The Driver franchise has had more ups and downs than a car chase in San Francisco. Oh yes.

Driver and Driver 2 were both widely praised games, Driv3r and Driver: Parallel Lines, quite the opposite. Reflections are putting the keys in the ignition for a fifth wind and we checked in on its progress at E3 this year.

This fifth installation acknowledges the series’ heritage by returning to the Bay Area and bringing back Detective Tanner and Jericho. It’s refocusing on the game’s core values, trying to recapture that seventies chase scene vibe. Additionally, Driver’s attempt at becoming a Grand Theft Auto clone is also out – no longer will the player be able to exit their vehicle.

So far, so good.

The newest game also introduces the “Shift” mechanic that will allow Tanner to metaphysically exit any vehicle and enter another at the press of a button. How does he do this? Because he’s in a coma and the game is all in his head.

Wait, what?

We stopped and looked up at this point, and were met with nothing but a willing smile and no further explanation. We’re not sold by that premise – particularly in a game like this – but there’s still time for Reflections to prove they can make it work.

As Tanner can now shift in and out of any car, there’s no longer any garage menu. Within each car, Tanner will take over the role of the driver – his goals will be theirs, he’ll have passengers, he’ll uncover the plot.

The shift mechanic is also used to complete missions. During our presentation, the player shifted into a Mack truck and drove it head on into his target, bring the chase to a dramatic close.

San Francisco itself is a user-friendlier reimagining of the real though most of the city’s landmarks are still there: The Golden Gate Bridge and Park, the Trans-America Tower among them. Driver’s San Francisco spans 208 miles of roads.

The city itself is also much busier. The game features over one hundred fully licensed vehicles and all have damage modelling. Additionally, there’s a much greater volume of traffic on the streets of San Francisco.

A hands on session with the multiplayer gave us a feel for the driving model. It’s very good. Each licensed car handles differently, and features variations in acceleration, drift, durability and so on.

The multiplayer mode itself was called “Trailblazer.” In it, players compete to be in the dual slipstream of an AI controlled car. Doing so constantly accrues points and the first to 100 wins.

The very sharp AI means that players will constantly be shifting into cars closer to the target vehicle – competing for the best vehicle to shift (one that’s not a lemon, for example) into is a minigame in itself.

We’ve been waiting some time for a positive step forward in the Driver franchise, and in spite of the thin premise, the essential elements of San Francisco have us anticipating this future instalment.