Need For Speed Shift – Reviewed

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Need for Speed, like morally questionable women, has seen a fall from grace in the past few years. After the excellent Most Wanted, EA seemed to have lost interest in putting out another game, and we got the uninspired Carbon, the horribly average ProStreet, and the technical mess of Undercover.

It was a sad state of affairs for the series, and EA saw fit to fix the aging series with some radical plastic surgery. Shift features a new developer (Slightly Mad Studios) and a new idea of what a Need for Speed game should be. Read on to find out how it fares.

As always, its really pretty and well presented. Awesome graphical touches like blurring when you go faster, or an almost flash-bang effect when you crash into a wall at a preposterous speed, litter the game. It is beautifully polished and a lot of effort was put into the graphic engine and car models. It’s the only racing game where I saw no reason to leave the default cockpit view, simply because EACH car has its authentic cockpit. When you upgrade the interior, it is properly reflected in the cockpit view. I know it’s a very small and inconsequential part of the game, but it helps with the immersion factor. Which you will need after playing for a while…

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Sound wise, all the exhaust notes are excellent, but the menu and loading screen’s music is dreadful. Apparently there are licensed songs in-game, but they are played so infrequently and seemingly at random in the post-race menu that I wonder why Slightly Mad even bothered with them.

Once you start a race, still impressed by the cockpit view, you notice the cars don’t handle as well as they should. If you are GRiD veteran, you will be disappointed. There isn’t much of a difference between all-wheel drive, front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive, which is annoying and inaccurate. Then, to add insult to injury, all the cars seem to slide whenever they damn well please. No matter how powerful or the configuration, they slide around corners like the tyres were covered oil before the race. Although, to its meagre credit, the inaccurate handling is consistent.

Shift1

The selection of cars and tracks is average at best. The car lot is basically the same as every Need for Speed game from the past 5 years, with their upgraded models. The Lexus LF-A prototype and the Lamborghini Reventon are nice touches, but not enough to excite the enthusiast. You can’t upgrade either of those cars nor any of the tier 4 cars (read: coolest cars in the game), which I find irritating.

Another advance towards a legitimate racer is the inclusion of Works conversions. A Works car is a fully fledged ultra-hot racing version of a standard car. I won’t lie, I feel like the dogs bollocks when I race a Nissan GT-R Works car, and I even ignore the frustrating handling when presented with the sheer visual and audio tour de force of a Works car. But why do only half the cars have Works upgrades? An Aston Martin DB9 has no Works upgrade even though one exists in real racing. Yes it’s a small thing to whine about, but these small things are important to creating a fantastic experience.

Shift throws achievements (called badges) at you like its desperately trying to help your self esteem. I swear the game would reward you with badges simply for installing it if it could. There are about four hundred million badges to collect, so for those OCD-types, this game will keep you busy.

Now, this is where Shift’s wheels come off- It has no idea what it wants to be. Shift rewards players with points for either very precise driving or very aggressive driving, which is used to upgrade your driver level which leads to unlocking things like vinyls, extra garage slots, etc. Fine, sounds good right? Here’s the inconsistency: Why am I rewarded for literally crashing into other cars if I get penalised for cutting a corner? And the definition of cutting a corner is very, very loose in the Shift world. Then there is the issue of ‘mastering corners’. You receive points for perfecting a corner, by driving at the right speed and at the right angle, etc. This is an excellent idea to promote better driving on the behalf of the player, but the damn handling model and inconsistent definition of perfect cornering ruin it.Shift3

So many good ideas are wasted by Shift’s desire to appeal to everyone, and in doing so it loses all of its cohesion. I am by no means a hardcore driving fan, and I have always loved a good Need for Speed game, but Shift flounders where it shouldn’t. Even the progression of races is flawed. There are five tiers, the last of which being the ‘World Tour’, which is supposedly for the best of the best. Yet I unlocked it without even starting the Tier 4 races. There is no impetus for you to complete all the races, other than buying a bigger and better car – which you can’t upgrade or improve unlike ALL the other Need for Speed games.

Ultimately, Shift provides us with an excellent glimpse of where the series is headed, and if the inevitable sequel sorts out the handling and other inconsistencies, it will be an awesome addition to the racing game fans’ collection. Until then, buy a second hand copy of GRiD and enjoy a really well made racing game.

Gameplay – 7.5

Everything works so well, until you take a corner.

Presentation – 8.5

Excellent all round and quite impressive. The fact that there is no mouse support in version 1 of the game is a massive pain though.

Sound – 6

Its so meh that it hurts.

Value – 7

A long single player is nice, but with no reason to finish it other than seeing the end credits detracts. I haven’t tried multiplayer, so I’m giving that the benefit of the doubt.

Overall – 7

No, it isn’t an average of the above scores, but a true reflection of Shift. While it isn’t as good as it should be, it is still a reasonably fun casual driving sim

Last Updated: October 22, 2009

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