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Driver: San Francisco Multiplayer Hands-On

Read our hands-on with Driver: San Francisco’s single player campaign here.
Like single player, Driver: San Francisco’s multiplayer revolves around the ‘Shift’ mechanic. Shift allows you take control of any car in the city currently under AI control. Entering Shift throws you into a bird’s eye view of the city, from which you manoeuvre the camera looking for a suitable vehicle, in a suitable position, to usurp from its owner. It’s all about being able to mind-warp from a coma, or something… our single player hands-on has more details.
On the surface of it, this sounds like a ridiculous inclusion for a driving game; what’s to stop you simply ‘Shifting’ to a car stationed near the finishing line and instantly winning the race? The answer is that Driver’s multiplayer modes have been designed to make use of this mechanic, they’re more concerned with team-work, avoiding opponents and following very strict racing lines than traditional first-to-the-finish competitions.
Standard races do appear but, they shun Shift altogether and suffer from a lack of comparative excitement as a result. Driver has always been an arcade focused series and by doing away with this latest game’s most ‘acradey’ mechanic highlights that fact.
The following is a breakdown of some of Driver: San Francisco’s more interesting multiplayer modes.

Tag is a vehicular recreation of the game played in the schools around the world (we presume it’s still played in schools, at least), only this time being ‘it’ is considered a good thing. At the start of each round one player is randomly designated ‘it’ and must remain that way for as long as they can while the remaining players fight to smash into them, thus becoming ‘it’ themselves and the new target of aggression. The first player to hold ‘it’ status for a pre-defined length of time wins the round.
While it sounds simplistic, the inclusion of Shift forces a degree of tactically nuance. The best way to catch up with your prey is to Shift to a different vehicle as soon as you’re out of attack range. Trying to time your Shifts so that you take control of a new car that is either side-by-side with your prey or heading towards it at a junction is the best way to go; playing catch up takes too long and (at least during the games we played) results in a comfortable win for the lead player.
The best tactic for the ‘it’ car (who is blocked from using Shift) is to avoid areas with heavy traffic, thus removing the Shift mechanic from their pursuers arsenal – with the whole city open to you, this is actually easier than it sounds.
With everyone fighting each other for possession of ‘it’ status, races are frantic and extremely aggressive. Indeed, the aggression levels were so high in our play session that we found most success by hanging back behind the lead pack and picking off the ‘it’ car just after a collision while the player is struggling to back their vehicle away from the wall they’ve just ploughed into.

Essentially a game of follow the leader, Trailblazer tasks you with following in the neon trail left by an AI car speeding through the city. The catch is that only one car can score points at any one time as the trails are interrupted by the first car to intercept them, preventing players from simply lining up in single file and scoring in unison.
Following a car through a city may sound like a rather more polite affair than the events of Tag but, the fact that only one player can score at a time creates a mad scramble for the optimum position. Unlike Tag, the best tactic is not to suit up in the fastest car possible but to Shift to one that’s going to be difficult to force off of the road – pick-ups, fire trucks and the like are good bets so long as you can keep them at top speed.

Capture the Flag
Just like you’ve played in countless first-person shooters, Driver: San Francisco’s Capture the Flag is a team-based mode in which you collect flags and deliver them to your base. As you’d expect, teamwork is required not only to secure the flag (in preventing rivals from wrecking you) but in delivering it (again, to prevent rivals from wrecking you).
As always, the x-factor is the inclusion of Shift. It’s possible to Shift in behind enemy lines and sneak the flag unseen, so splitting your team into attackers and defenders is a good idea. This requires a significant degree of teamwork and clear communication so expect the winners to be the ones who employ superior tactics rather than the ones with the most adept drivers.
It was during our games of Capture the Flag that our session’s most exciting moments occurred – down 2-1 we managed to carve out a 3-2 victory by stationing two of our drivers on the rival flag carrier/s while the rest of us went after their flag – the final point coming with only a couple seconds left on the time limit. Capture the Flag-esque modes have been attempted before in driving games but, with Shift allowing you to get back in the action quickly, this is the first time that it seems like a logical fit.

Checkpoint Rush
As the name implies, Checkpoint Rush is a rush through a series of checkpoints. As soon as the lead car passes a checkpoint, said checkpoint will start to fade – the remaining cars then have a couple of seconds to cross it before it disappears completely. Hitting checkpoints equals scoring points, missing them equals nothing. Unlike the other modes, Rush takes place on crowded highways of fast moving traffic, so a swift car is essential to stay ahead of both AI and human.
Due to the fact that you start in performance sports cars, catching up through normal means is incredibly difficult. As soon as you find yourself losing track of the leading pack you need to Shift out into a car further up the road. While Shifting you can’t earn points so it’s essential that you choose a new car as quickly as possible. In our panic we often found ourselves in family saloons while our competitors were roaring ahead in Italian sports car… not a fair fight.

A cops vs. robbers mode, Takedown sees each player take turns as a getaway driver while the remaining players try to wreck them. The robber must make their way through four drop-off points within a very strict time limit, with points awarded for each successful pass. Points are awarded to the cops for inflicting damage on the robber but, due to the way the scoring works, the robber who completes the most drop-offs in the shortest time will almost always win.
Only the cops are able to use Shift, with whichever car they take control of magically morphing into the black and white, siren-packing vehicle of San Francisco’s finest. Due to the cops vs. robber set-up, Takedown is the mode that feels most like the Driver we know from the single player components of the series thus far – however, it’s also the one that feels most dated and lacking much in the way of creativity.
Driver: San Francisco will ship with 11 multiplayer modes in total when it’s released on 2 September in the UK and Europe. Those that we’ve played do a good job in demonstrating that there’s a life for competitive driving games beyond standard races and battles featuring all manner of crazy weapons and perks.
Of course, the test for games that choose the arcade path is always whether or not they can sustain genuine interest over the long term. In Driver’s case the wealth of modes and the novelty of Shift will probably help to retain interest for a decent period of time. No matter what though, with so many games featuring rushed, mindless multiplayer components, it’s nice to see a game that takes what makes the single player interesting and using it to what looks to be good effect in its multiplayer.
Expect our full review of Driver: San Francisco in the coming weeks.


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