E3 2010: Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview

By Jordan Douglas on June 21, 2010, 3:40PM EDT

The Driver series has a long and storied history, which includes the distinction of being the first ever open world driving game. Ubisoft eventually acquired the rights to publish Driver from Atari after 2006's Parallel Lines. A new iteration had been long rumored across the internet, and Ubisoft finally unveiled the new game this past week at E3. Driver: San Francisco puts players back into John Tanner's shoes, but in ways you might not have expected.

Driver: San Francisco is set a few months after the events of Driv3r, featuring both John Tanner and Charles Jericho. At the start of the game, Tanner is seriously injured in a car crash which leaves him in a comatose state. However, this doesn't stop him from being Driver's protagonist, as San Francisco takes place inside Tanner's so called "out of body experience." This provides him with certain otherworldly abilities that reflect his dream-like state.

The most striking ability Tanner gains due to his coma is the ability to take the form of other drivers in his perceived world. This new mechanic (dubbed "Shift") allows players to seamlessly transition into any other car in the game. It's very comparable to certain elements of the Matrix - namely, Agent Smith's ability to take the form of any person plugged into the system. Shift works so well because there's no down time when transitioning between drivers. In addition, players will quickly get the ability to pull up a satellite view of the entire city and shift into any of the thousands of AI controlled cars.

Shift also effects the game's mission structure. Once you take control of another person's car, you inherit some of their memories which will frequently become missions. Ubisoft Reflections (the development team) stated their inspiration for Driver's missions as being classic Hollywood car chases and cinematic moments. For example, one missions consisted of a high speed chase along a busy, downtown street. Shift allowed me to take control of an 18 wheeler further up the road and use it to create a massive, head-on collision with the target.

Based on what we saw, Driver: San Francisco definitely looks promising. Many of the staples fans have come to expect are intact and the new Shift mechanic makes for some great fun. The seamless nature of Shift made it easy to mess around with and helped create some interesting situations. Look for more on Driver: San Francisco as its release approaches, currently slated for fall 2010.

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