Friday, September 02, 2011

30 Minute Playtest: Driver: San Francisco

The original Driver’s mix of insane driving and hint of seventies gasploitation movie meant that it quickly became one of the PSOne’s must-have titles. Like other PSOne must-haves(Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy 7), however, it almost instantly squandered its good reputation on poor sequels. Driver 2’s on-foot additions were dull, poorly implemented and the game as whole suffered from poor graphics, while Driv3r received similar criticism a whole console generation later.

A few mobile deviations later we’ve now got Driver: San Francisco, which brings back series regulars John Tanner and the hoodlum Jericho, who starts the game by ramming Tanner’s car and putting him in a coma, which is where the bulk of the game takes place. The unconscious Tanner can now ‘shift’ into the driver of any car in the city. This has two main effects-the first is that it allows the developers to do away with the much maligned on foot sections of the last two games by simply having you swoop around ‘possessing’ drivers, and the second is that it makes players ask ‘what is this ludicrous $h!t?’

There’s no getting past it, the addition of an out-of-body element to game that has always shied away from any sort of paranormal content throws you off your stride. It shifts the tone of the game away from what you expect of the Driver series, as does the lack of a seventies feel. In its place we get poor dialogue and ropey voice acting. It’s not a good start, but despite the tone of the game going wide of the mark, the gameplay is right on target, at least as far as our first half hour revealed.

The cars feel speedy and handle brilliantly, occupying a perfect middle ground between the stodgy realism of driving sims and the gonzo physics of arcade racers. It’s not realistic driving, but it’s true to the action-movie feel that the game goes for.

The city feels big and lively, with a convincing ebb and flow to the traffic patterns and an organicly convincing street layout. Races in the city are fast and frantic, with the ‘shift’ mechanic allowing you to take control of multiple cars within a single race. Police chases are similarly lively, and the AI is just about perfect: far smarter and more tenacious than the cops in, say, GTA IV, but nowhere near as inescapable as the rubber-band assisted plod of Driver 2 and Driv3r.

First impressions suggest that aimless driving will be almost as much fun as playing the missions, and the missions we’ve seen so far include everything from the fundamental chase/race/escape style efforts along with some slightly more outlandish efforts built around the ‘shift’ feature. Half an hour isn’t long enough to know whether things will get samey, but so far there certainly seems enough fun and variety to keep things interesting.