The original Driver was something of a revelation for car enthusiasts. Games like Gran Turismo had established the sim genre, and the likes of Wipeout and Rollcage were showing racing games could be fun, but playing as Tanner in Driver was the first time I can recall doing both.
From there we went to Driver 2, which let you get out of the cars for the first time, and Driv3r. Both of those games had high aspirations but were let down by the fact they came across as Grand Theft Auto clones.
Driver: Parallel Lines was the next game in the series, and didn't feature Tanner at all.
For me, Driver: San Francisco marks a welcome return to the original concept of the series. You start off as Tanner, on the day Jericho is being transferred from prison to death row to be executed for his heinous crimes in the earlier games.
Naturally, he breaks out thanks to a cop he bribed slipping him a vial of acid to eat through his chains. Tanner and his partner Jones give chase after being on the scene because he had a sense something was gonna go wrong (when your fellow cop doesn't trust you, that's gotta be damaging for your morale right? No wonder that cop took a bribe).
It all goes pear-shaped though, and Tanner and Jones end up getting t-boned with it looking especially dire for Tanner, who bears the brunt of the impact.
When you come to, you get your first hint something's up comes as Tanner is resuscitated by EMTs on scene and focus is given to a billboard saying 'wake up'. Then Tanner all of a sudden finds himself driving an ambulance - but a different face is looking back at him in the mirror.
This becomes a major part of the game – what it calls ‘shift mode’ – where the player can have a sort of out-of-body experience and float above the roads, zeroing in on any car they wish to get behind the wheel of and taking control of that driver’s body.
So straight off the bat it's more Inception/Source Code than a Tarantino driving flick like the originals. But its kept the ‘70s presentation style and it's fantastic. The cut-scenes look absolutely amazing, some of the best I've seen in a game - and the in-car presentations are also particularly beautiful. From the wood-panelling of the Challengers to the recessed dials of the Jaguar XKR, it's all picture perfect.
And this iteration comes with over 120 licensed, fully-damageable cars ranging from R32 Skylines to Ford GTs to DeLoreans.
The city is just as pretty and expansive - I went in expecting the slightly reduced graphics of GTA IV but was pleasantly surprised by just how good it looks. The beauty is carried over the entirety of the Bay City, which represents 335km of road. The developers have removed the ability to get out of the cars physically, saying too many games already include this, but I believe it's so they wouldn't have to include cut-scenes of Tanner getting a whupping every time he set foot in Oakland.
The driving mechanics are typical of the Driver franchise - heavily favouring burnouts and powerslides which takes a little while to get used to but once you do you can just kick back and have some major fun.
There has been a massive emphasis on multiplayer too, with a huge amount of different modes on offer. These range from the standard races, to ones where competitors can utilise the shift mode to move up ahead of the pack to the Capture the Flag, Takedown and Blitz races, which are insanely awesome.
We had four people all together playing and tried out most of the modes, but these three were head and shoulders the favourites.
Capture the Flag is pretty explanatory - one driver has to capture the flag and get it to the base, while the other team try to knock him out. If his car gets to 0 health he drops the flag and it's fair game for anyone to pick up.
Takedown sees one player take control of a criminal's car while the rest are the police, trying to get his delinquent ass off their streets. If the criminal survives a certain length of time, or makes all his drug drop-offs, he wins.
Blitz sees one team defending a 'base' marked on the map by a shield and another team attacking it. The defending team has a zone in which the attackers cannot shift into another car, and if the attackers get hit by the defenders they're forced to start outside the zone again. However, each time the attackers make it to the base, the zone for the defenders gets smaller and smaller until eventually they're overcome by an onslaught.
It was nuts how quickly we all cottoned on to the shift feature and the tactics it presented in each of these game modes. For example, in Capture the Flag when a teammate has the flag is it better to ride along in a slow rubbish truck and watch his back, or in a Lamborghini ready to scoop up the flag when he's taken out and hoon off?
In Takedown as a cop are you better to stay in your slightly damaged (and therefore slightly slower) car or shift into one further up the road, whereby the new car turns into a cop car in a Matrix-esque fashion.
I hate to compare this game to GTA because that's what it's had to put up with its entire life, but the truth is it hasn't been since GTA IV that I've seen a game with such a cool storyline, but such fun exciting online modes.
It comes out in early September, beating a wide array of blockbuster games coming out this year including new Call of Duty and Battlefield titles, Batman: Arkham City, Gears of War 3, Rugby Challenge and Forza 4, and while it has not had anywhere near the amount of coverage those games are receiving, based on this demo it's definitely good enough to stand up with them and is exactly how a Driver game should be.
- Dylan Moran, 3 News
The Good: The shift mode adds a new dimension to the series.
The Bad: The last few Driver games haven't been the peak of the series. Can this one change that?
The Ugly: 335km of road for you to wreck your car on.