Need for Speed: SHIFT
People who know the game world a bit know that the Need for Speed series hasn’t only been immensely popular but also in its long existence got quite a number of makeovers. From Porsche Unleashed to Underground, over Most Wanted and Undercover to a still to be released free-to-play webgame. Also this Need for Speed: SHIFT is new for the series. The makers have chosen to only focus on track racing and to add some more realism. Done with shaking off cops, racing between daytime traffic or discovering a storyline that hardly makes sense, told by digitalized babes and cheesy cut-scenes.
SHIFT puts the series in a different gear: that of hardcore racing, on circuits. The formula behind it is clear: developers with experience in making realistic racing sims were recruited, an attractive car park bought and everything got combined and finished with that typical EA gloss. No other publisher knows how to polish a game and release it on the market as Electronic Arts. And this time we even don’t mind so much.
Whether it is a good decision to have this game drive into the subgenre where Forza 3 and GT5 will no doubt rule is something we’ll leave in the middle for the moment. We do know that SHIFT has done one thing better than the two other biggest competitors will ever be able to do: transfer the reality of the adrenaline, excitement and danger that comes with professional racing into a game. The cockpit view that was so much discussed is more than well-done. You see the car shake when pulling up hardly, your view gets perfectly adjusted as you take your turn, the feeling of depth gets stronger as you push the throttle and much more than in any other game you’ll squeeze your butt before driving into a wall of tires or an opponent. A step forward for the genre in that area and only for that already you can go out and buy this game.
We’re a bit less enthusiastic on the handling model. Just like at the press presentation where you could take place in a racing car to play the game inside the cockpit, this Need for Speed appears to perfectly control the reality of racing, but once you start steering you quickly discover that all in all it remains a game. The driving behaviour no doubt is a step higher on the ladder than that of let’s say Ridge Racer or the previous NFS games, but we never could get used to the extremely fast over- or understeer while we constantly missed the o so important feeling of connection between the tires and the track.
A Golf GTI will in the game show understeer when taking a turn too quickly, just like in real life, but just letting go of the gas and quickly pushing it back immediately throws you into over-the-top breaking out and oversteer. After some adjustments to the specific driving model of this game this will never ruin the fun, but stating that this can compete with the real sim racers is simply a couple of bridges too far.
In other words: this game has finally surprisingly enough found its own place. Those looking for more depth without having to occupy themselves with camber and tire distortion will find here a welcome extra layer of gameplay compared to many other arcade racers. Whether those people won’t find the same, and more, with DiRT 2 or GRID is to be seen. The latter may not have the pure adrenaline of SHIFT, but in my opinion do offer a better and more predictabl driving behaviour.
Those having trouble driving shouldn’t despair either. The makers have been very generous with the way you unlock new races and content, and in the end anyone will be able to finish the game without too many problems so that everyone can choose the events and cars they love most. The AI is aggressive, but looks quite life-like, makes more than enough flaws and will never make rounds on a nice line. On top of that you get tons of stars, points, experience, badges and what not to motivate you to continue after each race. It all doesn’t make much sense, but who doesn’t like a reward after hard work, especially if it’s beautifully displayed in the tight menus?
How the game wraps the gameplay is something we can only be positive about. The graphics of both the car models (detailed and beautifully lit), the surroundings and tracks are very goodlooking and are never brought on screen less than convincing. The selection of both is also more than extensive enough, with amongst others the Nurburgring and a lot of fictive city tracks to get going on. The amount of cars can be called limited but in the end you’ve got everything your heart could desire. From more everday hot hatches to absolute top cars, all with the possibility to give them a paint job, add some stickers and do some upgrades. Also here things don’t really go down to the bone but 90% of all gamers will have enough with the available options.
The sound also seems to be something a lot of people tend to disagree about. The default setting for instance turns off the music, something I hugely appreciate, and I also loved the sound of the engine, the wheels and other effects going throuhg the speakers. It’s not perfectly the same as the real-life cars sound but in this case it doesn’t disturb and succeeds to only enhance the adrenaline-increasing concept.
Need for Speed: SHIFT has in the end become a success. It breathes new life into the series, and actually only by trying to bring the excitement of real racing over to the game. There the makers succeed very well, and that’s why we forgive the somewhat lacking driving model that comes nowhere near the real sims. I for one am already hoping that a successor will take over the strenghts of this game and moves the setting to a more open world experience like in NFS: Most Wanted. For now we have to do with this and you’ll have to make up for yourself whether this one is more up your alley than strong competitors like GRID, DiRT 2, Forza 3 and GT5.