Review – Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed

 
Need for Speed drove away from their arcade roots once again and released  Shift 2: Unleashed. Should they have left it in the garage, or did they complete a victory lap? Read our review to find out.


Racing games have always been in one of two families. Either they are an arcade style of game like most early Need for Speed titles, or a full on simulator like the Gran Turismo series. With the exception of Grid, no game has really tried to bridge the gap between having a car you can nit pick the settings on, or having a car that you can only change what it looks like. Being able to tweak all of the settings of a car, and milking every possible MPH and HP out of it, isn’t something most arcade racers care to mess with, but sim drivers live for it. Enter developer Mad Studios, backed by behemoth publisher E.A., and what you end up with is a racing game that does a decent job of giving a gamer the best of both worlds.

Definitely Not Your Starter Car

Shift 2 starts out by getting you immediately on the track to test your skills and your driving style. After a few quick laps in a Nissan GTR, the game evaluates your race and sets the handling of the car up for you. Things such as assisted steering, ABS, traction control, and difficulty are all set based on your handling of the car in the race. Nothing is set in stone, as you can change it to better suit you as you progress through the game, but it does a good enough job to get you started.

The career mode is where you’ll probably start first. You’ll be given a pocketful of cash so that you can buy your first car. You should have enough left over to do a few upgrades on it (intake, exhaust, turbo, etc.) and you’ll have a few races unlocked for you so that you can get your career on the road. Your first car will probably be a disappointment to you due to the fact that you have already had a taste of a decent machine, and your first car will be nothing like it. Less power, handles like sled on wheels, and is all around unresponsive. It almost made us want to turn the game off. After slogging through a few more races, and adjusting the handling settings, we were finally able to start winning, and upgrading the car even more.

Night Driving Looks Great

No matter how deep a game goes into tuning a car, or making it look as cool as possible, the game will inevitably be measured by how it feels on the track. Shift 2 varies by difficulty and settings, but ultimately it’s the pain-in-the ass AI that makes the game unplayable at times. If your four laps into a six lap race and one of the AI drivers shoves your ass end sideways and takes you from first to worst, you’ll be damn glad there’s a restart selection. Too bad you’ll never get those minutes of the game back. The AI want to win, and seem to stop at nothing to do just that. It didn’t seem to matter how aggressive, or passive we raced, the AI was always out to beat us at all costs.

Authentic degredation of tracks and cars

Actual racing is fast and fun, for the most part. Mad Studios added in visual and sound effects to give the game a feel of realism. You can hear the transmission clacking between gears, rocks hitting the windshield, bumpers and body panels ripping loose and flapping in the wind. Hitting a wall turns the screen to black and white and blurry, giving you the visual impression of contact. How hard you run into something can be seen by the varying effects, and that is a nice touch. Cars are destructible, and you can turn on either visual damage only, or have damage affect how the car handles. Driving with a shattered windshield while using the helmet cam is no easy task, but at least your gaze will automatically look to the proper apex as you go into a corner.

Helmet Cam View

Driving views go from a full car view, which comes in handy for drifting challenges, to a view of nothing but the road and your gauges on the screen. You can also choose a view with just the hood, full dash, or the helmet cam. the helmet cam takes a little getting used to, but that apex gaze really does come in handy.

The graphics are where the game truly shines. The cars are detailed nicely. The tracks look real and true to life. There are 36 different tracks with 96 different layouts, so there’s plenty of places to run. Even the night time races look good. Seeing headlights in your rear view mirror at night can help you to keep them where they belong, behind you. Shadows in your cockpit at night are well detailed. It’s these minute details that show how much time Mad Studios spent trying to perfect the game and polish it.

That's Not Rubbing. That's Racing.

One of the areas lacking with the game is in it’s overall stable of cars. 130+ cars from 37 different manufacturers doesn’t quite measure up to Gran Turismo’s 1000+ cars, but then again no game has ever had that many until GT5. I’m pretty sure you won’t find a Toyota Prius in Shift 2, but who really wants to race a hybrid with a top speed of 70? Most would choose a Porsche over a Prius any day. Most gamers will probably find that 130+ cars is sufficient, but for those that want more, GT5 is readily available.

Shift 2: Unleashed introduces a new type of racing game that is all about choice. You can choose to turn the game into a full on simulator, right down to adjusting the air pressure in each tire, or you can choose to leave it all alone and just race. The game can be exactly what you are looking for if simulators are too much, and arcade racers are just too shallow. You can wade just as deep into the sim pool as you want, without getting in over your head, or you can just stay in the kiddie pool. The choice is up to you. Just watch out for the AI sharks, as they will eat you alive.

Nicely done Mad Studios, Nicely done.
 

9