The original Driver debuted to widespread critical acclaim back in 1999 on the PlayStation. A bright future seemed inevitable. But the sequel released a year later and critics weren’t so enthusiastic, and the series sort of downshifted to mediocrity. There were multiple installments on numerous platforms, ranging from the GameBoy Advance to the Xbox, but none reclaimed the glory of the first title. So maybe we should consider Ubisoft’s Driver: San Francisco as a reboot, with a completely overhauled style and a ton of up-close-and-personal action. The demo is now on the PlayStation Network, and I took a look last night.
The demo lets you sample three modes, where you can sample a standard race through crowded city streets, a hectic escape from pursuing cops, and a mode that introduces you to the “shift” dynamic. The latter is like a super power that lets you jump from driver to driver; you basically inhabit the body of someone else behind the wheel. You can quick jump with the R1 button – useful for races – or press X to enable the manual selection, where you target the vehicle you wish to drive. It’s an interesting mechanic and one that could be excellent, provided it isn’t overused. I did find the quick shift a little confusing and disconcerting, though. It can be difficult to understand exactly what’s happening if you get “shift”-happy.
As for the rest, I think things are looking up. While the style is obviously very arcade-like (you’ll plow through pedestrian-filled sidewalks on a frequent basis), the physics definitely feel more realistic. The vehicles have plenty of weight and although some may feel sluggish or loose, that’s the nod to authenticity, I believe. The hand brake works extremely well and although too many vehicles feel the same, there’s definitely a semblance of realism in the control. The standard third-person view sits a little closer than I would like but you do have choices. I’m on the fence about the mini-map, which you can enlarge by pressing the triangle button.
It’s also plain that the storyline will indeed take center-stage during the campaign. We catch glimpses of it during this demo, and I’ll be interested to see how things play out. The graphics and sound are competent; there are some great special effects, character detail isn’t bad at all, and the city is nicely designed if not overly detailed. I’ll have to play more to pass judgment on the control and general gameplay, and I’m a little worried that the “shift” function will be overused, but we’ll see. Driver: San Francisco is slated to hit store shelves on August 30. Cross your fingers for a worthwhile action/racing quest.