Need a guide to the body-shifting, San Francisco street racing that is Ubisoft's newest driving game? Driver: San Francisco came out recently and, in case you hadn't heard, it's actually really good. Maybe not perfect, but a thoroughly entertaining arcade racing game made even better by the addition of the "Shifting" mechanic.
Early on in the game's story, protagonist John Tanner is left in a coma after being in a car wreck. He doesn't realize it, however, instead continuing on in a dream-state in which he explores the city of San Francisco as a disembodied presence, inhabiting the driver of any vehicle he spies using a process known in the game as Shifting. In essence, Driver: San Francisco turns the racing genre on its head by doing away with the idea that you're stuck in one car for the duration of a given challenge.
The seamlessness of the Shifting mechanic helps in that regard, and it even makes its way into the game's content-packed multiplayer mode. One of the runaway hits at this year's E3, the various online play games in Driver: San Francisco can all be generally referred to with one word: fun. There's a lot going on there too, with weapons, vehicle unlocks and a full-blown progression system. That's why we've put together this little guide, to acquaint you with Driver's multiplayer so you won't crash and burn immediately after firing it up for the first time.
The multiplayer menu in Driver: San Francisco has an option specifically devoted to tutorials. Only one of these is unlocked when you first start the game as a first-level online racer, with the rest opening up as you unlock additional abilities at higher levels. If you've played any of the single-player game already, that first tutorial will seem very redundant. Do it anyway. A hefty XP bonus is rewarded to those who are patient enough to jump through the lesson's hoops; this XP bonus is true for all of the multiplayer mode's tutorials, and it's always a hefty one.
This tip won't be as useful when you're just starting out, but take note of the Profile menu option in the game's multiplayer section. This is where you'll need to go to set your preferred car is (or cars, when you unlock the ability to store two). Different cars unlock as you gain additional levels. While it might not seem so important in a game that encourages you to jump between any number of cars, you eventually unlock the ability to transform any car you see into one that you've chosen in your Profile.
Embrace the Unbalance
If you have any interest in playing Driver: San Francisco online, you should get used to the fact that this portion of the game is fundamentally pretty unbalanced. Unlocks stack, so higher level players simply have access to more in every race: more cars, more weapons, more ability juice... everything. The lack of balance is more evident in some modes than in others, but it's defintely something to be aware of.
No matter which multiplayer mode you're playing in, every challenge or race is always preceded by a qualifying round to determine each driver's starting position. This can be anything, from earning the most airtime from jumps to drifting the longest to driving the fastest. There's no real trick here; just do your best to be better than everyone else.
Matching Up with Matches
All of the multiplayer modes in Driver: San Francisco are actually playlists, some of which are host to multiple match types. You unlock each on sequentially, so you'll probably end up trying them all as you proceed to and past level 10, but here's a basic rundown of what to expect from and how to function in each one.
Free-For-All: Two match types here: Tag, which is just like the schoolyard game you used to play (except with cars), and Trailblazer, in which individual cars compete to stay inside a glowing trail issuing from the rear end of a golden pace car. You earn points for being caught in the trail and It's possible to block the stream if you get in close enough to the pace car. Shift often and shift well in either mode, though note that you can't shift when you're "It" in Tag.
Racing: Classic Race and Sprint GP are the two modes here. They both offer pretty straightforward checkpoint-based racing. Shifting is turned off in this mode and everyone uses the same type of car. You can still brutalize other drivers if you care to, but you'll probably earn the ire of anyone else in the room who's trying to enjoy a "pure" racing experience. If you don't think you can race without being a jerk about it, you may want to consider Shift Racing, which unlocks later.
Takedown: Just one match type on this playlist, the titular Takedown. In each Takedown match, one driver is desgnated as the getaway, usually getting some sort of sweet ride that s/he can't Shift out of. Everyone else drives a police car; they can Shift at anytime, but no matter which car or truck they drop into, it will immediately transform into another police car. The getaway driver must survive as long as possible while driving through a series of drop-off points. The police must do their best to destroy the getaway vehicle.
Team: Two match types here, Capture the Flag and Blitz. CTF is immediately familiar; two teams compete to capture their opponent's flag and bring it back into friendly territory. Blitz is an objective mode in which one team defends a scoring zone while the other team attacks. The twist in Blitz is that a sizable portion of the map surrounding the defending team's scoring area is marked off so that the opposing team is unable to Shift while they're inside it. Anytime a defender manages to touch any portion of an attacking vehicle, that attacker is destroyed and a new car must be selected.
Shift Racing: Shift Racing and Checkpoint Rush are the two game types here, but they roughly amount to the same thing: cross more checkpoints than everyone else, and do it as quickly as possible. The catch is that you're allowed to Shift, which adds a whole new layer of strategy to what you're doing. The checkpoints are close enough together than it's hard to shift over and over for each one, but if you stick to the same car for too long, you'll inevitably fall behind. It's tough to balance, and not surprising that this is one of the last playlists to unlock.
Team Racing: You'll need to possess one of two qualities if you hope to stick around for long in Team Racing: a natural aptitude for Driver: San Francisco's mechanics or some thick skin. Team Racing mode is pretty much what it sounds like; two teams of drivers compete in either Relay Race or Team Rush modes. Try not to screw it up for everyone else.
Adam Rosenberg is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, NY and living at the whims of his lovable chow, Loki. You can find his work plastered all over the Internet, or just follow him on Twitter @geminibros for daily doses of his crazed, nonsensical ramblings.