Game: Shift 2: Unleashed
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Release: March 24th 2011
Consoles: XBox 360(Reviewed), PS3, Wii, PC
Price: $29.99 – Here
Although it is the 17th title in EA’s Need for Speed franchise, Shift 2: Unleashed should definitely not be confused with the same style of racing found in the likes of Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted. Shift 2 is a merge of arcade and simulated style racing hence the use of the name Shift which refers to a move away from their previous projects in an effort to establish it as a franchise in its own right. Unlike the original, the Need for Speed name has been dropped from the title in an effort to slightly dissociate itself from the likes of Hot pursuit, Most Wanted and Underground and to also appeal to fans of racing simulators, hopefully give GT5 and Forza some competition in the sim racing genre while maintaining a fun arcade feel.
Right from the beginning of the game, Shift2 Unleashes a bold in your face style of play and narrative which fully engages the players attention, a far cry from the much softer and more clinical feel found in Forza 3 and Gran Turismo, with its jazz and Japanese pop music playing in the background. Even though it’s a breakaway title from the Need for Speed family and the racing style and physics engine are vastly different, Shift 2 retains so many aspects of NFS that it still has that dirty Underground feel that makes you perceive you are part of an illegal and dangerous racing community. Shift 2 is narrated by 2010 Formula Drift Champion Vaughn Gitten Jr, who offers general game and track tips as well as providing taunts, motivation and organising cool loaner cars (his own infamous Monster Energy Falken Tire Ford Mustang) for players throughout the game.
Precision, precision, precision. I apologise if i seem to overuse this word but its such an important feature that sets Shift 2 apart from most other racers, so much so that the main issue I found writing a review for this specific game was that i needed more time to get used to it. Shift 2 really only shows its true colours the more you become accustomed to its controls and just keeps gets better and better each time you play. The Need for Speed franchise has always been synonymous with fast paced arcade style fun and over the top crash scenes and many fans of the racing genre may dismiss this title at first glance. Its only once you truly get into the game that you can appreciate the fine tuning and immersive realistic gameplay Shift 2 has to offer. It is clear that Slightly Mad Studios and EA have aimed to position Shift 2 somewhere between an out and out arcade racer and a simulation, resulting in the driving engine being quite hard to originally master but exceptionally fulfilling once you do.
Call me traditional but i play my racing games with the d-pad and buttons rather than the triggers and the stick. Even though Shift 2 allows players to totally change every control to suit their individual tastes i found that by using the d-pad i couldn’t utilise and master the precision turning controls needed to stay ahead of the opposition. This is one of the only racing games i haven’t been able to play with the d-pad and i think its actually a great testament to the physics engine rather than a design flaw. The Shift 2 physics engine is an actual 3D physics representation based upon the CAD data collected from the various car manufacturers, resulting in vastly different experiences in the 140 or so cars available to use. Unfortunately in my experience most of the rear wheel drive cars (Toyota Supra and Dodge Viper) were very hard to control even with fine tuning and slick tires fitted. In contrast the other cars were a delight to drive and painted a much more accurate picture of their real life handling capabilities. Speaking of painting, the design studio where players can pimp out their cars graphics and visuals is very well set out and easy to navigate. Colour changes are performed on sliding scales similar to those found in Photoshop where players can actually tweak the saturation levels and hue of the vehicle easily and quickly resulting in some fantastically odd colour schemes. It would have been nicer though to have not been so limited regarding what parts of the car could be painted. Only the basic body, hood and bumper were allowed to be individually changed, but really only a very minor complaint.
The AI has been vastly improved from the original Shift title and is exceptionally adaptive to changes in the players driving behaviour as well as to the environment, with both positive and negative results. Players who maintain the lead for most of the race (despite being rewarded with XP for doing so) may suddenly find themselves at the mercy of very aggressive AI bombarding them from all sides, in many instances knocking you out of the race with no hope for recovery. This can become very frustrating especially when coupled with opposition who are exceptionally hard to catch once they have flown past your tattered wreck. In contrast if you are leading and dont make a mistake at all then the opposition are quite fun to taunt and find it a hard task to get past you. This can be somewhat overcome through fine tuning your cars but for me still remains a small issue that could easily have been fixed with a rewind function. The tuning section is thankfully easy to understand for those of us with little to no knowledge of the internals of a race car, and allows players to change many aspects of the engine, drive chain, air filtration, tyres, suspension and body kit.
Shift 2 definitely rewards players who drive on the slightly cautious side in both offline and online modes, even to the point of voiding laptimes from the leaderboard for leaving the track. Often i would cut across corners in order to cut that .00001 of a second off a time trial only to be greeted with the message “You cut a corner, lap time is void”. While being slightly frustrating it does represent a much more realistic experience. Players also earn bonus XP on most Career mode races for performing clean laps, leading the race for a full lap and also beating certain times further emphasising the sim side of the game and rewards for driving less recklessly.
Many people simply dont have the time to put into a game like Gran Turismo, having to gain multiple licenses and waiting to earn enough money to buy specific cars for specific races. This is actually a big complaint amongst a lot of gamers i know and the reason why many of them dont purchase specific titles. Shift 2 excels at allowing players to quickly jump back into the game and get stuck into races without wasting massive amounts of time on tuning and car setup. Players can enjoy using the same cars across a multitude of races without being left for dead by the opposition.
Autolog system ( So cool is deserves its own heading)
One of the coolest features of the game is the Autolog system first seen in the latest Hot Pursuit. It tracks your career progress, including best times, crashes and wacky car designs and pits them against your friends and other players online. It adds a new dimension to the game, continually suggesting new events for me to enter and updating me on others progress. It was also very accurate in choosing my opponents based on my skill level and driving abilities. Easily set out and with an a user friendly interface it is a feature i hope to see in competitive racing and sports games to come.
As with most racing games, players get to choose to drive in a view that suits them best. Shift 2 has introduced a new in car view that allows players to truly play from the perspective of the driver, complete with in car vibrations and changing drivers head movements as they hone in on corners. I couldn’t get used to this mode and preferred to play being able to see the car. It was fun to watch replays in this mode but i found the screen a little busy, making it more difficult to stay on track. Some players swear by it and it is a welcome new feature to the franchise.
Shift 2 has a multitude of different game modes ranging from Career mode right through to classic drifting found in other NFS titles. There are retro races for you nostalgic types, and classic muscle races for the true rev heads. The drifting levels i found near impossible, not really up to the same standards as other Need for Speed titles and i gave up on them very quickly. If you can master them they do result in a very nice reward car which i wont mention. Other modes included time trials which i found particularly enjoyable giving the player 3 laps to beat certain times, and the eliminator rounds which were particularly challenging.
Online play was another thing altogether and had some good and bad points. There were a few glitches where cars crashed even though they didnt look like they even touched each other but i personally preferred the freedom and depth in the single player mode.
Graphics and Audio
The visuals in Shift 2 are top notch, from the smoky backgrounds to the beautifully crafted reflections that shine off your cars metallic paint job. It becomes even more evident during the night races as your and competitors headlights illuminate the track ahead and shine off surrounding objects. The attention to detail on individual cars doesn’t have the finesse of Gran Turismo but honestly id rather be playing the game then cycling through pages of cars just to ogle over them. One thing i have never seen in another game is the bright red brake lights that shine through the bottom of the screen, and while it may seem like a minor detail it’s all these tiny visual features that keep players coming back for more. A feature i found a little irritating was the way in which the screen jumped to black and white whenever there was even a minor crash. Major collisions were very disorientating and i found myself not knowing which direction i should be going especially when in helmet ca view. Saying that some of the crashes were spectacular and provided many a flinching moment. The damage inflicted on the cars looked fantastic, detailing minor scratches and scrapes as well as full on annihilation, and i often found myself wondering why my previously pink (yes i said pink), car had turned black only to realise it had lost all its side and rear panels. Similarily there was noticeably track and environmental damage incurred as the races progressed. There was a slight lack in the variety of different weather conditions available and i missed the heavy rains and thunderstorms flashing in the distance from some of the older titles.
The audio of each individual car reflected its respective engine aspiration well, from the high pitched screams of some of the older retro cars to the deep guttural moan of a Dodge Viper. The Soundtrack was pretty standard but i give it the thumbs up as it has a song from one of my favourite bands Stone Temple Pilots. Some other noted artists include Anberlin and Jimmy Eat World.
All in all one of the most redeeming features i found was the basic layout of the game which was so easy to navigate around. Loading times were little on the tedious side but it wasn’t too much of an issue. Fans of true simulators probably wont be overly impressed as many actions such as high speed cornering would not be tolerated in a sim racer without consequence. The controls are extremely sensitive but very enjoyable once you learn to master thems, such as when exiting a lot of corners and trying to readjust, there tended to be a lean towards overcompensating and throwing the car into a spin. All in all i think it is a fantastic game that was never marketed as being an arcade or racing simulator but something different all together and im sure it will find its niche in the market amongst racing fans and gamers alike.