GOONL!NE Review – Need For Speed: Shift

Need_for_Speed_Shift

Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher:
Electronic Arts
Also On:
Xbox 360
Console Played On:
Playstation 3
Release Date:
Friday September 18th 2009
Age Rating:
PEGI 7+

It’s a Need For Speed game. That’s the bit of this that kinda blows me away. Need For Speed has offered us the delights of Underground and Most Wanted, yes, but more often, it’s pulled down it’s pants and done a massive poo all over gamers in the form of Undercover and Carbon. So when flinging in the latest copy of the series into my PS3, you can forgive me if I thought that the majority of the game would consist of crappy gameplay and hot women.

Neither of those elements make an appearance in Shift. In fact, quite the opposite. Your coach/best friend/father/lover person guides you though the game with his bored, sexy, mono-tonal voice. He’ll shout things like ‘This is it!’ and ‘Have fun!’, which I doubt many racers actually get shouted at pre-race.

nfs shiftIt all kicks off with a cut-scene. In fact, cut-scenes happen at almost every point in the game. New event, new tier, new car; there’s a cut-scene, and all the better for it. They’re brilliant; trailer quality, with superb editing and great visual effects. You really won’t wanna skip them.

So, you’re plonked in a BMW and given a lap of the track. Like Madden, this evaluates your skill; it sets the AI, the HUD, the course-correction, and sees if you’re a precise or aggressive driver. It doesn’t really matter which one you are, but it’s good to find a game bent on serious racing allowing the driver to be rewarded for some bumps and scratches. The test lap also gets you used to the gameplay.

nfs shift 2Shift is fast. Like, properly eye-wateringly fast. When you get into some of the better cars, it’s on par with Burnout; maybe even more, due to the fantastic screen effects. The cockpit blurs, the engine roars, all you can see is the road in front.

Then a wall. Coming up fast. It’s quick, too; the early, tier 1 cars are annoyingly slow and heavy, but when you pop in one of the pin-up vehicles, turning is super responsive, allowing greater control on the track. It may not be that realistic, but it sure is great fun.

So, you progress through the game using stars. You gain stars for a podium finish, lap time, driver points, and anything else worthy of a pat on the back. After gaining the set number of stars, you move up a tier, allowing you to buy new cars and new events.

However, a big problem with the game is that the recession obviously didn’t reach NFS land, and by the end of tier 1, I had enough money to buy the best car in tier 2. It only gets more ridiculous as time goes on, meaning you can buy any car you want with spare change.

This makes going back and completing races you left needless, and the ‘upgrade’ option, allowing you to buy nitro and better tires, void, as you change tier pretty quickly. One smart move, however, was to allow you to move tier without completing all prior races, meaning you can play at your own pace, which is surprisingly liberating.

You’ve got your car, you’ve chosen the track, and you’re about to race. Racing games are all good lookers, and Shift is no different; it has great textures and beautiful lighting, as well as track specific attractions; a plane overhead in one, or a massive rollercoaster in another. It’s let down a bit by some shoddy trees, poor damage modeling and jittery animations, but on the whole, it’s certainly a crisp. But the best thing?

Almost every racing game has a cockpit view, but only Shift does it perfectly. You can go to a third-person view, but it’s pants; seeing your hands hold the wheel and moving your head with every bump is truly immersing, and an incredible experience.

It makes crashes all the most exiting; instead of Gran Turismo’s ‘bounce’, the screen goes black and white as your vision blurs. It really puts you off, and sometimes makes you feel slightly sick for a while. It’s a great choice to put it as the default view, and it’s something racing fans will truly appreciate. It’s backed up brilliantly by the sound, which is ear-piercingly loud, like Russel Brand in a blender, and mixes engine roars and tire screams perfectly.

nfs shift 3You’ll be staring, never blinking, out the windshield through a variety of events. There’s the classic race, which is used the most, but also elimination, one on one, and manufacture races.

They’re a great little diversion, and keep things interesting, even if they’re a little rough; elimination just requires a lot of reckless driving, and one on one can be finished quickly by spinning your opponent and getting 5 seconds ahead, which is unfortunate. However, there’s enough here to keep you racing away, including a good choice of locations; the urban chaos of Tokyo or sightseeing in London, for example.

There’s also the little things; the floating menus, the car customization (it’s not at good as Midnight Club, but it can kill half an hour easily), basic tuning options, and more.

nfs shift 4So, why isn’t it the best driving game ever? It’s got a few flaws, but everything else is great, right? Yes. And that’s kind of the problem. It’s quite stale. The driving is beautiful and fun, the AI is snappy and responsive, the presentation, the sound, everything’s fine.

But there’s nothing particularly new. Nothing that sets it out from the crowd. The cockpit view is a really nice touch, but you can get a watered down version in DiRT 2, for example. Shift never really breaks away from the pack, and instead, follows the racing line and a steady speed.

There was no point while playing that I shouted ‘Wow!’, or was taken away by an element of the gameplay, or even graphics. It nails the basic stuff, but doesn’t really go one extra; you race, you win, you race.

Multiplayer is stable, though. It’s got little lag, and does a good job of basically transferring the game, and putting your mates in. But again, you just race. That’s it.

Final Thoughts: The gameplay is superb. The handling is responsive and fun. It looks great, and it’s got some great touches, as well as some disappointing flaws. But it never jumps out and amazes you, which means it’s lifespan is limited.

Gameplay – 9: Fast, with lightning handling, and fast. Did I say it was fast? It’s very fast. And fun. The cockpit view is a great addition, too.

Graphics – 8: Looks great, but in comparison with racing games like DiRT 2 or Grid, it just looses out. Certainly won’t give Gran Turismo or Forza a fright.

Sound – 8: The screech of tires and animal scream of the engine are superb and wonderfully OTT, and the menu music is tense; but nothing that really makes you tap your foot to.

Presentation – 8: It’s got some amazing cut-scenes, good voice acting, and tidy menus, but too much money means the best cars are snapped up right away, and there’s no point in actually going back and playing some of the races you left.

Overall – 8: If you like your racing games, you’ll love Shift. It’ll keep you occupied for quite some time, and if you pair it with DiRT 2, you’ve got two different, but incredibly fun games. However, if you’re not so keen on the cars, it’s best to rent; you’ll basically see all there is to see.

Oh, and the best bit? It’s a Need For Speed game. Turns out, it’s never to late to change your ways.

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