Can you believe that this is the second reviewer to take hold on Need for Speed: Shift? It was originally in the hands of our very own Ant, but he tried to fight with the awful default handling before giving up and sending it onwards for me to master. Was he right to give up the fight?
Not exactly the greatest introduction to the new ‘serious’ direction that the Need for Speed series is trying to undertake. The biggest problem the annual instalment faces is that its release has come at a very awkward time for the EA giants. Whilst most games this side of Christmas has scarpered with the impending giant, Modern Warfare 2 hanging around in the release schedule, the same can’t be said of the racing genre.
We’ve had Dirt 2, Gran Turismo (PSP) and we’re only weeks away from Forza Motorsport 3, and we may even see Gran Turismo 5 before the next decade rolls round. A fairly crowded market and full of some strong competitors means Need for Speed: Shift needs something special to stand out amongst the line-up.
With a new reboot to the franchise EA has seaked UK developers, Slightly Mad Studios, to give its flagship racing title that much needed new coat of spray paint. Working in conjunction with EA Black Box studios, developers of Most Wanted, things are looking hopeful here.
In short though, the initial control setup is a complete disaster. It’s beyond beggar’s belief that EA and developer Slightly Mad could let this leave the production line with such an awkward setup. To save anyone purchasing the game the hassle of trying to compete against the over-steering, then these are the ideal settings for players using a conventional control pad:
- Steering Dead Zone – 15%
- Acceleration Dead Zone – 10%
- Brake Dead Zone – 10%
- Steering sensitivity – 5%
- Acceleration sensitivity – 5%
- Brake sensitivity – 5%
- Speed steering sensitivity – 100
If we were basing it on the original settings, the score at the bottom of the page may just be quite a bit lower than it is. The settings above really enhance the handling of the vehicles to give you the best possible chance to actually have a crack at winning races and not spinning out on each bend.
There is no doubting that Shift is the biggest change the franchise has ever seen. Over the years we’ve seen the series go through a bit of a mix-mash. From the awful ProStreet to the sub-standard release of Undercover, it is a welcome change to have a game that has technical creativity flowing through it.
The biggest feature and arguably the best is the in-car view. We’ve seen some impressive attempts in recent years by racing games, but Shift has this crafted to perfection. The view is so important that it is switched on by default with the option to change it once you are racing. However, Shift is best enjoyed using this in-car view, the way Slightly Mad created it for.
Every shake, every bump and every crash is made to look as realistic as possible. Slam head-first into a wall and vision will be impaired, the screen will shake and the sounds of a heart-beat will increase. This is trying to accurately reflect how a driver would feel and what it would look like during a real crash. Tyres will fly and screens will crack, overall, the attention to detail is a very bold and justifiable move to try and create the ultimate realistic view from the driving seat. Shift puts you in the seat with head movements as you accelerate and brake and it really emphasises the speed when you are hitting the gas.
All the cars in the game are licensed replicas and gone are the days of having a BMW that can’t be pranged. Fly into an opponent and the damage will be fully documented for all to see. Metal will crumple, wind-screens will crack and handling will suffer. The graphics are certainly the most impressive of any EA racing title over the years; the tracks are well crafted and the attention to detail, both on the inside and outside of vehicles, are superb. The only blemishes appear on the city tracks, where the backgrounds look a little weak compared to the superb Project Gotham Racing series and more recent Dirt 2.
The main game is made up of different Tiers of racing, with it starting simple at the bottom and over time you’ll work your way upwards until you unlock the fifth – the World Tour. This consists of a series of events in different countries to try and find the ultimate Shift champion.
Earning stars from the position you finish in is the way to rank up through each tier. Each race has five stars on offer, three for coming in the top positions and two more for doing something in the race. Whether that is making a good over-taking manoeuvre or ramming an opponent off the track, it can vary from race to race. The tiers contain different types of races, including Sponsored events, Time Trials and general races including some extra special ones along the way. The good thing about each event is that you don’t necessarily need to win a race to progress. It’s just a case of earning enough stars to qualify for the next tier.
In addition, points will be awarded for Precession and Aggression; which ones you’ll get depends on your driving style. Precession points are awarded for keeping to the driving line (which is marked out depending on settings), drafting behind other cars and cornering correctly. On the flipside, the Aggression points are given for ramming cars and forcing them off the track; an interesting prospect given the simulation nature of the game.
As mentioned at the beginning of the review, the handling assists can be changed, and this is crucial to the enjoyment of the game. Other settings will be determined when you begin the game and drive a test lap, which will turn settings on and off dependant on how you race. Leave the handling on default and the over steer is awful, cars slide and you’ll lose the back-end all too frequently. Once you’ve edited the settings however, it’ll feel much more comfortable and you’ll find it feels more like a simulation than an arcade game.
On the audio front Shift doesn’t standout, but it does feature an interesting voiceover man who is quaintly British, but in a stereotypical sense, who rambles away during menus and on the track. The engine sounds aren’t again up there with the real simulation games, but they are at least a decent effort.
Car customization is comprehensively covered as with previous games in the series; you can add body kits, turbo engines, change the rims and paint, plus plenty more. You’ll need to earn money from races and work your way through the career to access some of the more expensive and exclusive items.
Aside from the career mode, you have the usual Time Trial and Quick Race options and the obligatory online mode. There is nothing unusual with this and it works without any problems. The bonus of playing online is that you’ll still earn points and money for the main career mode rather than it being a fully blown separate online entity. This means you’ll be more inclined to play online as it boosts the main career options as well.
Shift is a fantastic new direction and clearly EA have taken the time to think, ‘What are the serious options we can take?’ and although it is trying to compete in a saturated racing market, it does so with good stead. Whilst the game has a few flaws, it is certainly the strongest ever in the series. It isn’t quite a Gran Turismo or Forza game yet, but give this a few years and like FIFA 10 in its genre, Need for Speed could become ‘the definitive’ racing game.