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Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview

Driver: San Francisco, developed by Ubisoft Reflections,
puts you in the role of John Tanner, undercover cop and protagonist from nearly
every Driver game in the series. The
open world setting is San Francisco, as the title notes, and is complete with
the city’s landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Driver: San Francisco’s main, and important, new feature is
the “Shift” ability.  Shift is a psychic ability in which Tanner is able to “possess” the
body of any driver, and control them at will. This power will no doubt play a
large role in the final game, as all three missions in the demo require the
player to utilize Shift in order to complete them successfully.

By pressing the “A”
button, the camera zooms out to a birds-eye view, and time slows to a crawl.
Dragging a cursor, the player can choose any car they want to Shift into
(except police cars, and for good reason: it would make cop chases way too
easy). Cars that Tanner needs to Shift into are marked on the mini-map at the
top of the screen, and there is a set time limit to find them.

While the Shift
ability is unique and entertaining, it does feel a little out of place for this
type of game, let alone the Driver series
as a whole. How Tanner got this ability was very loosely addressed in the demo. Hopefully it will be explained in greater detail in the full game.

The prominent
position that Shift has on the controller, the “A” button, is perhaps too
prominent. I found myself accidentally hitting it at inopportune moments, such
as during a chase scene, and as a result becoming cornered by the cops. Also, I
am accustomed to driving games using the A button as an E-brake, and many times
I entered into Shift mode when instead I meant to slide into a sharp turn.

Nevertheless, this
ability has high entertainment value, so much so that at times I found myself
ignoring the mission and instead Shifting into any random civilian car I came upon. Some
humorous dialogue moments ensue when Tanner Shifts into a car that has another
passenger.  While Tanner has no idea what
the other person is talking about, the passenger is completely oblivious that
their driver has just been possessed, and continues their conversation. 

Every car you
encounter and drive in Driver: San
Francisco
is fully licensed. There are a variety of cars in the game, from
a Ford GT40, to a Dodge Neon, and even a 1960s Ford tow truck. The cars all have a
cockpit view, complete with a detailed dashboard that is unique to each car.

Each car
handles differently, but I found that every car controlled slightly float-y.  Cars either had a hard time turning or would
spin out easily due to abrupt maneuvers. However, if you’ve played Grand Theft
Auto IV, you will have no problem here. But unlike GTAIV, pedestrians actually dive
out of the way when you charge your vehicle towards them.  The game is rated Teen, after all.

Two of the missions
in the demo, “Prove It” and “Escapist”, require essentially the same procedure:
Shift into another car, and evade the police. The other mission, “Team Colors,”
provided an interesting take on the standard racing formula, thanks to the
Shift ability. Your objective is to take control of two cars, and finish first
and second, respectively. You are introduced to the “Rapid Shift” ability,
where by pressing the right bumper on the controller, you are able to quickly
switch between your two cars. Once you Shift into your other car, the car you
were originally driving is controlled by the computer. You must constantly
Shift back and forth to succeed.

Driver: San Francisco will launch on September 6th.
With the entertaining and unique Shift ability, stellar graphics, and the
inclusion of multiplayer, Driver: San
Francisco
looks to be the shot in the arm that the franchise needs after
the disappointing Driv3r.

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