Look, I’m the same as you. When Driver: San Francisco was announced at E3 2010, I greeted it with an incredulous, “What the fu… ?” John Tanner, the undercover police detective and star of the previous Driver games, was back – but this time he was in a coma or something and could suddenly jump, or “Shift,” Quantum Leap-style into the body of another person.[drop]What a completely ridiculous idea, I thought. Evidence, if any evidence was needed, that the racing game genre was slowly running out of fuel, searching desperately for a gimmick to set it apart from the rest. Urgh.
So, just over a year later (last week in fact) when I found myself sat in front of a multiplayer build of Driver: San Francisco, I was dubious. I shouldn’t have been. It’s completely nuts in the best way possible.
Driver: San Francisco is set to feature a huge suite of multiplayer modes, encompassing everything from traditional races all the way up to more quirky stuff that takes full advantage of that bonkers Shift thingy. Of those on offer I tried out three of the modes; Sprint GP, Takedown and Tag.
Sprint GP is a set of short races with checkpoint gates indicating your route through the city, whilst Takedown charges you with depleting the leader’s energy bar by bashing into them – Chase HQ style. Both of these are pretty fun but it was Tag mode that really shone, showcasing everything that promises to make Driver: San Francisco great.
Yeah, it was good enough that I’ve done a U-turn on my initial impressions. I’m allowed to be fickle, right?
The aim of Tag mode is to remain “it” for as long as possible, racking up enough points to hit the 100 mark, at which point you win. Complicating this are your competitors. By barging into you they can deplete your rather meagre energy bar and take your “it” status away from you. The longer you remain “it,” the more points you rack up. Reach 100 points and it’s game over. Which is all great, but it’s Shift that makes Tag mode so riotously enjoyable.
At any stage, if the tagged player gets out of reach you can simply jump into another, nearer vehicle. A quick flick of the X button and your perspective jumps to a three-quarter view above the streets, with a reticule in the center of the screen. Another flick and you switch to a bird’s-eye-view. One more and you zoom out to see a huge chunk of the city. The point of all this is to allow you to select any NPC vehicle and immediately jump into the driver’s seat.[drop2]So, the way Tag mode pans out is that, when you are not tagged, you’re desperately attempting to gauge the route of your prey at the same time as identifying an NPC close enough to ram into them.
There is, of course, a knack to it. Often, you’ll jump into a car only to see your intended target zoom by and it’s too late to respond. Conversely, if you pick a car that’s too far away you risk your target slipping off in another direction before you can reach them. You have to find that delicate balance.
Playing the part of the tagged driver is thrilling. Bombing along one of San Francisco’s main streets you’ll see your competitors jump into other cars, signalled by a flash of lightning, and charge towards you. Get it right and you’ll be surrounded by carnage as you slink and snake between the lunatics throwing themselves in your direction.
The best approach is often to hide. While charging along faster than your enemies can be effective, you are never really safe thanks to the car-jumping abilities of your foes. Far better then, to sneak down one of the many side roads ensconced within the open urban environment. This way you’ll be far away from any NPC cars for your enemies to possess.
But respite rarely lasts long. I’m not sure if I’ve ever played such a feverish racing game. Even the most talentless driver can exert constant pressure on the tagged racer thanks to the Shift ability. It. Never. Stops. And for that alone, it is brilliant.
Suddenly, I’m hugely excited about Driver: San Francisco. You should be too.