Shift 2: Unleashed
EA shook Heaven and Earth when it introduces Shift in 2009. With its subtitle this Need for Speed would bring change in the arcade association of the series. As simulation rookie EA would take on solid series like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, but didn’t manage to ride with the big boys during the qualifications. Let’s see whether Shift 2: Unleashed manages to put down a sharper time.
Those that played the first Shift immediately know what to expect. You start as a rookie trying to make your way to the top by earning XP and money. XP can be collected by following the ideal line, taking curves correctly and passing other racers. You also collect points by reaching certain objectives like finishing a perfect lap or taking all your curves professionally. Where its predecessor made a difference between “positive” and “negative” XP Shift 2 puts everything together. Racing dirty earns you as much XP as doing it professionally. My choice was quickly made.
When starting the game for the first time you need to finish a test race. Depending on how you do this, you get some driving assists. Lesser drives can get the options to turn on stabilisation, braking aid, traction control and visual damage. These aren’t necessary so you can still turn towards a more professional driving behaviour. For those that go fully for the simulation, all options can be turned on or off at will as well.
With over 130 cars and 35 tracks in different variations there’s plenty of options to find the car of your dream and testing it out on your favorite circuit. Still not satisfied with the standard model, then the upgrades may have something in store for you. Almost every suspension, exchaust, bumer and so on of your car can be replaced by a better, more beautiful or faster part. The lesser mechanics amongst us can use the Works Conversion option and change their cute Seat Cupra into a gasoline-burning monster that will leave the Bugatti Veyron behind with only a press of a button. Ok, that’s a bit exaggerrated.
Shift 2 of course has some innovations in store as next to the official licenses for the GT3 and GT1 championships we also find that Helmet-Cam camera angle. This makes that you can see the race through the pilot’s eyes which makes for incredibly beautiful images. You see the edges of the helmet, the long straight lines change into tunnel vision and when making a curve the camera shifts towards where you want to go, just as it should! Personally I didn’t really feel comfortable with this, though, but that’s probably because I’m a race-rapist who prefers to drive with the full car in sight.
Also new is the integration of the Autolog system we know from Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. This keeps you in contact with your friends and saves all your times. You get a notice when a friend has beaten your lap time, giving you the urge to quickly do better. Not a completely new feature to the series, but it’s fun to have it here.
An important factor with racing games is the opponent AI. Where it was too flawless in the first Shift, direct competitors here sometimes are overly brave when braking or pushing each other in the grind. A pretty fun and challenging AI but here and there it does drop the ball. Often I had the impression that the opponents were afraid of me and made it easier to be taken over. This while you sometimes see a real battle in front of you when they try to surpass each other. The crashes and the damage model do look great though.
Graphically the game couldn’t make my heart pound faster. Was it because I had just played Gran Turismo 5 or because the arcade look for Hot Pursuit looks cleaner, I don’t know. I found things to look too bland and casual, even the cars don’t get anything more from me than a simple “meh”. The night races on the other hand are interesting. The beautiful and intense lighting of your head lights make for spectacular races.
Shift 2: Unleashed is better than its predecessor, that’s a fact, but as true simulation racer it fails. EA didn’t leave any opportunity laying around the last couple of months to take on GT5 and Forza and they said that GT5 is too clean and Forza not a real simulation. Maybe they should look at themselves more. Shift 2 is an amusing racer but those that look for simulation won’t find it here. Shift tries, wants, but isn’t.