Over the recent months we have seen the release of one of the biggest racing games to hit consoles for the last few years, yes I’m talking about Gran Turismo 5, but can a sequel to Need for Speed: Shift take on the master of all things racing?
Keeping in the vein of out of series sequels, the moniker of Need for Speed has been dropped for Shift 2 but still has all the markings of it’s parent series, albeit with less of an arcade feel to it’s racing. Shift 2 as with the original has a stronger focus on circuit racing instead of the street bound racing of entries like last year’s Hot Pursuit. That realism is key to the presentation of Shift 2, as Gran Turismo 5 offers a showcase for your virtual garage Shift 2 offers you a racing sim in it’s prime.
Not to say that the graphics are not on par with GT5 in fact you could say that they are unparalleled. The inside of the cars look amazing, not that you have much time to look, but if you do manage to steal a glance you will not be disappointed. There is a new camera which is attached to the helmet to give you an enhanced view of the action. This camera shows off the graphics perfectly, as well as changing the dynamics of the gameplay. Looking around the cabin gives you a view of some actually scarily detailed gloves and the truest to form dashboard I have seen in a game yet. With a movement of the right analogue stick you shift your driver’s head to look in various directions giving you the ability to quickly check your rear view mirror or peek to the side checking the wing mirrors. This all adds to the realism that the game is striving to obtain, but also makes sense, for in real life drivers don’t have a button just for looking behind them.
Shift 2 features a limited amount of cars compared to the rival titles but that is supposedly a decision made by the development team so that you concentrate on the primary objective of racing instead of playing a Pokemon style game of collection. The cars featured still come from the major manufacturers but stick to models that are star attractions, which does mean that you will see the cars which are more common and less beefy than seen in rival games.
The lack of cars is made up by the return of track mastery and Shift’s EXP system. These were the killer features for Shift 2′s predecessor, the better you mastered a track the more extra EXP you got and the more EXP you had the quicker you accessed new races and cars. The track mastery system used conditions such as how well you kept to the green racing line marker and how good you were at cornering while keeping relative speed and control. These all fed into your EXP and gave you a sense of completion when racking up the 100% tallies. In addition the mastery rating is a constant reminder as you revisit tracks for new races you can try to improve your rating.
In addition to accessing more tracks and cars, the experience system unlocks new decorative vinyl’s for your car as well as extra money for each level increased. The EXP system is something of a ‘Marmite’ feature as some may feel the experience cheapened by these constant rewards pouring down from above, but in fact it increases the racing experience. It makes the taking part in a race just as important as winning, it genuinely makes you race to your best no matter whether you are in last or first place.
Something that makes it’s first appearance in the Shift series is the Autolog System that was introduced in last year’s Hot Pursuit. This once again offers you the ability to match and beat your friends times across the circuits. But it’s also integrated into the experience system so that each time you best a friend’s time you get an experience boost.
Control of the car is everything in an racing game and this is a problem in Shift 2. While the first game had its problems with controls the sequel falters even more. Shift’s controls were twitchy. there was no doubt about it, and that twitchiness remains, but it seems that something that could have been a design flaw in the first game is a integrated part of the gameplay here. The grace you feel when playing titles like Gran Turismo 5 doesn’t even feature here and is very much the point. Shift 2 wants to make you feel like your taming a bull every time you settle into your driving seat, and it does that superbly. This is all to make the races feel more thrilling and death-defying, but this is let down on PS3 by some terrifying lag.
The control lag on the PS3 seems to come out of nowhere, the game runs smoothly and feels great but the moment you start to race it hits you hard! The worst hit is handling and cornering; acceleration and braking seem to be less affected but the ghost still lingers. Trying to drift around a corner, keep within the racing line and master a corner can be impossible on some tracks. This is especially true on the inter-city tracks where the corners are less forgiving and tend to be a tighter. Whether this is a patchable problem remains to be seen.
The online feature of Shift 2 allows for complete customisation, with hosts able to change the time of day, only enable certain cars or particular camera views, as well as the standard track setting and whether DLC is allowed. Actually playing in the online mode is stable and offers very little in the way of lag.
Shift 2: Unleashed as a update to the series and a new entry into a racing landscape that has seen dramatic changes stands up well. The tightening of focus and delivery has improved the feel of the game, along with both returning features such as the track mastery and new features like Autolog, all of which further improve the games focus.
It’s a shame that the PS3 version is marred slightly with control lag, but this issue may be changed in the future with a small patch. Still, while current rivals may look slicker and offer keener driving experiences, there is no doubt that Shift 2 leads the way on social interaction.
You can purchase your copy of Shift 2 here.