B.U.S.S.I.N.: Brutally Unfair Strategy Showcases Ingenuity Nicely

Driver: San Francisco is a brilliant game - that much I'm certain of. Nailing down exactly why it's brilliant is proving to be hard, but not for the usual reasons; there's just too damn many interesting things going on in this game, and I'm not sure what to talk about first! The poor, unfortunate souls who follow me on Twitter have been made to endure my incessant tweets about the game these past couple of days. To be fair, there's a lot to talk about: the writing is clever and genuinely funny, the story is remarkably strange for a mainstream tentpole release in an established franchise and the title song is the best video game theme in years (actually, the whole soundtrack is great). This is a game heavy with smart ideas, but I figure it'd be best to focus on one for now: the shift mechanic.

And showing is always better than telling, right?

For those unfamiliar, the shift mechanic allows you to (through a brilliantly bizarre story contrivance) effectively teleport out of your car and into any other vehicle on the road virtually anytime. It's an exhilarating ability, doubly so when you combine it with Ubisoft Reflections' proprietary game engine that allows you to zoom out far enough to see practically all of San Francisco at once. The consequences of shift are extreme and often amazing. Not a lot of games have the chutzpah to equip the player with a game-breakingly potent superpower right off the bat, and even fewer will pull it off with as much balance and finesse as is seen here.

Just to give you an example of what shift can do for you, here's a video I made earlier today. I'm in the middle of an off-road buggy race, doing poorly, when suddenly I bungle a corner and end up flipping my car onto its side. Suddenly, I'm in fourth place! Out of four drivers! What to do?

In most racing games, I'd have to either restart, or keep racing and pray that the rubber banding was severe enough to give me a fighting chance. In Driver: SF, however, I was able to do this:

Why, yes, I totally did just leave my body, float a quarter mile away, retrieve a goddamn city bus, swerve it onto the dirt course and use it as a makeshift barricade to hold every racer but myself back. How fucking awesome is that?!

The answer you're looking for is "pretty fucking awesome." And for those of you concerned about whether or not this is unfair: I wound up winning the race, but it was a close one. One of the many ingenious things about shift is that once as you leave a victim's body, they resume control of the vehicle - so the bus driver unstuck himself and resumed his route, giving the other racers a chance to catch up with me.

What an apt subtitle this game had!

Tactics like this are never explicitly taught to you by the game - it's simply a beautiful consequence of what happens when developers give you godlike powers and let you roam free. They're what you'd call examples of emergent gameplay(a wiki page Jeff soullessly deleted), and they are one of my favorite things in video games.

Polished, open-world-y games whose possibilities feel endless are, without a doubt, my favorite type of game. That's why Just Cause 2 made me happier than almost any other game last year: you could connect a decapitated statue head to the back of a car with rope and use it as a makeshift flail to take out enemies. I played the original Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction for dozens (maybe hundreds) of hours, and my 12-year-old brother just finished playing through the game for the third time earlier this year. Like, he played it on Xbox 360! How crazy is that?

Concept art for Driver: San Francisco

Not that crazy, actually. These games that actively cultivate emergent gameplay are truly special, because every time you pick them up, you're guaranteed at least a couple of completely unique experiences that you've never had before. They're weird, explosion-laden storytelling engines. And I think they're great! Which is why, three years later, I still catch myself occasionally playing fucking Saints Row 2.

Back to my point, though: shift is awesome. It irreversibly alters every single mission type you encounter. Car chases, races, escort missions: every type of basic variant an open-world car-drivin' game can throw at you plays completely differently with the power of every car in San Francisco on your side. Each mission turns into a kind of puzzle, and they're super rewarding to solve. I'm only a few hours in, but the game has done a great job of throwing a variety of shift-incorporating gametypes at me faster than I can outsmart them.

And that's without even mentioning the multiplayer.

Basically, what I'm getting at is this: fucking play Driver: San Francisco. It's fun / polished / unique as shit, and absolutely worthy of your attention.

21 Comments
21 Comments
Posted by Babylonian

Driver: San Francisco is a brilliant game - that much I'm certain of. Nailing down exactly why it's brilliant is proving to be hard, but not for the usual reasons; there's just too damn many interesting things going on in this game, and I'm not sure what to talk about first! The poor, unfortunate souls who follow me on Twitter have been made to endure my incessant tweets about the game these past couple of days. To be fair, there's a lot to talk about: the writing is clever and genuinely funny, the story is remarkably strange for a mainstream tentpole release in an established franchise and the title song is the best video game theme in years (actually, the whole soundtrack is great). This is a game heavy with smart ideas, but I figure it'd be best to focus on one for now: the shift mechanic.

And showing is always better than telling, right?

For those unfamiliar, the shift mechanic allows you to (through a brilliantly bizarre story contrivance) effectively teleport out of your car and into any other vehicle on the road virtually anytime. It's an exhilarating ability, doubly so when you combine it with Ubisoft Reflections' proprietary game engine that allows you to zoom out far enough to see practically all of San Francisco at once. The consequences of shift are extreme and often amazing. Not a lot of games have the chutzpah to equip the player with a game-breakingly potent superpower right off the bat, and even fewer will pull it off with as much balance and finesse as is seen here.

Just to give you an example of what shift can do for you, here's a video I made earlier today. I'm in the middle of an off-road buggy race, doing poorly, when suddenly I bungle a corner and end up flipping my car onto its side. Suddenly, I'm in fourth place! Out of four drivers! What to do?

In most racing games, I'd have to either restart, or keep racing and pray that the rubber banding was severe enough to give me a fighting chance. In Driver: SF, however, I was able to do this:

Why, yes, I totally did just leave my body, float a quarter mile away, retrieve a goddamn city bus, swerve it onto the dirt course and use it as a makeshift barricade to hold every racer but myself back. How fucking awesome is that?!

The answer you're looking for is "pretty fucking awesome." And for those of you concerned about whether or not this is unfair: I wound up winning the race, but it was a close one. One of the many ingenious things about shift is that once as you leave a victim's body, they resume control of the vehicle - so the bus driver unstuck himself and resumed his route, giving the other racers a chance to catch up with me.

What an apt subtitle this game had!

Tactics like this are never explicitly taught to you by the game - it's simply a beautiful consequence of what happens when developers give you godlike powers and let you roam free. They're what you'd call examples of emergent gameplay(a wiki page Jeff soullessly deleted), and they are one of my favorite things in video games.

Polished, open-world-y games whose possibilities feel endless are, without a doubt, my favorite type of game. That's why Just Cause 2 made me happier than almost any other game last year: you could connect a decapitated statue head to the back of a car with rope and use it as a makeshift flail to take out enemies. I played the original Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction for dozens (maybe hundreds) of hours, and my 12-year-old brother just finished playing through the game for the third time earlier this year. Like, he played it on Xbox 360! How crazy is that?

Concept art for Driver: San Francisco

Not that crazy, actually. These games that actively cultivate emergent gameplay are truly special, because every time you pick them up, you're guaranteed at least a couple of completely unique experiences that you've never had before. They're weird, explosion-laden storytelling engines. And I think they're great! Which is why, three years later, I still catch myself occasionally playing fucking Saints Row 2.

Back to my point, though: shift is awesome. It irreversibly alters every single mission type you encounter. Car chases, races, escort missions: every type of basic variant an open-world car-drivin' game can throw at you plays completely differently with the power of every car in San Francisco on your side. Each mission turns into a kind of puzzle, and they're super rewarding to solve. I'm only a few hours in, but the game has done a great job of throwing a variety of shift-incorporating gametypes at me faster than I can outsmart them.

And that's without even mentioning the multiplayer.

Basically, what I'm getting at is this: fucking play Driver: San Francisco. It's fun / polished / unique as shit, and absolutely worthy of your attention.

Posted by GlenTennis

tl;dr

Edited by JCTango

Cool. I didn't think the shift mechanic was going to be any fun. It seemed gimmicky. A lot of people seem to like this game, however. I'll try it out at some point. I think I saw/heard somewhere that said that when you shift into various cars, you can sometimes hear some funny conversations and such - that's something I'd look forward to experiencing :D.

Posted by Babylonian

@GlenTennis said:

tl;dr

H8 U BEN

Posted by SeriouslyNow

too boring; didn't play

Posted by JayDee

i didnt know you were into trap. good shit bruh.

Posted by Subjugation

@GlenTennis said:

tl;dr

Edited by Doctorchimp

I thought we were going to talk about Gary Busey...

Fuck this topic.

Posted by Babylonian

@JCTango said:

Cool. I didn't think the shift mechanic was going to be any fun. It seemed gimmicky. A lot of people seem to like this game, however. I'll try it out at some point. I think I saw/heard somewhere that said that when you shift into various cars, you can sometimes hear some funny conversations and such - that's something I'd look forward to experiencing :D.

This is maybe my other favorite part of the game: you're constantly hopping into cars mid-conversation, and watching Tanner struggle to fake his way through being in someone else's body is weird, fascinating and funny as hell. Here's two of my favorite examples of that. It's great!

Posted by Ravenlight

@Babylonian said:

fucking play Driver: San Francisco.

Was on the fence but you've sold me.

Posted by Absolute_Zero

@Babylonian said:

[...]Ubisoft Reflections' proprietary game engine that allows you to zoom out far enough to see practically all of San Francisco at once.

I don't have any insights into the technical aspects of Driver: SF, but I think R.U.S.E. also allowed this (incredible zoom-in/out, that is). I'm not sure if Eugen's also a part of Ubisoft, but maybe this was a case of tech-sharing?

Eh, whatever. As you said, that theme song is great! And I think I'll end up giving this a rent real soon; the demo sold me on this game, but your recommendation sold-er me more. So thanks for that!

Posted by ThatFrood

Wow, I never noticed how good that theme is before you pointed it out. Goddamn, it is great.

Posted by Babylonian

@Absolute_Zero said:

@Babylonian said:

[...]Ubisoft Reflections' proprietary game engine that allows you to zoom out far enough to see practically all of San Francisco at once.

I don't have any insights into the technical aspects of Driver: SF, but I think R.U.S.E. also allowed this (incredible zoom-in/out, that is). I'm not sure if Eugen's also a part of Ubisoft, but maybe this was a case of tech-sharing?

Eh, whatever. As you said, that theme song is great! And I think I'll end up giving this a rent real soon; the demo sold me on this game, but your recommendation sold-er me more. So thanks for that!

I'm not sure! My only source on that is this - I'm assuming when Joystiq took that preview meeting with Reflections, they were told at some point that it's a proprietary engine that took them forevs to develop. I could totally see it being shared tech with R.U.S.E., though, because they both have that seamless, 'holy fuck' change of scale capability. It's impressive stuff, either way!

@ThatFrood said:

Wow, I never noticed how good that theme is before you pointed it out. Goddamn, it is great.

BUM. BA-DUM DUM DUM. (BA-DUM DUM DUM.)

Edited by ThatFrood

@Babylonian said:

@Absolute_Zero said:

@Babylonian said:

[...]Ubisoft Reflections' proprietary game engine that allows you to zoom out far enough to see practically all of San Francisco at once.

I don't have any insights into the technical aspects of Driver: SF, but I think R.U.S.E. also allowed this (incredible zoom-in/out, that is). I'm not sure if Eugen's also a part of Ubisoft, but maybe this was a case of tech-sharing?

Eh, whatever. As you said, that theme song is great! And I think I'll end up giving this a rent real soon; the demo sold me on this game, but your recommendation sold-er me more. So thanks for that!

I'm not sure! My only source on that is this - I'm assuming when Joystiq took that preview meeting with Reflections, they were told at some point that it's a proprietary engine that took them forevs to develop. I could totally see it being shared tech with R.U.S.E., though, because they both have that seamless, 'holy fuck' change of scale capability. It's impressive stuff, either way!

HO HO, I am in a unique position to answer this!

I was a big fan of RUSE and it's tech when it first came out, and have been following the development of their next game, Wargame, closely ever since, going so far as to become one of the moderators on its forum.

The tech used, specifically their "IrisZoom" engine, is owned by Eugen Systems. So I highly doubt Ubisoft used it in Driver: San Francisco. I could be wrong, as their were a lot of troubles Eugen had with their partnership with Ubisoft and maybe, somehow, Driver made out like a bandit with some of their tech, but I highly doubt that. Eugen Systems is now not a part of Ubisoft, they've split ways and Eugen owns the IrisZoom engine.

Posted by Hailinel

I imagine that the bus driver had an awkward moment with his passengers after that.

Posted by Absolute_Zero

@ThatFrood: Thanks for the info! The troubles with Ubisoft sound unfortunate, but now you got me interested in Eugen's next game! Shame on you. :P

Posted by beard_of_zeus

Glad you enjoyed the game! I was also blown away by how much I liked this game, both offline and online. You pretty much laid out all the reasons why it's awesome, so I shant repeat you. Good writeup.
 
...and I totally didn't leave this game on the title screen for an entire evening while doing other shit around my apartment so I could listen to that fantastic menu music for hours on end. No sir, I'd never do anything that crazy!

Posted by csl316

This game surpassed any and all expectations I had (admittedly, there were none).
 
It's quite excellent, with a surprisingly addictive multiplayer component.  My most played Driver game since '99!

Posted by DemonStration

Great read, and that video is a perfect example of the crazy stuff you can do in this game.

Posted by Vestigial_Man

I agree with your opinions about emergent gameplay and I largely like Driver:SF but some aspects of it are pretty bad. Specifically the handling. It's fine for free roaming and most missions but it's not very precise and there are plenty of cinematic moments ruined by crashes caused by the handling. I also hate time limits on objectives in games, it really doesn't help when the handling is so imprecise as well. Last issue was the AI, the rubber banding was ridiculous and way too punishing in parts, especially in the "lose cops within time limit" missions, not fun. Aside from those issues it can be really fun, the story is super entertaining in a dumb way and it has a few really good cinematic moments in it.

Posted by Babylonian

@Vestigial_Man said:

I agree with your opinions about emergent gameplay and I largely like Driver:SF but some aspects of it are pretty bad. Specifically the handling. It's fine for free roaming and most missions but it's not very precise and there are plenty of cinematic moments ruined by crashes caused by the handling. I also hate time limits on objectives in games, it really doesn't help when the handling is so imprecise as well. Last issue was the AI, the rubber banding was ridiculous and way too punishing in parts, especially in the "lose cops within time limit" missions, not fun. Aside from those issues it can be really fun, the story is super entertaining in a dumb way and it has a few really good cinematic moments in it.

I really dig the handling, actually. It took me a while to get used to, and I found myself spinning out a lot at first, but overall the dramatic oversteering is super fun for me (I love drifting, and you're pretty much never not drifting in this game). I haven't ever crashed because of the handling, I don't think.

I'm totally with you on the time limit stuff, though, especially since the time limits in this game are the strictest thing about it. Not counting the final mission, I never found myself losing missions for reasons other than running out of time.

Still, I can feel myself turning into a total crazy person over this game. I think I'm gonna try to make it my first disc-based S-Rank. Commitment, y'all.