Need for Speed: Shift is the latest re-boot to the Need for Speed franchise. Since the days of Underground on the PlayStation 2, people have claimed that the franchise has slowly been going downhill with each title that has come out under the Need for Speed brand. Traditionally, the series has always been fairly arcade-y in the way the cars control and the missions you were tasked with. However, Need for Speed: Shift takes a complete U-turn as it aims for the more serious simulation-based racing fans.
As Need for Speed has taken a more simulation-based approach to racing with Shift, its most important feature is how the cars control: they’re meant to control like the real cars should. Unfortunately, that is something which Shift fails with at the very first hurdle. Imagine a handicapped horse which gets stuck half way over the hurdle – this is the feeling you get with the controls. Shift can’t decide whether it wants to be an arcade racer or a racing simulation, as the cars turn as if you are playing an old rally game, pivoting on a centre point and sliding round corners similar to Ridge Racer.
Even though the handling isn’t on par with previous racing simulation games, other important factors are spot on, such as the car models and the tracks you race on. The courses are realistic and the scenery gives you some serious eye-candy to stare at during those long and tedious races. Shift is not just the best looking racing game EA has put out, it’s one of the best looking games they’ve published in general – the amount of detail around scenery and car models, including cars like the legendary Bugatti Veyron 16.4, is astonishing – all of which can be damaged.
Each one of the 70+ cars are fully customisable with the money earned during the career mode. You can change the paint and the general visuals of a car as well as the internals, like the engine and brakes, as well as giving your car NOS and completely changing the cockpit view. This is possibly the first time the cockpit view is more-entertaining than the overhead view.
Imagine this: speeding past opponents at 180mph and them then becoming a blur in your rear view mirror, all this is happening while you are hearing the thunderous roar of both your engine and the person you just sped past. You then realise that in the process, you’re hurtling towards a tyre wall. You slam the brakes, and they screech as you slam into the wall. Everything becomes a blur, and you've been right in the driving seat the whole time. It's exhilarating.
The majority of the game's action takes place in its single player experience, the aim being to win the Need for Speed: Shift Live World Tour which involves you working your way up through five tiers, the fifth and final tier being the championship events. The only real similarity between Shift and past Need for Speed titles is the events to take part in. You get the usual race event, as well as time trials, drift events, car battles and manufacturer events.
Every time you finish a race you’ll receive a star rating depending on your performance and whether you've met certain criteria and progressing you through your career. Almost every race you take part in during the Shift career will have set challenges per match, such as earning a certain number of driver points, mastering every corner by hitting the driving line exactly, or hitting a specified speed. Either way, the game will try to mix up your driver skills and tries to get you to use different driving styles.
As well as the star rating being a major part of the game's single player experience, the driver level is another nice new addition to the series. How you drive in each race alters how much experience you receive. For example, hitting driving lines well and performing clean overtakes will get you more experience. If you're a precision-based driver, you'll rely on the cleanliness and preciseness of your race to raise your points score more. Aggressive drivers? You'll have to either work on your precision or rely on your speed and skill to earn more points. What's odd is that no matter which style you decide to take, everything goes into one big experience pool: it just seems that the game hurls experience at you for pretty much anything you do.
The game does include multiplayer as well as your single player, however, it is just a standard, run-of-the-mill multiplayer addition for a racer. Straight-up 8 player races, time trials or drifting events feature, all are judged by best score/best time. There is another addition in the form of "drivers duel" though, where you can take on an opponent in a one-on-one game mode.
Need for Speed Shift is by far one of the best, if not the best Need for Speed title to date. It's the much needed reboot that the franchise has desperately needed for some time now. Its incredible graphics and outstanding sound effects blend beautifully, mixed with yet another top soundtrack in an EA title, making this a very solid racing game. If it wasn’t for the frustrating controls and the relatively short career, it would be right up there with Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo.