Driver: San Francisco is the long awaited return to the classic driving franchise “Driver” and is set amongst the rolling hills and luscious Bay Area of San Francisco. Who’d of guessed it? This latest iteration of Driver, though, is a little different. The game’s protagonist, Tanner, is in a coma after an accident chasing the game’s antagonist, Jericho, which gives the developers (Ubisoft Reflections) a perfect excuse for the game’s main mechanic. Shift.
Shift is unlike anything ever seen in a racing game. Without trying to sound like a marketing guy for Ubisoft, it completely changes the way you play racing games. You see, Shift allows you to literally ‘shift’ into another car and therefore inhabit the person driving the car, opening up a whole host of gameplay opportunities.
In this singleplayer demo there are three different missions for you to play, with the first (Prove It) introducing the Shift mechanic to you along with the in-game version of San Francisco (a compact version of the real thing featuring multiple districts all in close proximity to one another). The second (Team Colours) has you take control of a son and daughter racing team and aim to get a 1-2 finish and encourages a very unique style of racing. I found myself rapidly Shifting between both cars to maintain a constant lead with at least one of the cars, which led to a very frantic and very different race to that I’m used to in say Need For Speed, but a very enjoyable race at that. The final mission in this demo is called The Escapist and this time has you Shift into one of Jericho’s men (remember Jericho, he’s the bad guy! *boos*) in order to gain some more intel for your ongoing investigation. This mission was particularly fun as you’re given an Audi R8 to blast around San Francisco in which allowed for a lot of high speed altercations, huge jumps both up and down the famous hills of San Fran and a lot of opportunity to bust out some mega drifts with a bit of practice!
Aside from the missions though, there is one other aspect of Driver: San Francisco that really stands out from this singleplayer demo- and that’s the movie-like cutscenes that provide amazing facial animation. Not quite L.A. Noire level, but go one level down and you have these. I can see these really bringing some personality into the story, something racing games are in real need of.
The demo is available to download now and left me really looking forward to the second demo which focuses on the much-touted multiplayer mode, which releases August 16.