With no running around outside of the car to break up the action, Driver: San Francisco puts the emphasis firmly back on driving. Good thing too, because Reflections has licensed some 120 cars for use in the game. Ford, Maclaren, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, Lancer, Pagani, Mazzarati, Audi, - the list is exhaustive. So too is the city of San Francisco itself, which features some 208 miles of driveable road. Edmondson was quick to point out that this makes Driver: San Francisco the largest open world driving game ever, and that it would take over two hours to traverse all of its roads at a constant speed of 100mph. Of course maintaining 100mph isn't easily done, so it would likely take much longer.
Certain vehicles you occupy come complete with their own missions. Shift into a police car for example, and you can engage in frantic pursuits of criminals mid getaway. At any point during this pursuit, you could choose to shift into the criminals' car, and escape from the same police cars you'd just been driving. While we only really got to see the police missions, it's safe to assume there'll be taxi, ambulance and fire engine missions too, amongst others. A serious amount of writing has gone into bringing these characters to life, and shifting into a new car will reward players with an insight into these people's lives.
The game looked great too - it didn't blow me away, but it certainly looked good. Edmondson promised that the game would run at 60fps when it was finished, but admitted that the version we were playing was only running at about 50. San Francisco is a fantastic choice of city to play host to the action. With its bustling highways, narrow alleyways and rolling hills; it's a driver's paradise. Edmondson was clearly in love with the city too, explaining that his decision was influenced by films such as Bullitt, which saw Steve McQueen in one of the most celebrated car chases of all time. Driver: San Francisco is all about these iconic car chases. It's not about mowing down pedestrians and killing prostitutes, it's about recreating the epic car chases inspired by Hollywood.
Most of my time with the game was actually spent in the multiplayer, with a mode called Trail Blazer. Here drivers are tasked with following the trail left by an AI car; with points amassing the longer they are able to keep up with it. In multiplayer the shift mechanic really comes into its own, with players simultaneously flitting from car to car, desperate to get hold of the hottest set of wheels on the roads. With the build we were playing, that car was the Pagani Zonda, and as soon as one appeared, everybody would enter Shift mode in a desperate attempt to snag the beast before anybody else. Those that failed to do so would be left floating around in Shift limbo, forced to find another car while the opposition is off scoring points.
Driver: San Francisco looks good, handles well and features one of the most innovative mechanics that has graced the driving genre for years. In principle it might sound ridiculous, and it probably needs to be experienced firsthand to appreciate properly, but it offers an incredibly refreshing take on open world driving. Only time will tell how well the writers wrap the narrative around this mechanic, but it's certainly going to get people talking.
Driver: San Francisco is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii Holiday 2010