You're playing a racing game with your buddies. You're half way decent at racing games, but not great. Your mate's ahead, but the game has some amount of rubber banding, so you're slowly catching up. Then - disaster. You slide off the road, into a barrier. Essentially the race is over, but now - despite this - you and your buddy must play out the rest of the game in a pedestrian, thoroughly pointless fashion. This is not fun. How do we fix this?
Most racers tend to avoid this issue - especially hard boiled sims - sucking should have consequences. Skill should be rewarded - but that doesn't make driving round in a circle for five minutes with no challenge or engagement any less dull.
Less serious racers such as Mario Kart give you power ups, balancing matters that way. In last position, miles from the competition, you're far more likely to be given a Star or metric ton of red shells. Out in front? You're in banana and green shell town. This gives players at the tail end of the pack the kind of hope that makes racing meaningful.
Driver: San Francisco has another solution. It lets you teleport into any other car on an open world map like Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap. This is awesome.
In the single player campaign Driver's ability to let players leap from body to body (in order to drive different cars) feels a little pedantic and forced - mainly because the game has to shoehorn some sort of plot in order to make the whole mechanic make sense in context. In the multiplayer, however, the whole thing feels like an outside the box solution to a problem that has turned me off online racing since its inception.
Without hyperbole I can honestly say that I had more fun in my 40 minute multiplayer demo of Driver than I've had in any racing game I can remember playing.
Take a simple game of multiplayer tag wherein cars must chase the leader. The object of the game is simple - once you crash into the leader, you are now the chasee. Chasers can switch cars at the drop of a button - literally. Push R1 and you zip out of your car, the camera fixed above the car you're pursuing. You're now free to select any car in the open world and instantly begin driving. The chasee is stuck in whatever car he was occupying the moment he became the leader - that's only fair.
The balance of power is intricately fun - being chased is inherently a powerful feeling. In online games it's always fun being chased, but it's not usually much fun doing the chasing. In Driver being in either position is engaging - a frenetic back and forth challenge that can switch at any second.
And better still the switching mechanic enables a whole new layer of strategy. Firstly, the game forgives players for taking massive risks. If you fail miserably you can be back in the thick of the chase within seconds. Secondly, there are options - do you want to leap into a car in oncoming traffic in order to create an enhanced amount of damage? That's possible - but a far trickier prospect than, say, moving into a car driving parallel alongside your target.
But what if the car alongside your target is slow? Is it worth jumping into the sporty effort half a click behind so that, when you finally make it into pole position, you have a quality vehicle with which to avoid your opponents.
Plug in the gaps and you can really start to see the compelling dynamics, and the massive implications of this exciting new innovation.
Yet this grand scheme would crumble and burn if Driver: San Francisco was imbalanced. Since I've only had 40 mins with the game so far, it's tough for me to make any kind of definitive statement on how tight said balance is - all I can really use as reference is how much fun I had with the game. I had lots.
In addition, at no point did I feel like the implications of car switching was unfair. Even in the lead, with a horde of switchers leaping from vehicle to vehicle in my wake, seconds away for being caught - claustrophobic, with no breathing room whatsoever - I was always having fun. I was giddy, almost hysterical. In a room full of strangers and acquaintances, I found myself loudly calling everyone a bunch of bastards in the same way I would my closest friends. Driver really does help create that sort of environment.
Driver: it will help you call complete strangers a bunch of bastards. Guaranteed.