Driver San Francisco Impressions and Multiplayer Hands-On

[UPDATE] Tanner returns and takes to the streets of SF in the latest iteration of Driver.

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If you're a fan of the original Driver (which many consider to be one of the first, proper open-world 3D games), then you'll be happy to know that the cast of that game returns in the latest installment, Driver San Francisco. As the name suggests, this Driver takes place in a slightly modified version of the San Francisco Bay Area, including the city itself, as well as locations in Marin County to the north. All told, the game features over 200 miles worth of roads, which according to Ubisoft, makes it one of the largest open-world games to date. Indeed, it looks impressive when the camera pulls back to reveal the entire map, but things at street level are equally impressive. All of the major landmarks of San Francisco are there, including the Ferry Building and--of course--the notorious hills of San Francisco that have served as backdrops for so many excellent movies.

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As for the gameplay, Driver still focuses heavily on the thrill of the chase and rushing through the streets at a breakneck pace. Fans of the series will be glad to know that (for the first time) Driver will feature licensed cars to do exactly that. We spotted a DeLorean and were told that Fiat will also be represented, but those are just a small sampling, and you'll be sure to see muscle cars equally represented. But the interesting thing about Driver is that you can drive all sorts of vehicles within seconds without stepping on pavement. How is that possible (potential spoilers ahead, though it seems this occurs at the beginning of the game)? The answer is Tanner is in a coma and he's doesn't even know it.

So, in some ways, this incarnation of San Francisco is a complete figment of his imagination--or at least it seems that way. As such, you can make Tanner jump from vehicle to vehicle with a simple press of a button. Once you do that, you can float around until you've decided on your next vehicle, press the button again, and there you have it--a brand new car. It's called shifting in the game, and when you do it, you not only change vehicles, but you may also encounter a mission. For example, you can jump into a cop car that might be in the middle of a high-speed pursuit. The cool thing is you can either try to take the perpetrator down with the cop car or you can switch to a bigger vehicle in oncoming traffic and ram the offending vehicle head-on.

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This idea of taking on the "identities" of different passengers in their cars extends beyond just police officers. Many of the drivers in the city have lives in that they're going about their daily business. In some instances, when you jump into their cars, you'll get a mission designed around that person's life that you can choose to complete. We'll have more on Driver San Francisco before it is released late this year, so be sure to check back soon for impressions of the game's multiplayer mode.

[UPDATE]: In our visit back to Ubisoft's E3 booth, we had a chance to try a little bit of multiplayer in a specific mode called Trailblazer. In this mode, there's a lead car that leaves two, brightly colored streaks in its wake. The objective is to stay on the lead car and basically shadow him (or draft him) by staying inside those lines. Whomever manages to score 100 points by successfully drafting the lead car wins. What makes this mode a bit more interesting is the fact that you can use the shift feature. If the lead car manages to shake you or an opposing player rams you off the road, you can shift out of your car and choose a different one a little closer to the lead car. This adds a bit of strategy to the whole mode while simultaneously making it less frustrating if you get knocked to the back of the pack.

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