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Previews

E3 2011's Most Anticipated: Driver: San Francisco

CVG E3 2011 Awards: Vote for the games that most excite you!

The games on show at E3 2011 are some of the best in living memory. So you really owe it to yourself to vote in CVG's inaugural E3 2011 Awards... in the Most Anticipated Title category.

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Shortly before the event, we'll work out which of these 60 special E3 game previews have enjoyed the most page views, Facebook 'Likes', ReTweets and poll votes (see below) and crown our first victor at the Los Angeles event. Show your favourites the love!

Game: Driver: San Francisco
Likelihood of E3 2011 showing: Certain

The offer to sit down with the first full chapter of Driver: San Francisco's single-player (and sneak in a quick hands-on with near-complete multiplayer code) at Reflections' Newcastle HQ was one we couldn't refuse. It's been a long time since we last checked in with John Tanner's return to the hustle and bustle of San Fran's sun-drenched streets, and we were keen to find out the real story behind the undercover wheelman's comatose, body-hopping adventure.

After a slick, cinematic opener that sees criminal meathead-cum- mastermind Jericho rescued from his police convoy by a helicopter, a femme fatale and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, we're slap-bang in the thick of the action without realising it. The transition from cut scene to in-game driving is seamless and demonstrates the power and potential of Reflections' built-from-scratch engine.

As Tanner and returning partner Tobias Jones pursue the fleeing Jericho in their '70s muscle car, we're thrust into short chunks of gameplay teaching us the hand-braking, rubber-burning tricks of the Driver trade.

The handling feels like a glorious throwback to the classic PlayStation original - the bouncy suspension sends you sailing over bumps and crashing into trash cans. Collisions with other vehicles have a wonderfully metallic crunch, spraying debris and shards of glass all-over the place.

When Jericho gets the upper-hand on Tanner and Jones, resulting in a heart-stopping crash, our hero is plunged into a coma and Reflections' game-changing mechanic rears its head. Tanner, unaware that he's out cold, discovers he can 'Shift' into, or possess, any other driver on the road in his subconscious gameworld. It's a silly situation and one that Tanner himself is quick to play for laughs.

CAR WARS
A tap of X or A pulls you from your vehicle and gives you a bird's-eye view of the city which is now, conveniently, in slow-motion. From here, just drag your cross-hair over any car you fancy, tap X/A again and bingo: you've got yourself a new set of wheels. There are different levels of Shift - from standard low-level to a long-range view of the city unlocked later on - and the speed and ease at which you use it is startling.

As Reflections' studio manager Gareth Edmondson explains, delivering on the team's original concept was a big demand: "Driver: San Francisco is something that has never been done before, and that takes a huge amount of time invested in research, experimentation, and optimisation to claw every fraction of a millisecond. In 30 frames per second (fps) it would have been quite a task, but 60fps is another story altogether. To achieve this we needed to develop our own rendering and physics engine from scratch."

It's not hard to see where all the development time (around four years' worth) has gone. The City by the Bay is a bustling metropolis, packed with traffic, pedestrians and all sorts of distractions. It's also an atmospheric old town which feels timeless - irrespective of the many cutting-edge vehicles cruising around. Gareth's brother, and Reflections' creative director, Martin, explains the old and new influences on the series: "The inspiration for the first Driver was actually many films, all of them '70s car chase movies: Walter Hill's The Driver, obviously, but also The French Connection, Bullitt, the original Gone in 60 Seconds," he reflects.

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