Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview - Mind Games

Driver: San Francisco will let you change lanes...and change identities. Get the details in our hands-on report.

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Drawing inspiration from such classics as Bullit and The French Connection, as well as more contemporary titles, such as the Bourne series, Driver: San Francisco is aiming to instill some of Hollywood's hard-nosed cop bravado into its action racing formula. Recently, we got the chance to go behind the wheel of this latest entry in the Driver series alongside series creator Martin Edmondson of developer Ubisoft Reflections. While previous entries in this series have dabbled in the realm of third-person combat, our demo of Driver: San Francisco forwent such extraneous features and focused on making the driving as fun and wild as possible.

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Our session with Driver San Francisco picked up with the continuing story of the series--months after the events that took place in the awkwardly titled DRIV3R. The series' protagonist, on-again, off-again police officer Tanner, had finally succeeded in putting the villain Jericho behind bars. Jericho's sentencing was close at hand, but as we soon discovered, not everything would go according to plan. In brief, Jericho hatched a daring scheme involving an acid tablet, a rocket launcher, and a local news helicopter to make his escape, but not before forcing Tanner into a deadly automotive wreck. After regaining consciousness, Tanner discovered that this event had yielded unexpected results: he could now leave his body and posses other drivers on the San Francisco streets.

With the press of a button we could depart our mortal shell and take flight above the city. From here we could glide around using the two analog sticks (our demonstration was on an Xbox 360) and possess the driver of any vehicle we wanted. In the beginning we were limited to a very intimate view of the city. However, as our powers developed, we were eventually able to pull the camera back to reveal the entire city and instantly jump anywhere we wanted. As Edmondson noted, including the ability to quickly hop from one side of this massive city to the next in mere moments has been no small technical feat. To pull this off, the team at Ubisoft Reflections has forgone the use of any middleware in favor of building all its own tech from the ground up--and keeping it running at a smooth 60 frames per second no less.

We're not sure what happens to Tanner's body when he leaves, but that's neither here nor there.
We're not sure what happens to Tanner's body when he leaves, but that's neither here nor there.

It's worth noting that the re-created area of San Francisco encompasses roughly 200 miles worth of road. However, if you're hoping to drive by and spot your house, that probably isn't going to happen. It's not an inch-by-inch re-creation. Many of the city's major landmarks and attractions are there, but the developers have taken some creative liberties with the spaces in between them. From what we've experienced, in order to accurately recapture the San Francisco driving experience, there would need to be a few more gridlocked traffic jams, narrower streets, and at least one yahoo on a bicycle pulling out in front of you every five minutes.

We soon discovered that being able to shift from one person's body to another at will opens up a brave new world of possibilities for ruining someone's day. In one instance, we swapped bodies with a businessman who was test-driving a new sports car alongside an obnoxious salesman. We then took this dealer on a wild ride through the Financial District before drifting down the infamous hairpin turns of Lombard Street (and maybe we banged up the car a bit along the way). Another mission saw us aiding an upstart television crew looking to capture the city's craziest drivers--how convenient. By swapping between bodies we put on a show involving high-flying jumps, head-on collisions, and drifting through medians.

Completing these missions gradually unlocks additional story missions for Tanner and also earns you willpower, which is the game's currency and is used to purchase additional vehicles and other unlockables. If this all sounds crazy, don't worry, it is. You remember that car crash Tanner was in earlier? Turns out it didn't go so well, and now our hero's body lies comatose in a hospital bed back in reality. Edmondson was tight-lipped about how the events in Tanner's mind will influence what's happening in the real world, but he did hint that Tanner's road to recovery was linked to his actions internally.

Tanner and his partner encapsulate the classic buddy cop relationship.
Tanner and his partner encapsulate the classic buddy cop relationship.

We found that Driver: San Francisco felt more akin to Burnout Paradise or Test Drive Unlimited 2 than, for instance, a Forza game. Excessive use of the emergency brake was a must to wrangle the game's loud and heavy muscle cars around the road, and the game was very forgiving when it came to clipping (or crashing into) other drivers. The vehicles also showed an impressive amount of damage modeling, epically since the game features roughly 140 licensed cars. Edmondson wasn't ready to divulge any more details on multiplayer, other than to say that it is going to be a "big element" of the game and will implement the shift feature. He also noted that local split-screen play will be included. You can find Driver: San Francisco this August for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, and Mac.

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ryan6strings

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My 4 year-old daughter has been playing the demo of this game for about an hour now. It's her first real experience with video games. So I hope its not crap because it might destroy any future love for gaming she might have brewing.

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Carton_of_milk

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The driving looks awesome, and it hurts that they mention TDU 2 when the driving in THAT game was so completely awful compared to the first one. I just wish Ubisoft would pickup the Test Drive Unlimited license, since i think after the disastrous last one it's probably dead in the water. Didn't Driver used to be Activision too?

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NighTmarE_evo

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Driver: The Downfall.

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cjtopspin

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@linebacker2: I totally agree. That game was actually fun. Then the "need to emulate the GTA series" bug hit and developers started churning out mediocre video garbage.

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vasgko2

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"Tanner discovered that he could now leave his body and posses other drivers on the San Francisco streets". sh*t. what the h?

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linebacker2

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Still think they never bettered Driver One back from 1999. The graphics may have been stone age but the gameplay and sheer fun of tearing around some of America's most iconic cities made for hours of pleasure. It was certainly better than the dreadful Driv3r **==

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ZachariahDvX

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Im sorry but.. coma special abilities or no coma special abilities, i wouldnt dare change out of that bad A@# 70' Dodge Challenger R/T..

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phillkillv2

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I LOVED Driver back then. But ever since Driv3r came out it just went downhill. I hope they redeem themselve. Also liscensed cars in a free roam games sounds fun , Especially when there are 133 cars. I love how they are focusing more on cars.

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KILLZoneKILLall

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Really so if I go head on into an armored truck.. I suppose instead of hoping to get some sweet cash, UH apparently I'll get possession POWERS. GTF OUT. This is a stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuupid ass concept. Get real. NO REALLY GET REAL ubisoft.

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warhawk-geeby

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@LoadedTuna Hahaha.. The game developers obviously didn't think about that slight flaw :p

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warhawk-geeby

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Driver was all about smahing through white picket fences in the old mustang whilst evading the cops.. then looking out for the little radar symbols on the mini-map. Times have changed and now this looks NOTHING like driver. That aside though I will say that this looks like quite a decent game (just block out the fact it's not driver as we remember). Looks like a whole lotta fun anyway which is whats games should be. One thing I will say is they should lose the red tail-light beams.. They look out of place, and if you lose the car your after that's your own stupid fault be being crap at a game :p Things like this make games too simple.

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deactivated-5bab80860fac3

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It looks crap. I'm sure it won't disappoint since most people with a brain expect it to be another failure. The possession detracts from the game. The first Driver game was great. All the sequels were crap. Why do they still bother?

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huy11324

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whats with the possession crap? i was looking forward to this game before seeing this video..

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SgtBallou

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I'll try it. "more like burnout or TDU" thats a good thing for me.

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VagelisXtremeGr

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This game should be good !!! I will wait for it !

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UnRelentingAlly

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Possession ehhhhh *takes off glasses and rubs eyes*

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xboxgameman

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Eh? Somdting hapdend in the translationer! No to be confused with the apathetic appearance of logistical manifestation.

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StingrayX5

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FINALLY...Tanner is BACK!

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stlouiscardinal

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Whats up with all the European cars? Those aren't seen in San Fran.

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ThePrion

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FINALLY, something at least partially original coming from a AAA company. I can't wait to see how this turns out, especially since they have developed all their own code for it. But I won't get worked up because I always, always, get let down (ahem... spore).

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XsickGamerX10

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Does not look that good.

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termadoyle

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Something's telling me 7/10. >_>

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ShortCutToHell

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Need some kind of exorcist for this game. :D

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itchyflop

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hmmmm??? swapping bodies ??? weird!!!

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SicklySunStorm

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I want this to be great, I really do..... standing firmly in the middle on this until we see the full game. It could literally go completely one way or the other and be either complete shash or a new free-roam standard

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Dasha8su

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I was all excited about this game until i heard the part about Possessing people. You people just don't get it, we have a flood of cheap hybrid games with ridiculous mystical powers, why mix that with a fun and functional formula that was Driver. I still haven't played a driving game as smooth and satisfying as Driver 1 and 2, beyond that failed.

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CraigNinten

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body switching, sounds incredible, can't wait to see this

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TOBIAS_SAIBOT

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An interesting concept. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this.

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Philly04

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Wow! I never thought they would make another driver. I wanna see what this is going to be now that ubi got the rights

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LoadedTuna

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why don't you just posses the person evading you?

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Cyrus-thevirus-

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hopefully it will be good...id hate to think it will be like the last ones, Driv3r my god there were sometimes flying cars in that game....it had the making of a great game but they didnt put enough effort in it...so hopefully we wont be seeing flying cars this time round!!!

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usermikey

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Look cool. Dam there are already so many good racing games.. GT5, Blur, NFSHotPursuit, Shift 2.....

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1valiantknight

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I'm not huge on racing games but I'm really looking forward to this.Everything I've heard about it so far sounds very promising and the ability to shift to other vehicles is just the kind of twist I love.

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shanethewolf

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The possessing other drivers feature is dumb!! It's just their way of saying "We're too lazy to include a feature to get out of the car and hijack other vehicles".

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Razer123Vinc

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n1ce

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Mercadeo

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pathetic... driver just gets worst and worst... i used to like driver a lot

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Agreb91

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I am kinda excited for this new Driver game. It is also interesting to see all the licensed Dodge cares.

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Virtual_Erkan

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wow licensed cars that's good

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bumbum1991

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Look promising, but there is no shooting, really?

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master_zidane

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Always liked Dick Tanner as a character.....Hope they do justice to him by making a worthy successor to the first 2 entries in the series.

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anacardo

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It looks cool on first sight. But... just a minor question... judging from the screens and the videos, judging by the width of the roads, the kind of buildings, the lighting.. why in the world does San Francisco looks like a mixture between New York and Los Angeles??? Sure I can see the bay the golden gate and the transamerica tower... but... mmh..

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Malscyllis

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i hope the replay duration is a lot longer. since all i did in driver 3 was go on a gta mass killing spree, then made a mini movie with it. it was very entertaining showing the cops', my view and the sky view. it was like a real movie maker in a game.

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meke186

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THis game looks so awesome in my opinion. the one type of game i actually look at graphics in is racing games. Because yoU are only using cars. developers should try to make the cars looks impeccable since you are in them all the time. But this games graphics dont amaze but the concept is so awesome. I want this game bad

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NighTmarE_evo

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Feels more like an arcade game, I thought the Driver series focused more on realistic handling and vehicle destruction. This is NOT a Driver game.

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Emre_R_

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I like him :)

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MrPepino000

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Sounds like an intresting game! Can't wait to try it out!!!

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phv86

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What the hell are those red lines behind the cars supposed to be???? i dont see any red lines when im out driving... ffs make them disappear or im not getting this, and i played the old ones

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electronic_eye

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Oh and major props to LOCAL split screen!

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electronic_eye

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Never played any in the series but looks like it could be fun. SF is at least a great place to drive, having lived there for a little while. I like the open world aspects and this shifting seems like a pretty novel idea. For me, it'll come down to how accurate and responsive the controls are and yea, how good the story is; though to have an actual, cohesive story in any racing game is a def. plus.

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Attack_Dog

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I'd rather "Shift" to a car, and keep drifting corners! Delorean!