Full disclosure: I’ve never been behind the wheel of anything more powerful than a bicycle, let alone one of the high-speed, high-performance beasts featured in Need for Sheed: Shift (unless you count the times when I was sitting on someone’s lap because my feet didn’t reach the pedals). So, suffice it to say that I wasn’t exactly the best representative of EA’s target demographic at the NFS Shift NYC Event which took place in downtown Manhattan late last week.

NFS Shift represents a conscious effort on EA’s part to cater to hardcore fans of the sim-based racing genre. Which doesn’t mean that the mega-developer/publisher has decided to neglect the arcade junkies who used to compose the franchise’s core audience”"EA’s also putting out Need for Speed: Nitro for Wii later this year, with Need for Speed: World Online to follow. EA’s Andrew Meakin represented this new direction for the series to me as an initiative akin to the foundation of EA Sports, a large umbrella under which gamers of all tastes and persuasions have been invited to shelter.

As Andrew explained, “The idea behind the game is all about the true driver’s experience”"it’s all about the g-forces, it’s about the crashes, it’s about the cockpit, it’s about being the driver. When you are at speed, you feel the speed. When you crash, you feel the concussion.”

My driving naivetƒ© prevents me from distinguishing between true and false driver’s experiences, and I can’t tell you whether the cars handled like they should (though the fact that I was more or less able to handle them after a brief period of smashing into every available obstacle bodes well). However, I can report that Andrew wasn’t kidding about feeling the concussion. Granted, I was standing mere inches away from a very large screen, so your mileage, as they say, may vary. But EA has done an excellent job at depicting a crash as something very much to be avoided”"and, perhaps, to be secretly and guiltily enjoyed.

The psychological impact of the faux-physical impact begins with the level of detail presented on-screen. Andrew assured me that in the unlikely event that I ever do find myself steering one of the game’s 67 playable vehicles (including the ’09 BMW M3 GT2 featured on the cover) in real life, I’d recognize every curve of the cockpit and light on the dashboard, since every detail has been painstakingly modeled in-game. Swiveling the joystick while playing from the in-car view doesn’t just move some disembodied camera; it shifts the driver’s head and perspective. Side and rear-view mirrors perform the functions for which they were intended, and various readouts alert the player to overheating engines and other motor-vehicle minutia.

When your inherent lack of coordination conquers these assorted aids (and the color-coded guide paths superimposed on the road’s surface) and you hurtle head-on into a thoughtfully placed barrier, another set of visual effects takes over. The screen assumes a reddish tinge, followed by a black-and-white vista drained of all color, and a blurry haze and careening camera make you want to rub your neck and blink a few times in sympathy.

The attention to detail apparent in the visuals also extends outside of the vehicles. Each course has been meticulously researched and rendered. Again, I can’t tell you how well they resemble their real-world counterparts, but they sure are pretty. Windmills turn, balloons float by, barely glimpsed spectators snap pictures, and very convincing clouds of dust accompany the squeal of tires. Velocity changes aren’t only reflected on the speedometer”"the motion blur and tunnel vision employed to suggest the effect of g-forces make glancing at your instruments only partially necessary.

As you drive through NFS Shift’s scenic environments, regardless of mode, race type, or success level, the game will constantly update your driver profile in response to your tendencies and achievements. The points you earn will allow you to fan the flames of your car fetish with abandon, but the game also classifies your style as “precision” or “aggression” depending on how you drive. Cutting corners cleanly is considered precise, while ramming opponents and knocking them off the track will result in your being labeled an aggressive driver. Fortunately, the game won’t force you to enroll in a remedial driving program if its sorting hat places you in the racing equivalent of Slytherin; these classifications are made purely for online matchmaking purposes, so you can always race how you want, and against whom you want. Even when you’re racing offline, your adversaries will show some personality; 20 different driver personalities have been included as an alternative to rubberband AI and a pack of opponents racing in unison.

Of course, every aspect of every car can be micromanaged, but EA has also included more simplistic sliders for the less seasoned automobilistas among us. In addition, the devs have inserted the option to take a test drive at the start of your experience, during which the game’s AI will determine, Left-4-Dead-director style, exactly how far it can push you before you break. Nice to know that EA’s still looking out for those of us who wouldn’t know a carburetor from a camshaft.

Be sure to check out the latest trailer and screens. Need for Speed Shift will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PSP, PC, and a smartphone near you on September 15.

About The Author

Ben Lindbergh is a Blast Games staff writer

14 Responses

  1. FrankieZ

    sorry guys o got burned by too many times with EA’s glitch plagued, never fixed ,bug infested NFS games to be suckered into another one, not to mention paying to unlock content that’s already on the disk you just paid for
    it gets to be a little too much for me , I had enough of EA and there horrible industry standard I will let my money do the talking and try to avoid as much as possible with the EA stamp in the future.

    • honda

      i agree with jake 54. FrankieZ, Put your stupid bitching to an end. nfs shift will be amazing. you are just a stupid retard who doesn’t like true racing games. consider yourself black flagged and DQ’d, you stupid nutjob.

    • truelie

      i agree with frank its gotten a little out of hand and NFS has deff drifted from its original style of gaming. i dont have a problem with real racing games. the only problem i have is NFS is becoming more like the real racing games and is giving up its originality.

      • mitz

        i don’t care what the hell you say, Shift will be an awesome game regardless of nfs is slaped on to it. people like you make me totally sick!

  2. tyrant

    sure nfs undercover sucked, BUT THE CAR CUSTOMIZATION WAS ABSOLUTELY OUTSTANDING!! if ea would’ve put the game engine used in nfs most wanted into undercover. it would’ve been a decent game.

  3. Yikes

    Don’t waste your money on the PC version IF you hated Pro Street because of the steering, it’s exactly the same in shift, i endured about 3 hours and gave up, i don’t care for going into a turn at 20 mph and yet slide of the track, i gave up after about 3 hours, no more EA games for me, this is the last they fool me, bring on Dirt 2!

    • tyrant

      Then it looks like you’re not considered a true gamer. Deal with what i said to you!

    • daann

      thats the most ridiculous comment i’ve heard. sound to me like you hate realistic race sims like gran turismo.

      • daann

        to yikes:

        thats the most ridiculous comment i’ve heard. sound to me like you hate realistic race sims like gran turismo. DiRT 2 was outstanding. But nfs shift is GRID-tastic as well! why the hell would you say something like this? thats just wrong wrong wrong wrong.

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