A Ford Mustang skids around a corner, its screeching wheels harmonising with the roar of its engine. Hot on its tail, gripping the steering wheel of a yellow Dodge Challenger RT is John Tanner; the wheelman. Pressing his foot to the floor, Tanner urges the car forward, eventually bringing it alongside the Mustang. The two cars tear down the middle of a busy highway, weaving amongst oncoming traffic like mechanical snakes. Taking his eyes off the road for a mere second, Tanner tries to catch a glimpse of the driver in the Mustang. The blast of a horn brings his attention back to the road; Tanner's windscreen is filled with the sight of an eighteen wheeler truck. With no time to react, Tanner smashes into the vehicular behemoth at a terrifying speed. The chase was over.
Except it wasn't. Martin Edmondson, creative producer on Driver: San Francisco, and the man demoing the game to us had a pretty nifty trick up his sleeve. Pressing the X button, he shifted the view from that of Tanner's Challenger, to a top down view of the city. The action on screen continued in slow motion; I could see the truck still pushing the yellow carcass of the Dodge down the road. Just what was going on here? Was Tanner dead and having some kind of out of body experience? Moving a reticule around the screen, Edmondson hovered over a nearby Aston Martin, and suddenly the camera jumped into the car. He was back in the action again, behind the wheel of a new car, pursuing the same Mustang down the same stretch of highway.
I can imagine the blend of disbelief, confusion, and bewilderment on your face right now, because mine looked exactly the same as Edmondson explained the Shift mechanic to me. To put it simply, Tanner is able to shift his consciousness into the driver of another car. In effect, Tanner becomes a completely different person each time he shifts from one car to another. When in shift mode itself, Tanner floats around the city like some kind of omnipotent being, and can move around the city far quicker than any car. While this happens, the ‘real' Tanner is still in the game world, but in a trance like state. It sounds ludicrous, but Reflections has been sure to support the crazy mechanic with a plausible narrative. In fact, the mechanic is integral to the very plot of the game.
After the events of Driv3r, John Tanner was left in hospital in a critical condition. This is the point at which the new game picks up; with Tanner lying in a hospital bed in a coma. The weird thing about Driver: San Francisco is that the whole game actually takes place in Tanner's mind. If, like me, you're worried that this will effectively make the whole plot redundant, have a read of my interview with Martin Edmondson, who explains exactly why the narrative is so significant. In his comatose state, Tanner is still an undercover cop, except he thinks that he's gained a strange super power of sorts. With a quick tap of the X button, players can pull Tanner's consciousness from his own body, and shift it into the body of any other driver in the game.
Players can't shift from car to car willy-nilly, however, the game takes advantage of a resource system that ensures players make use of the mechanic sparingly. By drifting, narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic, catching air and generally driving like a badass, Tanner (or the person he's possessing) will fill a resource meter. This can then be used to shift between other cars, with the meter gradually depleting based on how long you stay in Shift view.