a marked car which is emitting two yellow streams of light from its rear end. Your goal is to stay in contact with those yellow lines and rack up points for doing so. Whoever reaches 100 points first is declared the winner. I only played a few matches of this, but the difficulty level was quite high. The marked car was incredibly sporadic and you were battling with other cars for time in the ridiculously small streams of light.

Speed

Again, as the name implies, this mode is dedicated to driving as fast as humanly possible for the duration of the match. Whoever comes out with highest average speed is the winner. Pretty straightforward and insanely short.

Tag – Tag is by far my absolute favorite mode in of the available choices. This mode is essentially a gigantic game of schoolyard tag, but with less crying and more sports cars. A random car at the beginning is marked and whoever touches it first becomes ‘it’ and it is your goal to smash into them and grab the tag. Once you have the tag you want to high tail it out of there and make for the hills. The longer you hold the tag, the more points you rack up. Sound easy? Think again. Remember, each player can shift into other random cars at will and interrupt your escape route. You have to constantly be on edge and on the lookout for bolts of lightning in the distance as they indicate a car that has just been taken over by another player. If you find yourself at on the other side of the world from the action, a quick press of the R1 button will teleport your to a selection of cars nearest the tag. Be careful though, because you may get stuck driving a garbage can on wheels or a semi without the slightest hint of speed. Again, the most addicting and fun to play game mode seen so far!

 

All in all, the demo is a fairly short, yet incredibly telling sign of what is to come in the retail release set for next month. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous and the voice acting is up there with some of the best in the industry, thus far. Car details, the city’s atmosphere, and character details are all sure to lend a very helping hand toward making this game quite a solid entry into the Driver series.

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