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Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview - Shift Happens

Matt Gardner
Driver: San Francisco, Driving games, Games previews, Gamescom 2010, Ubisoft

Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview - Shift Happens

There are quite a few games we've seen that seem to be 'getting back in touch with their roots' – Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Mortal Kombat, absolutely anything by Nintendo – and here comes another one. Driver is coming back, and it's getting properly nostalgic too. There'll be none of this getting out of cars guff – well not in any tangible sense of thins anyway – this one's going to be all about high speed car chases and reckless endangerment in amongst the movie driving haven that is San Francisco.

Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview - Shift Happens

Jack Tanner is back, as is his nemesis Mr. Jericho, for a game that's stripped back the diversions of poor Atari's effort to deliver an experience that's truly dynamic, aggressive and balls-out fun. That's the idea anyway. It's already running at 60FPS, although as this was an early build it was pretty ugly throughout, but hopefully that'll get polished before the end.

As the demo started, Tanner jumped into a car and started trying to run down his adversary, using the long tail-light blur as a useful device for keeping close and staying on his six. Weaving in and out of traffic, sending pedestrians running and boxes and binbags flying was all well and good but we could see it getting old pretty quick. I had to stifle a yawn. It was only 11 am.

Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview - Shift Happens

But then they surprised us with a new gameplay mechanic called Shifting.

Much like an Agent in the Matrix (why the hell hasn't there been a game from their perspective?!), tanner can actually shift from car to car at the push of a button. With over 120 licensed, fully damageable cars in the game (including the DMC DeLorean), it would seem that the four wheeled world is his oyster. Spot a car within range and Tanner will defy the laws of physics and teleport himself behind the wheel of the new vehicle. How? Why? We don't care. It adds so much to the game.

Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview - Shift Happens

This ability to Shift is massively useful when it comes to running down perps. If you find yourself running into traffic, simply switch to a clear car. The demonstration shown had Tanner in a cop car, chasing down Jericho, flanked by a fellow member of the force. By hopping between the cop cars our guide was able to maintain the pressure, although there were no real signs of catching up to him. Thankfully, a truck heading in the opposite direction provided the answer and so, upon Shifting into the hotseat of an eighteen wheeler, Tanner proceeded to utterly wreck Jericho's escape plans.

Hunting for cars to Shift into that aren't immediately in the vicinity can be done by zooming out to a map view. From here you can actually rise until you can see the whole city, one of the largest world's of its type to grace gaming at 208 square miles,, and eavesdrop in on the conversations of other motorists. It's from here that you'll be able to glean mission information, accepting them simply by shifting into the relevant car.

Driver: San Francisco Hands-On Preview - Shift Happens

We got a chance to test it out for ourselves on the floor with the Trailblazers multiplayer mode. Essentially it pits you, and three others, in a race to try and stay in the slipstream of a fugitive vehicle, illuminated by a trail of tail light blur. Inevitably, on the busy streets of San Francisco, there were crashes aplenty and several wrong turns, the latter of which automatically sends you into Shift mode to target another car. I was pleased to find that Shifting was incredibly intuitive and easy. Stuck in a pootling car? No worries...just leapfrog your way down the road until you find yourself a Zonda.

This made for some rampant hilarity once I'd finally managed to catch up to the waif-like PR girl who was racking up the points in first. After managing to box her in with some rapid shifting, she then drove a bus into the side of my car before speeding away in a Dodge. All I could find was a measly Fiat 500.

Slated for release next year, there's still some polishing to be done but there's enough time and the core mechanics certainly look solid. Shifting will certainly be a part of the multiplayer experience, with the announced Trailblazers mode seeing up to four players try to compete with one another to stay in a fugitive's tailstream...something that can prove difficult when your rivals are jumping into other cars and trying to ram you off of the road. With the original team back on course and a very curious new mechanic in the mix this might very well be one to look out for next year.

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