Previews

Driver: San Francisco - A return to former glories?

We spend a little time with Reflections' revamped car wonder...

Steve McQueen as Lieutenant Frank Bullitt in a roaring Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang, tearing through the rollercoaster-like streets of San Francisco. He's stalking a pair of crooks in a Dodge Charger 440 as they try to give him the slip by weaving in and out of traffic, setting off nearby gas pipes and throwing motorcyclists in the way. For our money, car chases don't really get much better than that.

That scene from Bullitt is one of the most exciting, expertly shot chases in cinematic history - and continues to probably be the biggest influence behind Reflections' Driver series. But after a blistering start with its excellent 1999 original, the Driver franchise has stalled more than a few times. It caught a severe case of Grand Theft Auto envy, had an identity crisis or four - and eventually broke down on the side of the gaming road.

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Now Ubisoft has taken the wheel from Atari and put Reflections to work on a new entry in the series for the 2011 crowd. With long-time series designer Martin Edmonson on board, the studio aims to make the once great open-world car game road praise-worthy again, by building an entirely new proprietary game engine, setting it in San Francisco and introducing an interesting new mechanic to the series.

PROVISIONAL LICENCE
Driver: San Francisco takes place a couple of months after the events of Driv3r. We're going to go ahead and assume you didn't play/don't remember that critically-pummelled iteration, so let's remember how we left the last game: Protagonist and criminal-hunting cop John Tanner has just been involved in a massive shootout in Istanbul while trying to apprehend a mobster named Jericho. Bullets were fired, people were killed - and both Tanner and his nemesis are in hospital. One of the pair flatlines, and is given emergency defibrillator treatment... but you don't know which one. Credits roll.

Yet apparently, in Ubisoft's version, both survive and are fighting fit in San Francisco. The game picks up on the day Jericho is to be sentenced for his crimes. Along with his laundry list of law-breaking activities as a mob boss, Jericho's rap sheet also includes 17 counts of murder from the Istanbul incident. Not a decent chap, all in all.

Since many of Jericho's victims were police officers and colleagues - and because he put a bullet in his back - Tanner wants to see him go down in person and heads to a bridge overlooking a police convoy in which Jericho is the star attraction. As you can probably guess, things don't go smoothly.

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A crooked cop sticks an acid-filled capsule in Jericho's mouth; a mysterious, stylishly attired femme fatal hijacks a news chopper and casually fires a high-powered rocket launcher into the convoy; and Jericho uses the ensuing kerfuffle to burn through his restraints, subdue the guards and make off with the armoured police truck. As ever in the Driver series, gritty realism isn't exactly at the heart of Ubisoft's effort.

The Starsky and Hutch-esque Tanner and his partner Tobias Jones give chase and follow Jericho down a narrow alley. The camera switches to a first-person perspective as the duo ask each other where their prey went, before they're rear-ended by the truck and pushed into oncoming traffic. The ensuing damage isn't pretty - and Tanner is left bloody and bruised as paramedics charge their defibrillators... again. Don't be too worried, though, because Tanner's eyes open again - and he's sitting in his car next to his partner without a single mark on his body.

Confused? Yes? So are we.

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