Alas, the day is here. For the past 3 years we have been treated (I use the word lightly) to what could have possibly been the biggest regression from greatness in a video game series since the Tony Hawk series. Need For Speed has gone through a bit of a shift (pun intended) with their latest iteration in the series, a little like their attempt from 2007, ProStreet, but this attempt delivers where ProStreet, as well as Carbon and Undercover failed to impress.
As mentioned before, the NFS series had undergone a regression in quality since their 2005 release of Most Wanted, the follow up to what is arguably the best game in the series, NFS Underground 2, a free-roam street racer with most depth and variety in a street racer for its time. It almost seemed though, that with the smash Midnight Club 3, the reign of street racer kings was over for the NFS series. This seemed to provoke alternate styles of racing: enter Need for Speed ProStreet, the ambitious attempt at organized racing with arcade flair similar to the Project Gotham series, but this was a miss.
So here we are (YES, I am finally going to start talking about Shift) with Need for Speed Shift. Let me make one thing entirely clear. This game isn’t a full sim. Don’t be fooled, Slightly Mad Studios did take some aspects from sims, such as the extensive tuning, slightly less forgiving handling and most of all, the sense of speed and the environment around while driving. The latter, actually, is something usually completely absent from racing sims. Moving on, at first glance, this game looks like it actually has a chance to capture back the hearts of some disgruntled NFS fans (I say some due to the fact that many are strongly partial to street racing).
Out of the box, there is a great track list (comprising of 17 tracks, some with variants) and a pretty good list of performance cars, on a wide spectrum, from the Ford Focus ST to the Dodge Viper to the almighty Bugatti Veyron (67 cars total). Customization was taken into account to fairly substantial lengths. Aside from the usual painting and vinyls – which are plentiful, and have different categories which can be unlocked over time/driver level, but don’t expect cars with extremely detailed portraits like seen on the Auction House of Forza Motorsport 2; the livery editor lacks the primitive shapes and adjustable size to make more detailed drawings, but you’ll have no trouble making your car look like an actual racer…or a highly sponsored rally car or tuner, if that’s what you’re into.
I mentioned the sense of speed in the environment and in the car’s cockpit when driving; it’s the best in any racing game based on realism (I don’t mean a sim, I mean one with real life cars) ever before. When you’re going around 120 MPH and beyond, everything flies by you very fast, the camera shakes, your hands gripping the steering wheel tremble, your cockpit starts to blur as you continue accelerating. The feel you get with the car you handle literally makes Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo seems bland and lifeless in comparison. Unfortunately, the rattling of the cockpit does not suit the 3rd person chase cam quite as well as it does from a first person perspective; I found it very hard to get a feel for my car with the camera shaking a little too much.
The view from inside the cockpit is especially a feat with Shift, it’s amazingly detailed, the way it shakes as you drive makes racing more fun and intense than almost any other game out there. The driving style accompanying pretty much every car is…oversteer-ish. Thankfully, you can go to basic tuning to tweak the amount of understeer/oversteer to your liking. Slightly Mad Studios put a fair amount of emphasis on tuning in Shift to change the way your car reacts to the aggressive style of racing this game demands. It’s hard to explain the gameplay style by comparing it to other racers, Shift really is the most original balance of sim and arcade. Like previous NFS games, if you turn really hard, your car will slide a bit. Unlike previous NFS games, you can’t take a hairpin at 80 MPH. This game also includes drift races as well as normal track racing. Drifting is very hard to master in Shift, a little too much throttling and you’ll spin out, a little too hard of a turn, and you’ll spin out. Without going too far into detail, I think this could have done with a bit more tweaking. Overall, throughout the game, the driving physics aren’t impressive at all, but that doesn’t stop the game from being fun and challenging…with driving assists off.
To compliment the fantastic job Slightly Mad Studios did with the overall gameplay experience, the graphics look fantastic. Car models are top notch, shadowing and reflections are detailed and the tracks are well contrasted and very detailed. As I have mentioned before, many times, the cockpit looks amazing. To compliment the great amount of detail put into the cars’ looks are the sounds. Engine sounds greatly vary and your car makes you fearful of it at high speeds. When you turn, the tires screech, but not too much. In one race, I was at the helm of a Dodge Viper. I was scared to drive that thing; at 180 MPH, everything flew past and the car was just screaming at me.
The career mode is broken into 4 tiers and the finale, with track races (Time Attack, Race, One on One) and drift races: The NFS World Tour. The game starts off with you given a BMW M3 on a track to give you a feel for the game, and $40,000 to pick a tier 1 car and start working your way through. While you have an announcer/narrator/voice to tell you what’s going on, you don’t really have a unique driver profile, nor is there a proper story. This is good and bad. Good, because typical NFS stories are extremely unimaginative and just playing off the fad of the Fast and the Furious movies. Bad, because it makes the career mode seem like a 25-hour long checklist. To add to the experience are driver levels and badges, which you can earn by earning points in races. Methods to get points include everything from mastering corners to clean overtakes to trading paint to dirty overtakes; a potentially good system which rewards poor/aggressive driving as well as proper racing skills. What I did like about the campaign was the AI. Driving against the computer can be very challenging on some tracks, but what stood out at me is that the AI isn’t the usual drive-like-a-robot-and-never-make-a-mistake-or-take-a-risk type. You may occasionally see an opponent overshoot a corner. I noticed in One on One races, when approaching a sharp turn, my opponent would sometimes drive past me on the corner, but in the process, not hit the corner perfectly, giving me the chance to regain the lead.
Online multiplayer has 3 modes with up to 8 players and a Dueling mode. The multiplayer modes are your typical race with up to 8 players, Time Attack and Drift. You can also restrict the races to a certain car manufacturer, a certain car rating or add AI opponents. Unfortunately, for racers like me who like to play with everyone having the same settings, you cannot force assists off, but this should really only affect the racing sim-freaks such as myself. My biggest issue with the multiplayer isn’t even the multiplayer, it’s the tracks; many of them are tight and that means collisions galore, but that aside, it’s still fun and has enough features to keep you busy.
Overall, I was pleased with the game and it’s a great game to keep me busy until the behemoth that is Forza Motorsport 3, albeit a different type of racer to a degree, will most likely take up all of my game-time for months. Although the physics were a bit iffy, and the oversteer glitch (which can be fixed) gave the wrong first impression, I eventually fell in love with this game. It’s the only one of its kind, and I really appreciate something new in a racer. The same environment as GRID with PGR-like handling and Forza-like tuning: an odd combination which works quite well, but takes some getting used to.
9 Ninja Heads out of 10