Demo Impressions: Driver: San Francisco

Early next month, Tanner and the Driver series come speeding back to consoles.  The first Driver was excellent, if challenging, but always fun.  The other games were not.  In an attempt to revamp the series, Ubisoft and Reflections have decided to try their hand at the Driver series again, but this time adding a new storyline and a new gimmick.  And they just released a demo to let us decide if it is any good.

I downloaded the demo on the Xbox 360 with fingers crossed.  The first game was one of my favorites on the original PlayStation (I still have my copy on my shelf, and have even bought the iPhone port).  It was an exciting game that let me recreate the best car chases of all time, and make a few of my own.  I tried Driver 2 and Driver 3, and they just weren’t the same, filled with poor gameplay choices and glitches.  But after watching the opening trailer for the newest game, Driver: San Francisco this weekend, I got my hopes up.

The demo provides three missions to show off three aspects of the game.  Upon entering my first mission, I was reminded that Driver: San Francisco has a new gimmick, one I’m still uncertain if I like.  It is a new feature called “Shift,” where you press a button and you can literally “Shift” Tanner, the main character of the Driver series, into other driver’s bodies and control their cars.  The entire concept is ludicrous, but the game plays it off with such a straight face that it actually becomes a somewhat amusing concept.  Still, the gameplay works as you shift into other cars and take control.  Somehow, Tanner’s car ghosts the car you enter and keeps pace as you race around the city in this poor other soul’s body.  The mission was amusing, but one thing stood out, no matter which car I entered, the cars all seemed a bit floaty, and this would go on to plague the remainder of the demo.  Still, the missions given were not really affected by the somewhat annoying turning styles of the cars and they were all beatable without any major frustration.

The second mission in the demo focuses on “Rapid Shift” and required Tanner to come in both first and second place in a four car race.   This was the best mission of the three, but also the one where the poor controls were most evidenced.  It was a concept that should not have worked as well as it did.  In this mission, you shift back and forth between two racers on the same team through a long race across the city.  Regardless of which car you’re in, a new Nissan GT-R or a new Camaro, each car handled relatively poorly, and drifting was nothing short of a pain, as the hand break button just did not behave as I expected it to, leaving me to cut my turns much wider than I wanted to.  Maybe this was a failure on my part, but I’ve never had problems with handbreak turns in Need for Speed games, Test Drive Unlimited 2, Grid or racing sims like Gran Turismo or Forza.  Still, the mission, despite its crazy premise, was actually a lot of fun, and the car you weren’t driving at the time’s AI was actually not as bad and stuck to the track and held their position relatively well.  It was a pleasant surprise, and if the controls are tightened up, it could prove to be a real blast.

The final mission was the one I was hoping for, where you are put in the drivers seat of a getaway vehicle and told to escape the police.  This mission was fun, though it was also marred by the questionable controls.  This mission however is pretty much exactly what I wanted from a Driver game.  It was to the point and was just simply “escape the cops, get to the hideout and do it all in the time limit.”  That is really all we need for a Driver game to be fun.  While some variety never hurts, this is the core of what made the first game great, and it was awesome to see it return, especially (thankfully) with no option to get out of the car.

So the demo for Driver: San Francisco had some really pleasant surprises and the game actually seems like it has a lot of potential for some cheesy, B Movie-esq, car chase fun.  If they tighten up the controls, it could possibly be a nice way to warm up for the impending fall gaming season.  We will see when it is released on September 6 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii.

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Scott Lipowitz

Scott just graduated from Law School. But he didn't let that stop him from gaming, a hobby that he has stuck with ever since he received his NES at age 5. His favorites are Metal Gear Solid, OutRun, Half-Life, Deus Ex, Ratchet and Clank and most recently, the Mass Effect series.

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