Driver: San Francisco Preview (Xbox360)

Ok ok - I'll admit, when I first heard about the coma thing, I was sceptical too. I made jokes, if I wasn't obligated to play it as part of my job, I probably would have even dismissed this title out of hand. But you know what? I'm glad I gave it a chance - unorthodox Driver: San Francisco may be, but it carries with it the potential to shake the genre up like never before, and we can't wait to see how it does.

I can just hear the old-school car chasing music now...
The story is a result of the new 'Shift' feature the team introduced, as part of their way of trying to keep the action flowing, and the choice of cars flexible, without you having to actually leave the vehicle (because that would be too much like that... 'other' game). As interesting as the mechanic is on its own, you can't just have it there and not explain it, and thus the coma was introduced.

To be honest, the whole 'he's in a coma' thing would probably have served as a very good twist for the story, but then that would have meant keeping the Shift feature hidden as well, which probably wouldn't have worked. If you don't really 'get' it though, our only advice is to think of it in terms of films like Inception, or Source Code, or even The Matrix - stories that have multiple layers. Going hands-on with the single player, we really got the sense that there is still something interesting tale to be told though, even given what you know.

The beginning obviously starts in the 'real' world, with Tanner picking up where he left off at the end of Driv3R. Jericho is in jail, about to be sentenced, and all seems right with the world, until-... but that would be spoiling it. You know Tanner ends up in a coma though, and that Jericho's fate is ultimately "unknown", but therein lies the story. Tanner, not knowing that he's in a coma, still thinks he's on the hunt for Jericho, and drives around a fake San Francisco trying to discover leads. There's a clear separation between the dream world, and the real world, and the two interact to fuel an old school investigation story cop-film fans should enjoy.

Enough about the plot though - the gameplay itself harks back to the early days of the franchise. Now that you don't have to get out of your car, the focus is on the driving. Whether you're chasing someone down to try and drive them off the road, shaking a police pursuit, or performing jumps or stunts, the stylised, Hollywood-style action packed driving feel is still there. There are 145 cars present in the game world at any one time, and (using shift) you can hop into any of them.
Wait, which car am I in again?
The main thing you'll be doing is missions - which are triggered by shifting into specific cars. Some will involve your dream self, others will be related to the main plot, but will involve separate people, and yet more will just be random tasks you can do. All grant you rewards in terms of 'willpower', a form of currency you can spend at special garages to unlock upgrades, new cars, new garages and other items. There are loads of licensed vehicles in the game, all with their own unique look at stats, and each also useful in certain situations. You'll need to grind out the willpower to purchase them all (and that's not even getting to the upgrades etc...).

That said, everything you own (termed 'assets'), actually earns you willpower anyway. So the more you buy, the more you earn, thus off-setting the amount of grinding you'd need to do. You can get willpower in other ways as well - doing stunts, drifts, near misses and speeding are mini-tasks you can do whenever to earn smaller lots of willpower.

Interestingly enough though, the most exciting feature about this game sounds like the multiplayer. Whilst we've tried it a bit in the past - talking with Reflections we found out that the game will boast a staggering 19 modes, some of which you would normally find in First-Person Shooters, and it's all thanks to the Shift mechanic. Sadly, we were only there to sample the single player portion of the game, but we can't wait to get to grips fully with the multiplayer. If it turns out as good as they make it sound, it could go a fair way to shaking up what the driving genre can offer.
First person can be rather immersive, although harder to play...

It seems a bit paradoxical that Reflections would introduce something like shift, and yet claim they wanted to take the franchise back to its roots. We hate to say it, but the new ideas in this game may alienate people. That aside though (so, ignore the fact that it's a Driver game for a second), the feature in and of itself is really interesting, and we can't wait to play around with it more and see what it could do. The genre needs something crazy like this to provoke innovation, and we applaud the devs for their vision. Now all we've got to do is wait and see if it's any good. Driver: San Francisco will be out on PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on August 30th in North America, and September 2nd in the UK.

Most Anticipated Feature: As we've said, the multiplayer and what they plan to do with it.