This past week we were invited up to “sunny” Newcastle by Ubisoft Reflections to come and take a look at their soon to be released title, Driver San Francisco. As we were ever so eager to get a look at the first Driver on the current generation of consoles, we accepted without hesitation.
The team at Ubisoft Reflections gave us an epic look at the multiplayer facet of the game, as well as a sneak peek at the single player campaign. We’ll be focusing on the multiplayer later in the week, but right now we want to tell you a bit about the single player. You want to know about it, right? Of course you do.
Tanner is back
Yes, that’s right. After a short hiatus, John Tanner makes a triumphant return in Driver San Francisco. His arch nemesis, Charles Jericho also makes a comeback. Both men survived the shootout at the end of Driver 3, and this latest entry in the series is set some six months after that particular event.
Tanner eventually catches Jericho in San Francisco, sending him behind bars in the process. Driver San Francisco begins shortly after this, and Jericho is being transported in the back of a prison truck. Things don’t go smoothly though, as Jericho manages to unshackle himself, overpower the guards and hijack the truck. Tanner and his trusty partner (Tobias Jones) witness this and pursue Jericho through the streets of San Francisco. The epic chase ends with Tanner colliding with a massive trailer, resulting in him ending up in a coma. That is where Driver San Francisco really begins, and the main mechanic of the game is introduced.
Now, you’ve probably heard about Driver San Francisco’s Shift mechanic, and not been entirely convinced by the concept behind it. Sure, it sounds slightly insane in relation to the story, but as a game mechanic it actually works really well. You’re always kept in the heat of the driving action, and frustration of a chase coming to a halt due to a crash or missed corner is kept to a minimum. It might sound like the Shift mechanic removes an element of a challenge from the gameplay, and in some respects that might be true. However, previous games in the series were always at their best when you were partaking in epic Hollywood style chases, and it seems like Ubisoft Reflections are aiming to mirror that feeling on a more consistent basis via this new Shift mechanic. Interestingly enough, Creative Director and founder of Ubisoft Reflections, Martin Edmondson, told us the inspiration behind the Shift mechanic came from Google Earth.
“Everyone’s been on Google Earth, and you look at your house or where you work. However, it’s a photograph that has been taken six months or a year ago.” said Edmondson. “Our idea really was to have this world that you could see in that way and be as reactive as that, but the whole world be running. All the pedestrians would be running around, all the cars would be driving around…the whole world would be actually running, that’s where the concept came from”.
We were also told that the Shift mechanic will upgrade as you progress through the story mode, starting off at a relatively slow street level and moving up to faster city based level, allowing you to travel greater distances over the 210 miles of road included within the game. In fact, it was mentioned, you could literally travel from one end of San Francisco to the other when the highest level of the Shift mechanic is unlocked towards the end of the game. To eventually upgrade it to that level, you will need to spend quite a bit of Willpower, which is the name given to the currency in Driver San Francisco. You will be able to earn Willpower by doing pretty much anything whilst playing the game. Pulled off a cool drift? You’ll earn Willpower. Performed an amazing jump? You’ll earn Willpower. Completed a mission? Yes, that’s right, you’ll earn Willpower.
Back to its silky smooth roots
Looking past the shift and upgrade mechanics though, the development team have been very vocal in saying that with Driver San Francisco they are taking the series back to its roots. This, of course, means that the in-game action will be confined to vehicles, and players won’t be able to traverse the streets of San Francisco on foot. It’s a bold move, but taking into account how Driver 3 turned out, it’s also a good one. The exclusion has also probably helped the development team get the single player portion of game running at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, which is something most titles struggle to do. In fact, when we asked Martin Edmondson about the subject, he stated it was “an absolute total focus” of the Ubisoft Reflections team to make sure the game ran at 60 frames per second.
“It was an absolute total focus because you can’t be wishy washy about that. You either go for it or you don’t” stated Edmondson. “The reason why we wanted it is because if you play a 60 frames per second and then play a 30 frames per second game, especially if you do it back to back, it’s just horrible. I completely accept that it’s just not possible in some games and it’s very difficult to achieve, but we thought it was worth it”.
Content and cars
Content wise, Driver San Francisco will feature over 200 missions. That number consists of the main story thread as well as the various different side missions the game has to offer. Edmondson told us an average single playthrough will take around 12 hours. He added that you can navigate your way though the game much quicker by doing less side missions, but it would make progression that little bit harder. Depending on which side missions you complete, not only will you be rewarded with experience, but your vehicles will get stronger and have their boost capacity increased.
Speaking of vehicles, the game will include around 130 full damageable licensed cars. Well known manufacturers such as Aston Martin, Dodge, Ford, Shelby, Volkswagen, Pagani, DeLorean and Lamborghini are all on board. The way the cars handle differs slightly depending on whether they are front or rear wheel drive, but don’t expect a model like what you would come across in Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. It’s more akin to the likes of Burnout or Need for Speed, weighty but sensitive. As the game is mainly about driving stylishly whilst chasing down bad guys, it certainly makes sense to go down that particular road. The handling does take a while to get used to though (an hour or two at most), but once you do get to grips with it, you’ll find yourself screeching around corners on streets of San Francisco with considerable ease. It’s clear to see the development team have tried to make the handling model as accessible and fun as possible; it’s a point which Martin Edmondson even made during our chat with him.
“We focused a lot on the handling to make the game simply fun to muck about with.” explained Edmondson. “Personally, I enjoy just ragging around the streets and not even doing a mission, it’s just fun.”
Driving in the fast lane?
Driver San Francisco is certainly going back to its roots when it comes to putting pedal to the metal, but the introduction of the Shift mechanic makes the game feel very much different to the 1999 original. It’s hard to say if that is a positive or negative at the moment, but we can say with some confidence we’re looking forward to giving the full game a spin (or shift) when it’s released this coming September.
Driver San Francisco will be released on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac, PC, Wii and 3DS in Europe on September 2nd and in North America on September 6th.