Review: Need For Speed: SHIFT 2 Unleashed
Having missed Need for Speed: Shift, I was sceptical that the series was capable of producing a decent racing simulator and was of the pre-judgmental opinion that Shift 2 Unleashed would be yet another forgettable sequel in a long line from the past 12 months. That all changed the minute my PS3 loaded the game.
- Worth The Time?Most definitely
- Things LovedSlick visuals, atmospheric and well-crafted race environments, great focus put on being a racing-sim which still lets players have fun, wide variety of race and car types, well thought-out upgrade system, the game lets you get as involved and realistic as you want, YouTube upload feature, AutoLog, brilliant damage system, the game motivates you to drive like a professional.
- Things HatedThe annoyingly aggressive and dirty AI, collisions make the cars feel like bumper cars, steering can be quite sensitive and gets worse as cars get lighter, the slightest collision is far too disconcerting and can easily lead to more collisions because of this.
- RecommendationThis is by far the best game to come out of the Need for Speed stable for quite some time and is certainly one of the best racers you can buy today, certainly it’s better than Gran Turismo 5 and definitely better than last year’s NFS: Hot Pursuit. Shift 2 Unleashed has so much variety and is so fun to play that it would be madness for any racing fan to not get it.
- Name: SHIFT 2: Unleashed
- Genre: Racing
- Players: 1-12
- Multiplayer: Online
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
- Publisher: EA Games
- Price: R350 (PC), R500 (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Straight off the bat you’ll notice the lack of ‘Need for Speed’ in the title (it’s in the headline to avoid confusion because that’s what most people know it as), this is because EA’s intention is to branch the ‘Shift’ brand off on its own as a separate franchise and damn but they’ve started pretty well.
You see, EA will continue to produce the typical NFS game featuring lots of modification and street racing as in the upcoming NFS: The Run but will run the Shift series alongside it to provide a more realistic simulator.
So, we arrive at Shift 2: Unleashed which is supposed to be the official starting point of this new franchise. It’s certainly quick off the line with official licensing for the FIA GT3 and GT1 World Championships as well as an endorsement from Formula Drift Champion Vaughn Gillit Jr (don’t know who he is? Neither do I but apparently he’s a big deal) who also guides you through the game and offers some commentary as you play.
The first thing you’ll notice about Shift 2 is just how accessible it is, after a little intro race to show you what’s in store, you are given a large menu of driver aids which can be turned on/off and customised. Some can even be tuned on the fly in the middle of a race. The main idea here is that the game is as realistic and proportionally as difficult as you want. If you want a HUD full of info and details or a minimalist one that shows you as little as possible for the ultimate driving experience, you can have it. Even the damage system lets you decide if you want every knock to actually affect the car for a bit of extra drama and excitement.
The game never becomes a chore to play because it was developed with the concept of being a thorough-bred racing simulator that still has that NFS atmosphere of excitement and fun and it shows.
The gameplay manages to be quite close to realistic but just messes up badly at the finish. Cars require throttle control for precise handling, tyre wear plays with handling, braking and accelerating need to be finely controlled. All of these make the cars handle much like they would in reality but it’s all messed up by the steering which feels light and even jittery in some cars. Usually it’s fine but on some of the bigger and more powerful cars it gets really bad because they feel like box cars as if the each cars weight isn’t properly factored into the equation.
That said, the game has an excellent intangible quality which makes you want to play it again and again. It excites you and gets your heart racing but what I could not believe is how hooked I was, I must have restarted one race at least 30 times because of how compelling Shift 2 is and I’ve never experienced that with a racer, not since Underground 2 which was, personally, the best Need for Speed game up till now alongside Most Wanted. A small part of this is the helmet/cockpit view which is one of the best I’ve seen in any racer. You actually feel the sped of the car, dust and mud and gravel fly up at you and it really does feel like you’re in an FPS.
The damage system is another great feature. It’s certainly nothing new but Shift 2 really has a good one. It’s awesome to bits of car flying at you every which way and upon close inspection after a collision you’ll see just how detailed the damage is to your vehicle. A cool little bit is that whenever you take a hit, the colour fades out to sort of disorientate you but it disorientates a bit too much and serves more as a hindrance than a neat little visual trick, often leading to more collisions when you combine it with the fact that most cars behave like bumper cars. They will go off or spin at the slightest provocation and the AI in place for opposition drivers isn’t any help because all the cars around you will be taking corners at hideous angles that cause them to ram you from the side or clip which will send your car into a prolonged spin.
As a result, you will occasionally find yourself driving like your grandmother worried that those blasted hooligans will run you off at any moment or you’ll blitz the track like your crotch has been set on fire to keep as far away from the other idiots as possible. Perhaps the game is making a statement about the intelligence of racing drivers but it really irritates the hell out of me when I’m on the home stretch of a race, about to clinch a podium finish and some idiots rams me off the track on the last corner. That’s happened at least a dozen times.
The game does however, encourage you to drive like a real professional. Mastering corners, using the best driving line, beating lap times and of course winning; all of this translates to Driver XP points which contribute towards levelling up to the next Driver Level. Each new level unlocks new upgrades and guarantees more money for winning races but also, occasionally new cars and new race types/ race classes.
There are 16 Driver Levels and 9 different race classes: Modern D, Modern C, Modern B, Retro, Muscle, Endurance, Works and finally you’ll hit the big time with the FIA GT1 and GT3 World Championships. Each with several series’ and each series with a number of races so that each class can have as much as 30 races, possibly more.
Each class plays host to a different tier of cars so unlocking the races isn’t enough, you’ll the right kind of car too. In some cases you can upgrade your current car to the right level in order for it to eligible but often it is more worth your while to purchase a new vehicle. With over 147 cars to choose from, there should be no shortage of options with a list as diverse as this which includes the BMW E30 Sport Evolution, Caterham Superlight R500, Lotus Exige, Pagani Huayra, Gumpert Apollo, Chevy Camaro SS and the usual suspects from the likes of Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, Lamborghini, Nissan and co.
With a possible 30 races per class, you’re probably expecting to do the same old shit over and over again until it just becomes mind-numbingly repetitive and boring but you’d be wrong because Shift 2 has quite a bit of racial variety as well – that is to say lots of different types of races not skin colours.
There’s the basic circuit race which involves driving around a course for several laps. Then we move on to the Hot Lap which puts players behind the wheel of a relatively new car which they must then test by beating a set lap time. You have 3 laps within which to do it.
Invitational Challenges are particularly gruelling and tricky races on some of the more challenging courses where you are given a car to race in and can win it by winning the race. Endurance is a daunting race type designed to push you and test your level of, er…endurance.
The Eliminator is an interesting race type which sees you and 7 other racers all driving the same type of car and then have to battle it out for supremacy as a timer counts down When it reaches zero, the person in last is eliminated and this goes on until only one driver is left standing with the timer being reset to a shorter and shorter time after each elimination.
Then we get to Drift which is actually my favourite despite the fact that I’m absolutely no good at it. It requires a genuinely delicate balance of throttle control and handling ability to pull off a good drift in this game and it takes a while to master but it is really worth it once you’re pulling off some sick drifts. Beat the top drift score to win the race.
In each race type, a podium finish will secure some consolation cash but the chequered flag is obviously what everybody wants. There are also 2 new race types: Drag and Standing Mile (probably like the Sprints of former NFS games), which come as part of the Speedhunters DLC pack currently retailing for around R80.
Still not enough variety? Well what about the 36+ tracks which include internationally famous courses such as the Nurburgring, Suzuka, Bathurst and Catalunya. Each track is a little bit different and there’s a lot of variation within the group as a whole with street circuits, handlings courses and speedways as well as some in-betweeners.
The upgrade system in Shift 2 is nothing short of genius. You can upgrade each individual part of your car from the cams to springs to brake pads and tyres and each upgrade produces a noticeable change in the way your car performs even some of the smaller upgrades. You can also improve your car’s aerodynamics with upgrades such as body-kits and go further with tuning which allows you to perfect your car’s performance or set it up just right for a specific course if you’re inclined.
You can even do big changes like swapping out the entire engine as I did with my box-shape BMW 3-Series (E30) when I dropped a thumping v10 from an M6 into it. Upgrade you car enough and you can do a Works conversion which effectively sets it up as a pure-bred racing machine.
A great feature of the system is that things which don’t affect the performance such as paint, rims and vinyls don’t cost so you don’t lose a big chunk of your hard-earned prize money every time you put a new sticker on the car. Don’t have the patience to put together some kick-ass racing livery for your car? Well then the variety of preset racing liveries complete with paint-schemes and vinyls should be great for you. What’s more is that there is always sufficient money to upgrade your car to the level it needs to be at to win races and you’ll always be earning an amount of money that is proportional to the kind of spending you need to be doing to stay ahead of the competition.
There’s also a host of online features which just make the game better and add to it. First off is the YouTube upload feature which allows you to take the footage from a race, cut it to show exactly what you want to and then upload it straight to YouTube. Then there’s Need for Speed VIP which checks your system for saved games of NFS Hot Pursuit, Undercover or Shift and rewards your loyalty with access to exclusive content. Unfortunately due to PSN being down, I was unable to fully explore these features, you’ll be hearing more of that later.
The AutoLog which first made its appearance in NFS: Hot Pursuit last year returns triumphantly and although I could not test it, it is exactly the same system as we had in Hot Pursuit and that I have some experience with. AutoLog is a great social network-type system which allows players to challenge friends to races as well as compete with friends in the single-player by seeing what kind of lap times and results they produced when doing a particular race. You also gain Driver XP by besting a friend’s times or results in a race.
Unfortunately, due to PSN being down I was unable to review or test the online multiplayer component of the game.
Shift 2 doesn’t quite have the amazing quality and attention to detail that Gran Turismo 5’s Premiere cars do but then again that game’s lower level cars look horrid. Instead Shift 2 goes for a consistent yet still very appealing and easy on the eye set of visuals. Other studios could learn a thing or two from the way Slightly Mad has designed their race environments. They look good, have great lighting effects and each one has a unique character to it including the fact each race has a certain atmosphere around the track with small touches such as crowd cheers.
Unlike a game such as Gran Turismo 5 which is anally trying to force the way of the racing driver upon you and which was almost definitely made without a single thought for the people who would eventually play it, Shift 2 is not trying to be the best racing simulator that ever existed. It is not obsessing over every little detail and element of itself. It’s not trying to be great, it just is.
GT 5 is that weird Asian who we’ve all had in our class at some point in life. They are the kind of anal retentive perfectionists that may get good marks in school but are so dogmatically obsessive in their approach that they are substantially less than great in reality and end up working at a laundromat. Whereas Shift 2 is the pretty boy allrounder to whom success comes so easily. Sure he’s not perfect and may occasionally do some crack but he still works hard enough and has enough going for him to beat any competition and still come home to bang a supermodel. Basically Shift 2 is the complete package from a gaming standpoint despite GT5 being the ultimate driving simulator from a technical point of view.
Shift 2: Unleashed is not trying to beat its competitors but rather just carries on doing its own thing. It has just been made with the intent of being the best it can and has been made with the right ingredients to do just that. As a result, Shift 2 comes out as the best racer I’ve played in a long time and ironically a better game than GT5 which took 6 painstaking years of Kaz Yamauchi’s perfectionism and nitpicking to produce. This game could easily blow away any competition that might still come its way this year and possibly anything coming next year. It’s a through and through racing-simluator which still has fun hardwired into it as part of that Need for Speed DNA that simply can’t be ignored.
Shift 2: Unleashed is irrefutably the best racer I’ve played since the days of Most Wanted and Underground 2. It is the best racer you can get today and will probably hold that title for the rest of the year. It does everything with this carefree ease that makes it so endearing and damn fun. A must-have for any racing fan, this is the best racer that money can buy right now. Coming from someone who went into this review sceptical that Shift 2 would be anything but mediocre, you better believe it.