Having grown up by San Francisco, the setting of this game is just right for me. The music goes a long way to setting the tone, as do the cutscenes, all of which embody 70's era cop movie. Being in San Francisco gives the game lots of opportunities to to exploit elevation with large hills and jumps, something you're incentivized to explore through the Dare system as well.
Driving is fun, though not without some frustration. I'm a big fan of games that let you hold on the accelerator the whole way and control your course with careful steering and application of drift, but this game is anything but. It'll take a lot more planning than that to succeed, and quite often holding the gas at max will make you fishtail or wildly spin in circles. Not that these are bad things, mind you, but like I said, not how I prefer my racing games. Some cars are better at holding a straight line than others too. There's also the matter of traffic. There's a lot
of it, and running into it will slow you down significantly. It does help make the world feel full, and sometimes you'll see active police chases going on around you as well, but other times it just feels in the way. While this game certainly isn't as realistic as a proper simulator (and more on that in a second), it is much less forgiving than your average arcadey racing game, so keep that in mind if realistic racers aren't your style.
The thing that sets this game apart is the ability system, most notably the Shift ability. Shift allows you to jump into (almost) any other car in the world and do with it as you will. Chasing down a criminal trying to get away from cops? Shift into a bus in the opposite lane and have them meet an unfortunate accident. You're also often not alone in the car; passengers will talk to you about their troubles or comment on your driving. I've only had a couple repeats so far and most of the lines are pretty funny. You can also boost or ram cars on a shared cooldown or shift instantly between any other car on your team. The game gives you a lot of options in tackling different missions, but cracks start to show up when it takes away these options. For Dares it doesn't matter so much, but full-fledged Challenges where they do things like take away all your abilities and ask you to take out a car quickly become frustrating.
I'm normally not a fan of open world games and end up feeling lost and aimless, but some games, such as this one, do manage to get a hold of me. The building blocks of story missions and Challenges are the same, though story missions tend to be more involved and obviously will have cutscenes strung through them as well. Dares are simpler than either system and take place in free roam, having you accomplish a single task, often with some restriction such as having to do it in first person, do it without hitting other cars, do it in a certain amount of time, and so on. There are a pretty wide variety of missions to take on, but there are a few that are just really bad and show up time and time again. The one where you need to defend an armored van comes to mind, as does the one where you need to smash objects to add time to the countdown. The former Is just repetitive, the latter runs into problems with how cars handle. Too often you don't have the precise control you want and end up missing what should be an easy hit. Traffic is a big problem here too.
The one open world part of this that still feels too open to me is navigation. The game provides very limited options for navigation, requiring you to pause the game to memorize a full size map, multitask trying to read the expanded map that covers your screen while you drive, or trying to read the tiny minimap while you drive. What I'd really like is a Saint's Row: The Third-style GPS, but instead of picking a single endpoint and having the computer plot the route, draw the route you want to take. The road system is quite complex, so putting human intelligence to the task seems like the best option (and perhaps difficulty programming automatic routes may be a reason they weren't included).
The PC port is decent. It runs well enough, though it doesn't have much in the way of options. I do get hiccups sometimes and outright drops to single-digit FPS in the presence of fire. Some textures, such as the ground, will randomly flicker on and off sometimes. I do have to say though, I've never seen such nice looking tire smoke, and it doesn't even trash my wimpy little card like I'd expect.