The Need for Speed series has seen hundreds of changes in what seems like hundreds of games over the years. From neon lights and boy-racing to police chases and a most wanted list, we've truly seen it all. Now trying to compete with the likes of Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, EA bring us the next instalment in the 'Shift' series, Shift 2: Unleashed.
As Shift 2 is a racing sim there's no requirement to smash into cop cars, compete in a drag races (although now available through DLC) or generally create havoc in order to progress. It's all about the FIA Championship and getting there. Starting off on level one you have to work your way up through the tiers with the intention of competing in the FIA Championship - every driver’s dream. How fast you get there will be determined by how fast you gain experience points or XP to you and me. I love this way of progressing as driving simulators have never been my strong point so using this system, I don't need to finish first in each race in order to move on in the game, but more importantly, or to gain access to faster and more desirable cars. You can gain further XP by overtaking other drivers, drifting and performing other smooth manoeuvres of the like throughout the career mode.
There’s no need for point-to-point races through concrete jungles in Shift 2 to get this XP though as all of your racing is done within the seventy real tracks from all over the world, including my favourite track of all time, the F1 Nurburgring track. Each race isn't the same however as on top of the typical lap race you have time trials, head-to-heads and drifting competitions. Drifting is insanely hard, or at least it is to me; I used to love drifting in the Need for Speed games but that was way back in Underground 2. Real drifting is really hard unsurprisingly and I constantly found myself spinning out. Like most things it takes practice but I'm impatient when it comes to things I should be good at. I have found out that the best way to progress and help you with certain race types is to customise your car so that it fits the race criteria.
For all the car customisation lovers out there you will be more than happy with the tinkering options available in-game. Not so much on the aesthetics of the car but more about the options available for under the hood. While you can still slap vinyls on the car you can't quite paint it like you can in Forza Motorsport. That said the upgrades you can make to your car can turn a simple road car into a race winning monster. Obviously this takes time and money but the more you play the game, the better it gets and the faster the cars.
Online features the typical problems faced with any online racing game, and that is of course people’s tendency to go flat out down the opening straight, have no care for any other cars, and generally go with the motto of "If I'm going out this race, so are you". This is very frustrating but without having all cars as ghosts for the first lap or so, I'm not sure what else can be done. All the typical modes exist online but there is also a 'Competition' mode which I've never really seen before in any other game. It's limited to head-to-head racing but as you win each race, you progress further up the ladder and eventually play in the final. It's pretty nifty but unfortunately I just don't think I'm good enough. Let me know if you have more luck.
Autolog returns from the Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit game and I'm so glad it has. This feature is excellent and although it's slightly less in your face that the Hot Pursuit version, it allows you to see how all your friends are doing and what their fastest times are etc. This is a really good feature that works really well if you have a few other online friends who also have the game.
On a first glance the graphics of Shift 2 look and seem pretty neat, polished and generally impressive. Upon closer observation though there are a few bugs and glitches here and there, especially when you have damage switched on and some debris is thrown up into the air from the car, this debris can at times end up floating in the air.
The audio is also very similar. The engine noise differs between each car and is very impressive although it does mean you’ll need to turn the volume down when playing at night to avoid waking up the rest of the house. There’s a very limited soundtrack in Shift 2 which is slightly disappointing and only during some events like the drifting is there any in-game tracks. This can be easily solved however by putting your own custom tracks on in the background.
Overall Shift 2 is an excellent racing game that really tries to throw you behind the wheel of a professional driver. With great graphics minus a few debris issues and impressive car mechanics, Shift 2 will challenge the best of drivers during the single player campaign and online. Fans of Forza Motorsport 2 and Gran Turismo 5, or just racing games in general, should definitely think about getting Shift 2 to keep you busy.