Monthly Archives: March 2014

Video game culture has evolved? More like devolved.

I am embarrassed to say I play games.  Not because it’s an unvirtuous or unjustifiable pastime, but because of what being passionate about games has come to represent.  We like to think we are more sophisticated and relevant than people that follow the Kardashians, hanging on their every word, waiting for their next nipple slip.  We are not.  We like to think that because we self-define videogames as art that vitriol and gossip about their makers is more sophisticated than scuttlebut about Miley Cyrus’ sexual escapades.  It’s not.  We like to think that our own subjective views are the only one true objective view about anything, ever.  They are not.

You just have to look at the rumours and speculation surrounding the departure of Amy Hennig from Naughty Dog, the subsequent speculation, and the heavy handed response from Naughty Dog setting the record straight, to see that something is wrong.  Even after that Kotaku ran a story purporting to clarify the situation, only to then discredit it and perpetuate the unfounded accusations levelled at Naughty Dog.  It was later revised, removing the inflammatory commentary by the author, but the question remains as to why it was published before it was subject to editorial control.  It is a broader problem than just lays with Kotaku, but it is one that is exacerbating an already rampant culture of disrespect and rumour-mongering that exists within the industry.  And it happened again with the departure at Evolution Studios

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Rumour and speculation has always been a solid pillar of participating in the video game industry and its culture more broadly.  But it was never so personal, harsh and damaging.  The rumours published we about the existence of Sheng Long in Street Fighter, or a nude code for Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.  They were playful attempts at playing on the passions of people that enjoy video games.  It was all a bit immature and showed the youth of the industry, but it was fun and in good humour, and for the most part never hurt anyone.  Things have changed, as they should.  The medium has matured and the industry has become much bigger than it was.  But everything around the industry has gone backwards.

And its all about not just people feeling entitled to their own opinion, but that their opinions are right.  That no one else has a view or that their views aren’t worth anything.  It would be fine if they disagree silently but all too often it devolves into a slanging match of sarcasm and self-righteousness on twitter, message boards or comments sections of popular websites.  The worst part is this usually involves so-called industry-luminaries, the video games media, justifying their own positions in a heavy-handed or snarky fashion.  You just have to look at some of the exchanges between people on the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR to see the sheer amount of arrogance and misinformation being bandied around in positions of influence.  And while many of them are quick to distance their tweets from their professionally written work, the fact is there should be no distinction.  If you’re selling yourself as a personality and an authority, that counts as much at the dinner table as it does at the podium.

If these are the people we have to look up to as beacons of hope for the future of the culture surrounding our favourite pastime, things aren’t looking great.  Across the board gaming culture fuelled by the anonymity and convenience of the internet has devolved into a spout of vitriol, ill-will and arrogance, and is driven by egos rather than excellence.

There are beacons of light, of course, with Giantbomb’s Patrick Klepek representing a level-headed and respectful approach to games journalism, and I have a new-found respect for the understanding of the business world as well as thoughtfulness in writing of professionals like Pocketgamer.biz’s Keith Andrews.  But it’s not enough, and if we want the industry and the culture of video games to be respected more broadly, we need to start with ourselves and how we interact with each other.  I’m not sure anyone has but it quite as perfectly and succinctly as Polygon’s Justin McElroy when he tweeted:

Games are mature, they are relevant and they are absolutely an important part of our social fabric.  But we need to reflect that in the way we as consumers and commentators conduct ourselves.  So instead of McDonald’s receipts perhaps consider getting that tattooed on your arm as a constant reminder to be a good video game industry (and internet) citizen.  And this applies doubly to those that get paid to do so.

Do you think the games enthusiast press and internet commentators need a kick in the arse?  Tell us in the comments below.

ShengLong

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Stealth games can learn from human behaviour in public toilets

You sit there in a dark corner of an otherwise lit courtyard.  There are three armed men, vigilant in their task to find someone, anyone, that dares try and steal their secrets from the server room.  They’re searching for you, the super spy tasked with bringing an end to the cold war-esque rise of a wayward nation state, the only man who can put an end to the crisis.  You sit there, heart pounding, waiting for your opportunity to make a clean break for it – or die trying. 

There’s just one problem- You know you’ll never be found.

GarretI really like Stealth games and find myself in an enviable position as Thief currently occupies my Xbox One and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is about to sit in my Playstation 4.  Rest assured I will drain every ounce of gameplay from them as I sneak, shoot and strangle my way through carefully choreographed courtyards and corridors, dashing in and out of the shadows, and making opportunistic dashes across lit areas out of sight of the enemy.  There is nothing quite like ‘outsmarting’ enemy AI and getting to your objective unseen and unheard. I like procedural things, methodologies, processes – I like to think that the world is governed by a simple set of rules and that if you follow those rules you’ll more likely succeed than not.  Those rules aren’t necessarily ‘fair’, but they make navigating life a hell of a lot easier than it would otherwise be.

But within this order, I also like an element of randomness within the bounds of the ruleset.  I don’t want things to be entirely predictable, because predictability may as well be synonymous with monotony, but I want enough in the way of stochasticity to make things interesting. A while ago I wrote about how way back in 2002, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell blurred the line between playing a game and understanding it.  It required an understanding of how the game world would react to your input, and how to exploit the game’s rules to win the game.  And Stealth games by their nature require this type of implicit communication between player and game designer in order to succeed.   And that was amazing at the time as the game appeared to present almost unlimited freedom to approach the scenarios, the logic problems, presented to the player.   The artificial intelligence, the playfield and the rules of engagement were all fixed – the only variable is the player’s interaction therein.  Basically the game gives you a set of guidelines and tells you to “solve for X”.  SC_XBOX Of course with enemy artificial intelligence and almost binary measures of light and dark the game really became an exercise in memory and timing, as you remain hidden until such a time as you can exploit the enemy’s predictable movement around the level.  It is never terribly cerebral, and when it comes down to it it amounts to nothing more than keen observation.  There is nothing random about it as it becomes predictable – enemies follow the same routes, at the same time, looking the same way, seeing the same things. It is, in a word, monotonous.  Unfortunately with that certainty comes the reality that if you follow the clearly defined rules, you know you’ll never lose.

Of course all of this changes once you’re spotted by an enemy and its as if they’ve taken a proton pill that has increased their intelligence ten-fold.  It’s at this time, until (to use the Metal Gear terminology) Alert Phase ends, that they begin to act more like real life human beings in pursuit of a known target.  They pursue, take cover, flank and shoot in a bullish yet logical fashion.  Predictability is replaced by stochasticity and the player is forced to react to what they see and think, rather than what they know.  It’s paradoxical that the most exhilarating and primal aspects of stealth games are the ones that are the result of ‘playing them wrong’.

But how do you change such a well-worn but well-established genre?  Dishonored (which Lucius rather liked, enough to make it onto our best games of last generation list) gave the player greater freedom – better tools of movement and battle – to add an element of faux randomness to the player’s, and by virtue of that fact, enemy behaviour.  The result was a game that felt like a huge leap forward for the genre but really what  it did was hide the limitations of enemy intelligence and behaviour with a more stochastic and agile player. It was clever, and the closest thing we’ve had to a revolution of the stealth genre, but it still didn’t address the key underlying issues. Dishonored screenshot 2 Of course the other option is to change the way the artificial intelligence in-game behaves, forcing a sort of structural change in the way players approach each and every situation.  The thing is these games hide behind a very abstract depiction of human behaviour.  We are creatures of habit but not ones of predictability.  Humans are rational to an extent but behind every decision lays a complex thought process that can take into account any number of factors before we act, all in a split second.  And so while, on the surface at least, it may look as though we are acting in a predictable and rational manner, we are in fact making decisions based on all available information before deciding on our default action.  In economics we rely heavily on assuming consumers act in a rational manner, but we bloody well know that is not the case and that our models, our predictions and forecasts, are compromised by the highly volatile, or at least complex and calculating, nature of the human mind.

Case in point: think about every time you walk into a public toilet.  I don’t know about you, but upon walking into a bathroom, numerous stalls lining the wall, about one thousand different factors run through my mind in making the tough decision as to which to choose.  The obvious first point to consider is state of the bowl itself, which I’m sure any human in the western world will attest to, can vary from repulsive to remarkably clean.  But there are other factors that go into the seemingly simple decision to choose one cubicle over another.  Privacy, for example is the second factor, and one that can take into account dozens of variables in determining the level of therein.  For example, the location of lighting as to not cast a shadow onto the ground, the location of mirrors that may reflect through tiny gaps between the cubicle doors, or the closeness of the chosen toilet to the main entry into the bathroom.  All of these things weigh in, in varying degrees, into our decision to make the decision to walk into a cubicle, drop your trousers, and do your business.

But what happens when it all goes wrong and a third party enters the bathro0m and acts in a way you didn’t anticipate, as random, irrational people want to do?  I don’t know about you but it angers me to no end when someone enters the bathroom and chooses the cubicle right next to me, even though there are a number of cubicles to choose from that would maximise both of our levels of privacy.  The point is we make these decisions based on how we believe others will act – based on the knowledge of how we would act in that same situation.  But it’s imperfect information, so while we don’t know that Person X will come in and choose Cubicle Y, we can make guesses based on how we understand humans to behave when presented with a given set of factors.  It isn’t about observed human behaviour but rather perception and prediction of it.  Sometimes we’re wrong and we sit there irritated to the loud expulsion of waste matter in the stall next to yours.  But when you get it right, and no matter how many people enter the bathroom during your (hopefully) short stay it is perverse how much satisfaction you may derive.

MGS PS2

What if games took this same logic and applied it to a game scenario?  Stealth games at present are about watching and reacting, often in a quick and decisive manner.  But what if they were more about predicting enemy movement in relation to an environment?  What if you had the time to assess the environment carefully and then make a decision before setting things into motion?  Imagine Lemmings where they have free will, or the Incredible Machine where instead of being bound by the laws of physics you’re bound by the laws of human nature and behaviour.  It would be a paradigm shift that could potentially give the stealth game a new genre.  It would take ‘understanding a game’s rules’ to a whole new level, in much the same way stealth games have done in the past.  Sure it adds some randomness and potentially some frustration – but on the flip side it may also lead to the creation of some of the most rewarding, intelligent and memorable experiences for players.  Then again it may be the impossible dream that our technology just doesn’t allow for.

What do you think?

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From The Armchair: VR is the Future, Again

ArmchairGood morrow to you all, and welcome to ‘From The Armchair’, the first in a series of regular posts in which I, Lucius P. Merriweather, spout forth on any old subject that’s been picking at my addled brain, as well as giving you the odd salacious titbit about what’s been happening behind the hallowed doors of The Manor.

As you all know, Sir Gaulian ranges around the South Wing of The Manor, whereas I generally confine myself to the North Wing, occasionally communicating with Gaulie by missives sent via the elaborate pneumatic tube system we had installed at great cost. After a lengthy period of silence, a canister from Gaulie farted out of the tube system a couple of days ago, and the letter inside consisted of a general inquiry as to whether I was still alive and what the blazes I’d been up to.

Well, in answer to his query, I’ve been up to rather a lot. For a start I’ve been furiously scribbling away on another article for the chaps and chappesses at Eurogamer, which hopefully should be appearing in the very near future, although lord knows when. Then I’ve been putting some serious hours in on Fire Emblem: Awakening, which has successfully ensnared me with its mix of tactical gameplay and awkward character interactions, which charmingly seem to mostly revolve around cooking and eating pies. I sneaked a peek at my total playing time the other day, and my eyebrows near shot through my hat – let’s just say it’s the longest period I’ve ever spent playing a single game, and that includes those joyous hours spent bumbling around the ruins of Washington in Fallout 3.

Then there’s L.A. Noire, which the lovely Ms. D. and I have been happily working our way through together. Ms. D. generally isn’t a fan of video gaming, but occasionally a game will come along that sucks her into my favourite pastime – The Walking Dead and The Last of Us were hits, and Ms. D. has a soft spot for the hard-bitten, 40s-era L.A. Noire too, although she gets annoyed if I “don’t play it properly” by ramming into other cars and generally driving like a maniac.

I’ve also been keeping a keen eye on the news coming out of GDC 2014 about Sony’s entry into the virtual reality race, Project Morpheus. After sampling the delights of Oculus Rift last September, I’m fully behind this re-ignition of interest in VR – finally the technology has caught up with the imagination. Back in 1992 we marvelled at The Lawnmower Man (well, the special effects at least), but the reality of VR was shonky Spectrum-esque graphics and a helmet the size of VW Polo, all for two quid a go. Needless to say, it bombed so badly that all thoughts of VR were expelled from hearts and minds for the next decade, but this time around the technology is good enough to live up to the dream.

But lets not get too carried away. After all, this technology is only likely to appeal to the more hardcore end of the gaming spectrum, reliant as it is on expensive equipment and total isolation from the real world. Grandma may have been hooked by swinging a tennis racquet around in Wii Sports, but I doubt she’ll be enticed into locking herself into a helmet to pilot a space fighter. Still, there’s still an undeniable excitement surrounding the new tech – it reminds me of the dawn of 3D gaming back in the mid-90s, perhaps the last time such an enormous breakthrough in gaming technology was made. Mark my words, VR is going to be BIG.

But perhaps not huge

Project-Morpheus2

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Beyond the Screen – the value of video games in society is absolute

Strategic Value AbsoluteI like Warhammer 40K: Space Marine more than I ought to.  Before playing it I had never been into a Games Workshop and have certainly never painted a figurine, but Relic’s game made me walk into a store, lined with unpainted models and filled to the brim with players sitting at tables discussing their armies, and consider for a brief moment taking a dive into the world of miniature warfare.  I didn’t of course but that game, but that simple third person action game that told the tale of humanity’s struggles against Chaos, got me the closest to tabletop gaming I have ever been.  And so I left the store with a copy of  the first book in the Horus Heresy series knowing that I was only a hair’s breadth away from being consumed by a very expensive hobby.  Thanks to Space Marine I know the difference between an Ultramarine and a Bloodangel.  I have extended my library of books with all manner of Space Marine related literature waiting for a rainy day to read them cover to cover. I even occasionally marvel at the character and art design of the wholly cohesive universe created by Games Workshop.  So what started with an impulse buy of a game I knew very little about turned into an interest in Space Marine lore that still hasn’t waned.

And that’s what videogames are about, or used to be.  They were about inspiring imagination, about bringing you into a world and making you believe you were there.  They are the reason that the DOOM books existed, that there are Mario themed birthday cards, clothes and breakfast cereals, and there are people walking around with big Lambda symbols on their t-shirts paying respect to the wondrous Half Life.  We didn’t want these worlds to end and it is clearly evident that we want the chance to experience and further our relationship with these games, these worlds, these characters.  Fan Fiction, blogs, podcasts, all of these things extend our enjoyment of the video games we play and give us outlets to remember and give credit where it is due to the creators of this content.  For many of us the rolling of the credits in a game is just the beginning of our relationship with it.

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And it goes beyond the associations we form in our mind between videogames and our own lives, although that is no doubt an important factor. Playing DOOM II will always be coloured by hearing the shocking news of the Port Arthur Massacre while playing it, for example. But video games also have this ability to draw us in, pique our interest, even teach us something about the world we inhabit.  Did you know of the Borgias or the Medicis before Assassins Creed II?  I sure didn’t and the game inspired me to track down and read The Rise And Fall Of The House Of Medici.  How many of us learnt about the Mongolians from Sid Meier’s Civilization, or got our first look into economics from Elite?  Did you learn everything you know about Skateboarding from the Tony Hawk series?  I bet for many people that is the case.

Video games are no different from other media in that their scope and potential to influence and to inform is great. I can’t count how many times I have been inspired to learn more about the subject matter of a video game.  Microprose Grand Prix on the Amiga 500 kickstarted my interest in Formula One, and International Soccer on the Commodore 64 my interest in football (soccer) before that.  These are things that have stuck with me and have not only made me into the person I am today but have also been the catalyst for many of my friendships.  Whether it be the politics or stratagems of ancient Rome, the tactics of the Nazis during World War II, or the hard fought football match on the weekend between rival teams, I have built lifelong friendships on things I have learnt or been introduced to through a game.   So while video games are often considered isolating, solitary activities – and in some cases rightly so – they also have the wonderful and often unrealised potential to help us interact with others and build friendships on common interests.

And so I say this – when you play games let your imagination run away with you.  Games aren’t developed in isolation they are built on lore, from source material and influenced by other media.  If you find yourself interested in a game’s subject investigate it further, read, listen, write.  Games are wonderful gateways to worlds within our television screens – but if take them beyond the screen – they can be so much more. A truly most agreeable pastime.

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Does Lords of Shadow cast a long shadow over Castlevania?

LordsofShadowBoxThere is no series I have spent more time with over the years than Castlevania.  Irrespective of whether I’m running through Wygol Village, Climbing Dracula’s castle, or the trudging through the contents of Portraits of Ruin’s paintings, Castlevania games have always had this unmatched ability to draw me in and keep me fixated on the (usually tiny) screen.  Whether it be the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ attitude to the games’ designs, or the fact that I’d much rather spend my time with the more intimate experience handhelds afford, Castlevania has been the rock that I have consistently leant on to remind me not only why I like games in the first place, but why they still have a place in my increasingly busy lifestyle.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow threatened all of this with a great big revamp that swapped sprites for sexy polygons, and the more traditional side scrolling  exploration aspects of games past for a more action packed and linear affair.  Simply put, developer MercurySteam’s take on the classic series is a thoroughly different beast to what the game became after Alucard’s adventure in Symphony of the Night (SoTN).  Instead of exploring one huge sprawling castle, you’re set loose on a level to level affair that takes you from forests, to snow covered abbeys, to a Vampire-ridden castle.  Combat-wise things got an overhaul too, with the game drawing strongly from other contemporary third person action games, with area and direct attacks from the game’s one weapon being able to be chained into devastating combos to decimate all manner of supernatural abominations.  If the folks at Konami wanted Castlevania wanted to be modern, then Mission Success.  The game looks, feels and plays like a modern action adventure game, and would satiate the desires of most fans of the genre.  Including this one.  It is Castlevania reimagined.

ButcherLordsofShadow

But dig below those superficial things, like the pretty graphics and the complex combat system,  and you’ll likely find that underneath those beautifully realised Lycan and the plethora of viscera flying across the screen at a rate of knots, is an authentic take on Castlevania’s traditional gameplay.  The powers you gain throughout the game pave the way forward, albeit in a more linear manner, and the more traditional level-based structure of the game allows you to go back and open up new areas and secrets with your newly gained powers.  While it doesn’t deliver quite the same satisfaction as the likes of Super Metroid or Castlevania’s own kin, it is nice that the developer thought about ways to incorporate the series’ signature design elements in a way that doesn’t compromise its modern and remixed designed.  And if you actually think about it even the post SoTN  entries, while they were ‘open’ to the extent that you could move between areas freely if you had the means to do so, that really was just a way to compartmentalise the game and force the player to progress through the game via a set path.  Even if that path was very wide.  Lords of Shadows’ path is certainly more narrow, but it saves the same purpose.

The same goes for a lot of the game, really.  While there is only one primary weapon, supported by a well-balanced combo system, secondary weapons are implemented incredibly well into the game’s combat system, making them a real highlight of combat encounters and incredibly satisfying to use.   My one major criticism of the game is that it doesn’t use any sort of item system similar to those used in the past – but because the developer has thought of clever ways  to give the player the same level of control over how they approach combat, it is ultimately a moot point.  The game’s dual magic system,  allows players activate light and shadow magic with modifying effects on weapons, and combined with purchased combos and moves, really personalise how they approach combat.  So while it is a rather combo-heavy game I never found myself falling back on old faithful combos to get myself through.  Again like classic Castlevania there will never be a shortage of fodder, but its those instances where you’re taking on those formidable series stalwarts such as a Black Knight or an Axe Armour one on one that Lords of Shadow really shines.

Even the environments don’t step that far away from the best in the series.  While the traditional Vampire Castle you explore around halfway through the game is a clear highlight, there is never a dull moment as you make your way across incredibly varied locations and environments.  From swamps, to forests through icy-villages, and even to a graveyard of larger than life Titans, one of Lords of Shadow’s greatest strengths in its art design is really able to shine through.  It is a beautiful, beautiful game, and with its fixed camera, the developer really puts its all into crafting an incredibly cinematic and breathtaking experience. While purists will argue that Castlevania is best when its is based in one area, it always felt slightly contrived to me that one castle would have such an incoherence in theme or interior design.  After all even the Lord of Darkness himself surely would like matching rooms?

Lords of Shadow doesn’t look like a Castlevania game.  But it is the closest Konami have come to evoking the spirit of the series in three dimensions.  The structure is linear, but gives the player the freedom to jump between levels.  The combat is more complex but is smattered with enough duals that invoke those memorable encounters with classic enemies in previous games that it retains the feel of Castlevania.  And thematically while it takes itself far more seriously than previous games, it still has that super slick period-gothic look that for me has always been a big draw for the series.  It is as Castlevania as one could expect with a huge leap forward in technology, and while it manages to catch up with action-adventure contemporaries, it still has maintained enough footing in the series’ roots to make it a worthy and appealing prospect for anyone who has found love in the series before, regardless of what its detractors have told you.

Belmont

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Clementine Will Remember That

As usual I’m a little late to the party, but isn’t The Walking Dead brilliant? Despite hearing nothing but good things about it, I’ve only just got around to playing Telltale’s 2012 games series over the past few weeks. I read the first couple of Walking Dead comic books several years ago, and although I thought they were brilliantly written, the unrelenting bleakness put me off continuing with the series. So when the game game out I was reluctant to begin playing it for the same reason of wanting to avoid lingering depression.

However, I’m very glad I did try the game in the end – it’s bleak, yes, but it’s also one of the best games I’ve played in years. And even better, my girlfriend Alex got into it just as much as I did, providing one of the rare games (along with Bastion) that we’ve both enjoyed equally. It’s not often you come across a game that’s as fun to watch as it is to play and, to top it off, has equal appeal to both sexes.

Walking Dead Clementine will remember that

In terms of actual gameplay, there’s very little to it. Most of the game involves making dialogue choices, solving very simple puzzles and whacking buttons in Shenmue-style QTE challenges – hardly the stuff to set worlds alight. But the game triumphs for two simple reasons – the acting and script are phenomenally good, and the decisions you make have permanent effects.

The characters in this game as so well-realised and well-acted that it just highlights how far behind most of the industry is in comparison – the forgettable, one-dimensional characters of games such as Gears of War appear like cardboard cut-outs next to the fully-fleshed-out denizens of Walking Dead‘s world, and this is essential because it means you end up caring what happens to them. So when things go wrong, it can be devastating – on several occasions I found myself shouting “NOOOOOOOO!” at the television when something horrendous befell one of my favourite characters.

But what strengthens this emotional investment even more is the fact that your decisions have permanence. Even now, as I’m just starting out on the second season, decisions I made at the start of the first season are still having repercussions. The message “Clementine will remember that”, sums up the appeal and the terror of the game – the decisions you make have a permanent effect on the girl you’re charged with looking after.

It’s heartening to see how far Telltale Games have come, and it’s inspiring to see a company slowly perfect its ideas and methods. When Telltale started out a decade ago, its first few games were underwhelming (it released a slew of disappointing CSI tie-ins), and the company took a while to find its feet. I remember playing Sam & Max: Season One, which was a sequel to one of my all-time favourite games, Sam & Max Hit The Road, and being generally disappointed with the obtuse puzzles and naff driving sections, but also thinking that the game had something, a real potential, particularly in the dialogue. Now, all of these years later, it’s clear that the years of experimentation and the iterative changes to the Telltale Tool (the company’s game engine) have paid off, and the company has found a perfect match in the content of The Walking Dead.

As Samuel Beckett once said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Buy The Walking Dead: Game of the Year Edition on Amazon.

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The Driver brand’s versatility is its greatest strength

DriverSanFranciscoBoxUbisoft’s acquisition of Playstation stalwart Reflections, and with it the Driver name, was a stroke of genius.  Driver is one of the most versatile and potentially valuable properties in video games, having potential as a brand to extend beyond the tales of car chases and dodgy criminal masterminds and cops it has told until now, into anything its creators want it to be.  Driver likely means different things to different people, and while it may have have been tarnished in years gone by with the less than stellar entries in the series, there is likely still a soft spot in many gamers’ hearts for the game that once touted its burnout button as a feature.  And for those not acquainted with the brand there’s always time for conversion.  If you’ve never played a Driver game before,  Driver: San Francisco it is the closest I think developer Reflections has come to making the ultimate driving game that isn’t a racer.  There is simply no better place to start

While many people get a bit snarky about the franchise based on its troughs, the fact is when Driver is firing on all cylinders and is at its peak, it is a wonderful series.  Driver can be anything.  To me it is the recreating of the thrill of driving dangerously that has drawn me time and time again to the series.  But with such a catch-all title it leaves open so many possibilities for creativity and innovation.  It’s this strength, this ability for the series to be malleable that is its greatest strength.  The first Driver on the Playstation blew us all away with how straight it played its take on the 1970’s car chase caper and is revered for what it achieved.  The way the weight of the car shifted onto the suspension as you slid around corners at high speeds, police in tow, is one of my favourite video game memories and ushered in an era that has seen a seemingly endless pursuit of realism in our video games.  It was nothing short of a milestone, particularly on consoles,  and so Driver became synonymous with realistic physics and handling that ultimately put developer Reflections onto a collision course with the monotonous iteration culminating in the critical disaster that was Driver 3.

But how things have changed.

Driver San Francisco on the other hand is a more wild and creative take on the car chase incorporating supernatural elements into what is on the whole more arcade like experience.  Driver, like Doctor Who or Super Mario, stands more for a sentiment.  Reflections don’t appear to want to create the most realistic driving experience possible; they want to create the most thrilling one.  They’re not at the mercy of physics, or realism, but rather to their own ambitions to create the ultimate representation of driving dangerously.  Driver San Francisco is an evolution of a series that has never felt the need to adhere to a strict formula and the result is a game that could turn the most car averse people into raving revheads that crave the smell of burning rubber.  And that is the strength of the Driver name.  Ubisoft no doubt realise that it is sitting on a goldmine ready to be exploited, and I for one can’t wait to follow the trail of fumes to its next adrenaline fueled entry.  As long as they don’t forget to strap creativity into the passenger seat.

Did you know Driver San Francisco had a companion novel?

DriverScreenChase

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