Xbox 360 Review: Need For Speed Shift

Need For Speed Shift Is Fast Paced, Exciting, Realistic Racing Action That Can Compete With Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo

Need For Speed Shift is the latest game in EA’s long-running racing franchise. As a youngster, I remember getting behind the wheel of a Lamborghini and roaring along winding mountain roads while avoiding cops playing Need For Speed: High Stakes. I remember the distinct thrill of speeding at 200 miles per hour over high mountain passes and past waiting cops who began tearing after me. It was a thrill.

Then, Need For Speed became something else. It became generic. The formula from previous titles in the franchise was repeated over and over. The racing was distinctly arcade-like. The graphics improved, the AI improved, but the game itself was basically a redressed version of it’s former self. You raced illegally around cities and on roads. Cops chased you. You had an easy time at it and there was not really any technical difficulty to the challenges the game provided.

Need For Speed Shift features detailed cars, great tracks, and a focus on realistic racing

Need For Speed Shift features detailed cars, great tracks, and a focus on realistic racing

Need For Speed: Shift, the 15th installment in the Need For Speed franchise is a much-needed improvement to Need For Speed’s formula. It is action-packed, fun, and decidedly not easy. It also caters to all levels of drivers. It is a great game.

Gameplay

Need For Speed Shift opens with great, thumping music and a British voice telling you that you’re going to take a test run before your first big race. You can’t avoid this test run. You have to race around the track for one lap and this lap determines what skill level the game sets you at. If you can turn corners with ease, change gears at the right time, and apply the handbrake liberally when needed, you will get put into the upper echelons of difficulty. But, if you are a beginner and all you know how to do is accelerate and brake and turn then you’ll be seeded appropriately. The game will aid you a lot.

Now, if you have a bad lap and know your talent level is better than the game assigns you to, you can change it. As soon as the lap is over, a screen shows what level they think you are at and asks if you want to change it. Then, it’s on to racing.

Need For Speed Shift is a racing game based on realism. You race on tracks, not on regular roads. You compete in races to earn money, driver points (which determine the events available to you), new cars, and eventually you aim to reach the Need For Speed World Tour, the highest level of racing.

There are five distinct tiers of competition. Tier 1 features cars such as Honda, BMW, and Nissan. As you move up through the tiers by winning races, you can buy new cars, make additions such as Nitrous Oxide and improved brakes and you can compete in special invitational events that pay extra cash but are also extra challenging.

The big difference between Need For Speed Shift and the previous games in the franchise is the focus on realism. Need For Speed Shift doesn’t put you on roadways or getting chased by cops. You aren’t racing through the streets of cities as pedestrian vehicles get in front of you, you simply race against other competitors on race tracks.

Beyond that, the cars all handle extremely differently and the game prides itself on the addition of a true driver experience. From the first person viewpoint in the cockpit of the car, you experience a blurring of lines as the car gets faster, a shaking, disorientation when you crash, and interiors modeled exactly after those of the real-life cars you drive. Furthermore, as you advance from one Tier to another, the differences are enormous. Not only do the drivers become more talented, but the tracks become more diverse and difficult, and the skills required to make the turns, to handle the fast cars, and to pass your opponents require practice and patience.

Need For Speed Shift features nearly 70 licensed cars, and they look amazing

Need For Speed Shift features nearly 70 licensed cars, and they look amazing

In addition, there are profile points that you earn in each race. The game scores you based upon whether you are an aggressive driver or a precision-based driver. Cut sharp turns and pass your opponents without touching them and you’ll earn precision points. Ram into opponents, draft off of them or block their advance and you’ll earn aggression points. As you increase your skill your points build up and the AI will adjust to your driving style.

The gameplay in Need For Speed Shift is geared towards a more realistic driving experience, and it is a significant change for the better for what had been an ailing franchise.

Graphics

The graphics in Need For Speed Shift are fantastic. The tracks look great as do the backgrounds of mountains and buildings and crowds. The cars all look extremely chic from the outside. But, the real draw graphically is the interior of the cars and the driver’s experience effects.

The interiors of the cars are all different and reflect those of the actual vehicle. The graphics are crisp and run smooth; I didn’t experience any framerate issues. The driver effects are quite awesome. To see the track begin to blur and to watch a car advance behind you in the rearview mirror is satisfyingly lifelike. It was amazing to be able to cruise along at 150 miles per hour while looking in the rearview mirror to see an opponent about to overtake me, allowing me the time to swerve in front of him and block his advance. Furthermore, the car really shook and rattled and my vision literally became blurred when I ran off the track.

The tracks are diverse and the competition is stiff

The tracks are diverse and the competition is stiff

A lot of effort was clearly put into making cockpit driving as realistic as possible in order to provide an accurate driving experience.

The only problem I had with the game’s graphics was the long load times for tracks. Running on the Xbox 360, each track took anywhere between 30 seconds to 1 minute to load, which is pretty long considering the average race only takes four or five minutes.

Sound

Your crew chief is a British man and the voice work is actually quite good. He directs you when you receive a new invitational event or when you level up to the next tier. With each tier that you reach a video highlights the new difficulties inherent in the tier and your crew chief guides you along through the video. At the beginning of a race his voice comes in over the radio and you really feel a familiarity with him.

The music is excellent. It is invigorating and lively, featuring lots of heavy bass and electronic elements. It is good driving music and serves as a great way to lead up to a race and to follow up a thrilling finish.

The cars sound awesome. They purr and growl as they race along the track and as you push your foot down on the accelerator they respond with individually different noises for each make. The crashes sound realistic and appropriately loud and the sound of other vehicles approaching is sure to set your heart racing when the finish line is only a quarter mile ahead.

The Final Word

EA has made a racing game that can compete with the best racing titles out there. It isn’t quite up to the standards of Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo in terms of realism, but it is great fun and has appropriate levels of difficulty for all types of racing enthusiasts. It has gorgeous graphics, great sound effects and really focuses on the cockpit experience, which makes the experience feel truly realistic. At the end of the day, games aim to put you in the shoes of something different. Whether that’s a hero saving the world or a race driver conquering a track, the goal is to make you feel as though you are the hero or the driver. And Need For Speed Shift does so admirably.

The Scorecard

85%

+ Beautiful graphics

+ Realistic handling, intelligent AI, and a huge variety of race types and difficulty levels

+ The driver experience makes you feel as though you are truly driving the cars

+ Focus on realism benefits Need For Speed greatly

– Long load times for races

– Isn’t quite as good as Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo