Game of the Week: Driver: San Francisco

Bullitt storm.

It has begun - and what better way to celebrate the fact it's not silly season any more than the sight of Zumba Fitness descending the Top 10 rather than bouncing around the summit?

Deus Ex: Human Revolution has become one of the most successful games of 2011 overnight, but it won't be the most successful, as the next few months rain down blockbusters and hopefully swamp Zumba out of the charts altogether in the process. (It's not that we don't like fitness games, incidentally - we just object to really bad ones.)

This week Ubisoft snaps out of cruise control with the launch of Driver: San Francisco, an arcade racer with a mental gimmick - you're in a coma, allowing you to hop between cars in a sort of ethereal noclip mode - while Codemasters also goes weapons-free with the launch of first-person shooter Bodycount after years of development hell.

It's a potentially strong week for digital titles, too, with ACE Team's Rock of Ages flying the flag for the ever-popular bowling-strategy hybrid genre, a new instalment in the DeathSpank series and Serious Sam: Double D, a little side-scrolling amuse-bouche for the forthcoming Serious Sam 3: BFE.

None of the above rises quite so Icarus-like from the depths of boring summer as Deus Ex, it has to be said, although Rock of Ages (reviewed early next week) is certainly charming. But there is one unlikely hero.

Driver: San Francisco

In 2010, gamers were invited to steer their way through the likes of Blur, Split/Second, F1 2010 and Gran Turismo 5, and few who did will have felt short-changed by a racing genre apparently in rude health.

Within months though, what might have been a banner year for driving games lost its sheen as first Activision shuttered Bizarre Creations and then Disney drew a line under Black Rock.

If those were tales of bitter commercial reality wrenched from the jaws of critical victory, however, the story of Newcastle studio Reflections and Driver: San Francisco has the potential to be one of redemption.

Seven years ago, Driv3r was a disaster, almost universally savaged by press and gamers who had been left reeling by the V8 roar of the game's undeserved hype. Other Driver games followed - including the not-entirely-bad Driver: Parallel Lines - but Reflections' reputation was arguably still trapped in the car crash of 2004.

Eurogamer's Driver: San Francisco video talkthrough.

Driver: San Francisco, at least, finally lays that d3mon to rest. Having snuggled up to creatively minded Ubisoft a little while back, Reflections has been given the freedom to labour over its ambitious return to form and, crucially, to finish it.

Solid driving around a familiar city is elevated considerably by the new Shift mechanic, which allows undercover cop John Tanner - who finds himself in a coma at the start of the game - to float around town possessing vehicles at will.

It's used inventively throughout the single-player campaign, and it's particularly effective in multiplayer, which has more than a touch of Midtown Madness to it.

As Martin Robinson wrote in our 8/10 Driver: San Francisco review, "It's a pleasure to watch developer Reflections wrangle mileage out of the feature.

"Taking down cars quickly becomes an artful juggling act as an entire swarm of rush hour traffic is placed at your disposal, and snapping from one side of the city to another in a swift manoeuvre is central to many missions. There are smarter applications too: winning a race is one thing, but how about coming first, second and third?"

It remains to be seen whether the buying public is up for another go-round with Tanner - the fates of the equally excellent arcade racing duo Blur and Split/Second are still uncomfortably fresh in the memory - but whether or not Driver troubles the top of the chart on Monday, Reflections can come in from the cold.

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