We're in hot pursuit of: super-natural abilities, crazy car stunts, and loads of fun! From Ubisoft and Ubisoft Reflections comes the latest incarnation from the storied franchise of being "the wheelman" with a "crazier, the better" mentality. And although the online is too insane to be considered serious, the expansive modes and killer single player make this a welcome retreat from the Gran Turismos and Forzas of the driving game world (if just for a little while, anyway).
Welcome to the story of D:SF which has you on the right side of the law as Det. John Tanner. A dangerous criminal Tanner help put away named Charles Jericho pulls off an elaborate getaway. While watching the madness unfold from afar, he and his partner Tobias Jones spring into action by burning rubber after the crook. But the chase gets dangerous, and Tanner almost "meets his maker" in a horrific wreck. When he returns to working condition, he realizes he has a freaky power. Tanner has the ability to "jump" or SHIFT into the seat of any car in the city and become the wheelman. It will take this new found ability, and the help of Jones to piece together the five W's surrounding Jericho's escape and bring him back to justice.
The key feature that sets this game apart from the others in the series is the SHIFT ability. Tapping X initiates an "out of body" float mechanic that brings up a reticle and slows down time as you contemplate what car you want to raise hell in next. This feature works extremely well in single player, and allows you to make sense of the wide open world developed for D:SF. About 124 miles of pathway was developed by Reflections, which is quite a lot for an arcade driving game. So a navigable ability showing tens of miles at a time makes going to the next objective way less tedious than just driving to it each time.
The gameplay and the way the game "feels" is what instantly got me hooked. I played the demo when it came out, and I was blown away by how much fun it is to have the option of taking every turn going 90mph with a trail of tire smoke. The full version brought the same kind of noise with way more pavement to haul ass on. Don't be surprised by how effortless it is to pull off crazy stuff, either. D:SF is the epitome of arcade driving games. Simulation need not apply here, as even making a break for it in a Taurus Sho has almost the same amount of intrinsic reward as doing it in a Z06 'Vette (which, by the way, can keep its streak going as being the hardest car to handle in a driving game). It's all about hanging it out there, and the city streets were created with this play style in mind. Most of the roads feature nice, wide, sweeping turns so that the whole game can be played like one big '70s chase film. One pleasant surprise in the programming department is how well the "traffic" AI is. Most of the time, the regular Joe Schmo is quite "customary" of your crazy antics, and will make every effort to steer clear of your path. Smart, and extremely necessary, design.
Another thing D:SF has going for it are the multitude of objectives. The campaign has you piecing together how Jericho was able to spring away from Johnny Law with: trailing suspicious characters and known criminals, shifting into other cars and getting closer to possible accomplices, simple police matters that "somehow" tie-in to the real story, ect. It's not enough to just follow through with all the story missions and then go back and do the side stuff. The progressive "check mark" system will force you to also keep up with other play types that hone your skills for later in the game.
Stunt Dares have you attempting ludicrous stuff like high jumps, long drifts, and careening into oncoming traffic and avoiding as many cars as possible in an allotted time frame. Race Activities feature checkpoint-to-checkpoint, petal to the metal challenges with various cars and themes (laps, point-to-point, and so on). My personal favorite is Chase. This is the typical "cops and robbers" routine where you'll either have to get away from pursuing officers or take down the bad guys yourself. Each of these extra modes gets progressively more difficult, but will also pay more. Credits are earned for accomplishing tasks and sweet driving, which can then be used to unlock garages and cars to be used whenever you like. Ability upgrades can also be purchased, like more "go-go juice" for your boost meter.
The awesome Story mode gets a firm "bump draft" from multiplayer. With a U-play pass included with a new game purchase, Online is available and adds endless amounts of hours on an already deep experience. Open Lobby lets you drive around the city streets while deciding on what type of game to play. Once your mind is made up, jump right in and start ranking up. The "rank" system in D:SF makes all but one online mode unavailable from the start. The novice opening is called Free For All. This playlist features assorted "action sack" style foolishness, for up to eight players, that are anything but serious. One of these is called Trailblazer, where a CPU controlled DeLorean DMC-12 drives in a random pattern and everyone must try to stay directly behind it to rack up points (crazy, but pretty fun).
Ranking up is a rather speedy endeavor, and before too long you'll have access to all the other playlists. Race follows a "if ya ain't first, you're last" mentality with many different race inspired challenges. Takedown moves the single player Chase over to Online where all but one are the fuzz. Each round, someone else in the match will have their turn at being the transporter trying to get to "drop off" checkpoint while all the other guys strive to end the perp's joyride. Team is another mixed bag of objective type games like Capture the Flag. The other playlists are SHIFT Racing (bounce back and forth between multiple cars in a single race) and Team Racing.
The Online is fun, but I did have a couple of issues with it. It's definitely not what I would call "balanced." The multiplayer stuff takes place in the same kind of open environment as the single player. Because of this, matches may take fortunate or unfortunate turns for the better or worse. For example, I played a game of Takedown that went many rounds. The starting spawn point is the same for everyone at the beginning of each round. Because of this, the traffic in that particular area may just happen to be more dense for the first getaway person and then less so the next. This chaotic, inconsistent nature is worsened by the SHIFT feature. While it's not available in most Race types or in certain other modes, SHIFT is a big part of Online and can be sort of a "get out of jail free card" (no pun intended). So, if your chasing down the criminal and he/she puts a good move down to shake you, no worry, just jump into a random car in front of them and try it again. This style affords much entertainment, but really hinders what I think can be considered "fair competition."
The other two selections of note are Film Director and Challenges. Film Director saves the last 5 minutes of playtime that can then be made into your own Gone in Sixty Seconds/Vanishing Point/Death Proof style clip. A plethora of tools are at your disposal like simple segment cuts to multiple camera angles. And if none of the preselected camera view points suit you, D:SF gives you the green light on moving the outlook where ever you see fit. Challenges are unlocked by collecting little camera "coins" in Story and range from taking classic cars and trying to make it to the Golden Gate bridge in a certain amount of time to kicking it old "Starsky and Hutch" school style, plopping the cherry on top of a Gran Torino, and high-tailing after a thieving maniac.
In terms of presentation, this game just oozes cool. 120+ licensed cars are featured, which gives quite a bit of credibility in the driving game world. Manufacturers from Chevrolet and Ford to Bentley and Audi all have many, many cars to take for a spin. But what I love most about the selection is that not every car is a top-of-the-line exotic or super car. The McLaren's and R8 quattro's have their place right beside the Dodge Monaco and Chevy C10 pickup. D:SF exhibits a visual and audio style with plenty of "flash" without being too "over the top." The extremely well done car models are supported with decent enough looking city streets, buildings, and pedestrians. Another visual aid, of sorts, is the exquisite camera work. In arcade racers, the standard "behind" view can sometimes be a chore to use to the point of becoming dizzying. This game gets it right, as at no point did I feel disoriented or out of control because of what I was seeing. Not even during crazy J-turns, U-turns, and twisty drifts did the outlook fail me. Great job. The audio is just as good, if not a little better than the rendering. The engine roaring and the tires squealing sound amazing with a theme appropriate soundtrack featuring cuts from: The Black Keys, DJ Shadow, The Beastie Boys, Aretha Franklin, and more.