It’s been a good long while since a Driver game was released. The last we saw of Tanner, he was flatlining on an operating table. Well, Tanner’s not dead. He actually survived and is now back on the streets of San Francisco, in pursuit of Jericho. Since having a near-death experience, Tanner realizes he has some kind of supernatural ability to “Shift” into other people. This is where Driver: San Francisco begins.
The demo presents you with 3 available missions. The first mission has you trying to convince your partner that Tanner does indeed have the ability to take over other people’s bodies. You start off as Tanner and are tasked with shifting into another person to cause a little havoc. While this is going on, you can hear the conversations between the two different parties, depending on who you are controlling. The first mission serves as a tutorial to let the player get used to the mechanics of the game.
The second mission has Tanner involved in a street race with a group of racers that serve as teammates. The player must have his team finish 1st and 2nd place in order to win. This can be done by speed shifting between the two cars and controlling them separately, so you can get one of your cars into 1st place and then shift to the other car to get it into 2nd place.
In the third mission, Tanner has to shift into a man that’s trying to get into the good graces of a big mob boss. Getting your mark into the mob will allow Tanner to gain information he needs to take them down. So, you basically play the role of the bad guy in this mission. You will run from the cops and help out a top player in the mob.
Shifting in the game is as simple as pressing a button. The camera will zoom out and time will slow down to a crawl. During this time, you can scan cars you want to shift into. It is a rather unique mechanic that adds a layer of depth to the game. During the 2nd mission, since you can’t shift into rival street racers’ cars, I shifted into other random cars up ahead on the road and used them to crash into my competitors. The shift mechanic can actually help you out in a jam.
There is a meter at the bottom of the screen that will fill when you do certain things like drive fast, drift, and more; this meter serves supplies your boost, shift ability, and ram attacks. You can press a button to activate a ram attack. Doing this will temporarily make your car a tank, and everything you hit will bounce right off you. Pressing up on the left analog stick will activate your speed boost. These actions will reduce your meter, so you have to pick and choose what you want to do.
Truth be told, I was not a fan of how the cars handled. I found it cumbersome to make hard turns, and drifting just doesn’t feel right. I played the demo three times trying to experiment with the brake, hand-brake, and throttle and never found a good way to go into turns. I would always miss the turn, hit a wall, or hit another car.
The AI of the other cars is hit or miss. I sometimes felt like they were either letting me win on purpose, or they were going out of their way to stop me in any way they could. I will say that the partner AI in the 2nd mission does a decent job of driving when I’m not in control of the other car.
I know this is just the demo, and it even says while it’s loading that this may not be a representation of the full game. Granted, it’s not all bad. The shift mechanic works and can be helpful, but the stiff controls of the cars, and the questionable AI make this demo just a little too cumbersome to play. That’s not to say that the full game won’t address these issues when it releases in September. There is still a lot of potential in Driver: San Francisco.