Name: Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed
Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release: 4 August 2011
Price: $5.49 AU – $4.99 – US
Racing games do not have the best history on iOS due to inferior graphics, controls and gameplay. Personally, I have always found the controls an effort to get a good hold of – each application tends to have its own little quirks. In this department Shift 2 Unleashed was a pleasant surprise.
Shift 2 Unleashed has a few different modes, quick race trial, single race, multiplayer, Origin mobile and career mode. The fact that it has a variation of modes makes the game feel complete and like the effort has really gone into making it feel like a full release as opposed to a blurb for the console games.
Career mode is made up of five classes, you start on the lowest and work your way up, upgrading your car and moving onto tougher races. AS you move up in classes you also have access to more races.
Quick race trials were basically career mode on a diet, a one-lap run through with all the tracks organised into an assortment different from career mode. It’s designed to get you familiar with the courses and perhaps if you just want to pass a quick minute or so. Personally, I didn’t see much point to this as the career mode tracks wouldn’t take much longer than a few minutes anyway, although quick race trials were sometimes a good way to earn a quick buck to buy that little extra feature to deck your car out with.
The default Shift 2 Unleashed controls are utterly minimalistic, you automatically accelerate and the only time you touch the screen is in the rare occasion that you have to brake. You steer by turning the phone, which actually works a lot better than I thought it would. It doesn’t work fantastically around the tighter corners but most of the time the tracks requires turns that are simple to make cleanly. The game is aware of its limitations and usually doesn’t push them.
The default transmission setting is automatic but after playing a few rounds and seeing my driver’s little gloved hands shift gears with no input from me I thought ‘Hey, I can drive manual in real life, I can totally do it in a tiny representation of it on my iPhone’. Famous last thoughts. I spent half the race stuck in first gear trying desperately to figure out how to shift up (which some would think would be a big part of a game called Shift 2 Unleashed) until I gave up and tried to hunt down the controls information that I was never actually given. I finally found the information hidden away in the Help menu underneath a long block of miscellaneous information and was good to go. It definitely added to the challenge of driving, especially since the accelerator and gear-changing button were on the same side and managing a good start, changing gears effectively, and steering by moving the whole phone, took a couple of tries but definitely made the game more engaging. I think that anyone who wants to actually challenge themselves and feel like they’re doing more than just driving like a kid with a drawn on paper plate should definitely turn off the auto accelerate and automatic gear changes.
Shift 2 Unleashed lays out a driving path that basically keeps the speed controls at the optimal rate, boosting you during the straights and braking around the turns. As long as you stay on the path you should be sweet to win the race. The hardest part of this is fighting to get on the path in a group race where you end up colliding into several other racers and shattering your windscreen in the process.
The soundtrack comes straight from a Guitar Hero game, which was different from what I was expecting. Usually my experience with NFS games has been made up of gangsta tunes or electro/dance music that really got me into the mood for some dangerous driving. I guess they really wanted to distinguish Shift 2 Unleashed from earlier releases and the genre of the soundtrack was an easy way to do it. Each gear change is accompanied with a piston sound that makes me wonder why my car doesn’t sound like the entire engine is being flipped by a series of pistons when I change gears. I found it slightly disappointing that no sound effect accompanied crashing into someone else or ramming them, instead the phone just vibrated alarmingly and the screen showed the damage. What does a girl have to do to get some good metal crunching sounds around here?
The graphics were quite good, which I had been expecting as EA had been peddling that feature. At times they were a bit pixellated but far better than one would expect from a realistic iOS game. I really like the helmet cam point of view, it provides a stronger interactive sense to the game and I think it helps driving judgement.
I think that EA definitely put some effort into this game and, as iOS racing games go, it was definitely leagues ahead. However, the controls leave something to be desired, difficulty and interest should come from the game itself not the fact that the controls aren’t very user-friendly. Looks-wise its quite swish, the cars are drool worthy, and the tracks don’t feel rushed and have variation to them. Overall, it is quite a good game once you get used to the controls, if you decide to make it feel like you’re actually driving the car as opposed to just letting the game do it for you.