Driver: San Francisco Multiplayer hands-on - Feeling Shifty
- Driver: San Francisco
After spending the morning going hands-on with the single player and embarking on atour of the Driver studio during my visit to Ubisoft Reflections, the time had come to group us all together for an extended play-through of Driver: San Francisco’s multiplayer component.
Online multiplayer represents a significant milestone in Driver’s history, since Driver: San Francisco will mark the first time the franchise has ever embraced it in a console generation often dominated by online play. For Martin Edmondson, getting it right first time round was therefore absolutely crucial if the series stands a chance of surviving in the ever-competitive market, going as far as hiring a completely independent team.
“Because we’ve never done a multiplayer game before, the only way we could do it was by setting up a separate team and going at it 100% right from the beginning 5 years ago. It was a very robust approach,” says Martin.
“The other thing is we knew at the beginning that the Shift feature was something that would really transform the driving genre, especially in multiplayer. It would give you all sorts of crazy, fun, frantic and competitive situations and so therefore we completely embraced it right from the beginning. We just came up with the best modes that we could and gave ourselves a long period of time, the whole 4 ½ years to develop this, to make it work.”
Up to eight players will be able to compete online, and there will be an XP and ranking system, naturally. Many driving games will suffice with an obligatory race mode, but not so with Driver: San Francisco. Like DiRT 3’s Party Mode, Driver aims to add something completely new to the genre across its wide spread of 19 multiplayer modes – 11 are online, 5 are split-screen competitive and 3 are split-screen co-operative. I was only able to play through a handful however, with many still left to be announced.
It’s clear that Shift plays an integral role in many of the multiplayer modes right from the outset. Take Tag for example, where the tagged player must do everything in their power to avoid getting struck by other players until they reach the score limit. In a vast open city, this would normally soon become tiresome, but Shift manages to speed past this problem since you can just Shift into nearby cars if your target strays too far away, giving multiplayer matches a constant breakneck pace.
Shift also opens a whole new realm of skilful strategy and the result is a chaotic cocktail of high speed pandemonium, as players scramble to Shift into the best position to take you out. It’s hair-raising stuff when law-abiding traffic cars suddenly morph into vengeful players veering into your path intent on smashing into you head-on.
It’s just as much fun being on either side, too. Monitoring the tagged player up above in Shift whilst scheming the optimum time to pounce is feels deliciously devious, whereas being the target is incredibly frantic since you have to keep your wits about you at all times, anticipating where the next player will Shift.
I usually found the best strategy for attacking was to Shift up ahead of the target at just the right distance to match their speed and side-swipe into them. Being chased is an eclectic test of driving skills too, requiring you to adopt every trick in the driving games manual – sudden braking and swerving into tight alleyways was my favourite tactic for evasion.
During our match, a common tactic was to commandeer a heavyweight vehicle such as a bus or truck to block the road, but in practice this often backfired – once you snatch the tag and become “it” in a bus, there’s really no escape as you’re slowed to a crawl.
Like many aspects of Driver: San Francisco, online multiplayer hasn’t exactly been easy to implement. “It has been a huge, huge challenge,” says Martin Edmondson. “Online just throws new challenges on top of challenges you have in the single player with all of the syncing nightmares of people Shifting around, grabbing cars just before each other and resolving these syncs with all this crazy stuff going on.” Despite this, the multiplayer seemed to hold up just as well as the single player, which is no mean feat.
The remaining modes were equally fast, furious and riotous fun. My particular favourite was Takedown, Driver: San Francisco’s take on the classic cops and robbers scenario. Again, Shift completely changes this familiar setup – the twist is that the cops can Shift whereas the robber cannot, but you will still drive a police car no matter what you Shift into. Meanwhile the hapless robber must pass through checkpoints whilst the cops do everything in their power to smash them in submission until their health bar has depleted. It plays like a more objective-based version of Tag, but it’s still undeniably enthralling being pitted against multiple Shifting players at once.
Trailblazer is more about precision driving than high speed chases. Here, an indestructible DeLorean will roam around the streets with a visible trail following its headlights and it’s your job to follow the car in-line with the trail. Unlike Tag, Shifting into a lumbering bus or truck proved to be productive, since its size made it considerably difficult for my rivals to fit and its sluggish performance matched the pace of the slow-moving trail car. While I preferred the other available modes for the simple fact you weren’t confined to a set path all the time, Trailblazer was still enjoyable in its own right and offered a different test of driving skills, albeit at a slower pace.
Not every mode will incorporate Shift however – there are standard races too, playable in either “Classic Race” comprising of circuit laps around the city or shorter “Sprint GP” races that last around 30 – 40 seconds through checkpoints. One memorable circuit took place in the off-road Marin County in tail-happy Audi Quattros and Ford RS200s, which was a challenge in itself as they were quite a handful.
Optional qualifying rounds can also be instigated to determine player starting positions in any mode in the form of drift challenges or hill jumping for example. Alternatively, you can simply free roam the environment and create your own fun whilst waiting for the player to setup the lobby Burnout Paradise-style.
At one point I played alongside the developers, including Creative Director Martin Edmondson, Producer Marie Jo-Leroux, and Multiplayer Designer Martin Oliver (what is it with Driver attracting Martins?). Not that I’m gloating or anything, but they probably didn’t take kindly to being consistently beaten at their own game by someone who had only played it for a day – eventually the heat escalated to a point where their sole aim was to ensure I didn’t win, even if it meant slightly unorthodox tactics during races.
There was cursing. There was screaming. Grudges were almost certainly made. But that alone is a testament to just how engrossing Driver: San Francisco’s multiplayer can be, adding a whole new dimension to the series. In all honestly, it could be the innovative jumpstart the genre needs after some recent demises – hopefully Driver’s brand recognition will propel it above its competitor’s misfires.
This article was originally published on Drivinggamespro.com.
Words by Martin Bigg (Twitter: @drivinggamespro)
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