When I picked up my copy of Need for Speed: Shift, I didn’t know what to expect. The previous arcade-based racing games were entertaining, but this game seemed like something different. And I was right. Need for Speed: Shift is incredibly different from other entries in the series, but different in the best way possible. The game is not a straight up simulation racing game, but is instead a hybrid between arcade racing and simulation. You get to race around 18 different tracks using a variety of cars and varying levels of difficulty.
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Sep. 15, 2009
Let me first address the graphics. Shift has great graphics and the driving is very smooth. The arenas are very realistic and the colors and ads placed on the side of the track are very well designed. Overall, the graphics are first rate and definitely enhance the experience. The graphics themselves are on par with Gran Turismo, and I’m very pleased by the amount of visual detail that went into making this game.
As I mentioned before, Shift is VERY different from previous Need for Speed titles, since there is no real story. You’re just a racer going around racing. The simplicity of abandoning the premise actually elevates the game. There are still cut scenes, but they are usually before the round begins and show other racers driving around. As you play, you earn money to buy more upgrades and new cars so that you can continue racing. There are 72 cars to unlock, which means hours of repeated game play–though that is far fewer than its competitor, something to note. As you race around the track arrows mark the path you need to travel to earn precision points. As you earn precision points, you can also brutalize the other drivers by ramming into them and knocking them off the road, earning yourself some aggression points in the process. The game’s Driver Profile tracks the player’s evolution as a driver from one event to another through Career and Online Play. As you improve and unlock more and more cars and upgrades, you start to experience the Total Customization system. Shift allows you to totally customize almost every aspect of the car so that you are in full control. Choose your car and bring it to the track to see how it does against your opponents.
There are numerous modes to play in when you start the game: Driver Duel, Manufacture Races, Series, Endurance, Race, Drift, Time Attack, Hot Lap and Lap/Time Eliminator. These various modes are similar but change the game play enough so that the game doesn’t get boring. As you win more and more rounds, you collect some badges which help with your stats and highlight your achievement levels. This makes adds an arcade like aspect to the game which is one of the few places where the original Need for Speed Series shines through.
When you race, you can play from a third person perspective or play from the first person. The first person view from the car’s cockpit is one of the highlights of the game. The developers put a lot of detail into the cockpit experience and it definitely pays off. Crashing into a barrier causes the screen to go grey and blur as you, and the in game driver, breathe in sharply. The stress on remaining realistic is noticeable, especially when crashing into another car. When you crash into your opponent you leave scraps and paint on the other car, and the frame becomes proportionally more damaged as you progress. When you drive at high speeds, the car speeds up to an extremely realistic manner which, at times, can be quite the shock. Even though you’re using a controller and not a wheel, you’ll certainly think you’re really driving the car. Another strong point is the soundtrack. We’ve known the track list for a month or so, but they way it is used in the game are very effective. The soundtrack is going to keep players entertained throughout their replays.
While the game itself is almost a love letter to simulation racing, there are certain areas which stood out as somewhat underdeveloped. I was disappointed to find that there was solely an online multiplayer mode and that I would not be able to go head-to-head with my friends on the same console. While this removes split screen problems, it also means that the only way you’re going head-to-head with a friend is if you’re online. When you are speeding down the track at high speeds, the controls can become a bit insensitive, especially when used in conjunction with the direction arrows on the track. When speeding, it becomes hard to judge turns, so you need to be aware that the controller won’t respond as quickly. That, in conjunction with the Auto correct feature, can be a hassle when you’re trying to win a level but the controls lock up and you’re not going as fast as you want to because the directional arrows indicate you should slow down. That will leave you fairly frustrated when you miss first place by a hair because of it. When you’re happy, this game can be the greatest game in the world, but it can definitely sour if the controls get in your way. And after a while, the announcer gets a bit annoying since his monotonous British accent is the equivalent of Michael Sheen saying the same thing over and over again until it gets ridiculous. The emphasis on drifting can also get annoying, but overall the game is solid.
This game is easily one of the best racing games I’ve ever played but it also calls into question the future of Need for Speed. Will they continue to make arcade based Need for Speed after Nitro comes out on Wii this month? Or will they continue making simulation racers along the lines of Shift? It’s a very interesting question which will probably be answered over the next few months.
Blast Factor: This is a great racing game. There are a few flaws, but the attention to detail and the racing experience all negate the few problems you’ll have with it. As a complete about-face from previous entries, this game stands up to Gran Turismo and Forza and definitely holds its own. It doesn’t have as many cars and tracks but the gaming experience will keep you coming back for more.
This version of Need for Speed: Shift appears on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and retails for $59.99. A copy of this game was given to us by the publisher for review purposes.