Ive said it before and Ill say it again, racing games are one of the gaming worlds bread and butter genres. If you can deliver a solid racing title you pretty much have it made, if it turns into a solid franchise, well, the sky is the limit. But when you hit that great franchise title you run into new challengesconstantly building and improving it over time. Lord knows when you stop doing that you pretty much get shuffled into the gaming worlds oblivion, the bargain bin.
The Need for Speed franchise is a long and favored one. I remember playing the original on my PC and gazed in awe at the high reflections on the cars and endless highways and byways available to me. Ill take that one step further, it let us live out our rebellious streak by outrunning the law when ever we sat down to play. What gear head hasnt fantasized about ducking and dodging the local law enforcement, sirens blazing and tires squealing around every turn? Thats what made me fall in love with the Need for Speed franchise.
Over the years the franchise has done an overall commendable job, only in recent years has the franchise suffered a bit. Not quite living up to the reputation it built, getting sometimes lost in the flash and ignoring the substance, but for the most part delivered the street racing fun and excitement that still kept some of the fans interested. Needless to say the clamoring for the latest and greatest NFS (Need for Speed) title waned a bit, but fans of the franchise, such as me, really wanted to see NFS knock one out of the park so to speak. So when EA announced Need for Speed Shift, I was very excited and couldnt wait to see what they had done.
Need for Speed Shift is a complete departure from the franchises usual formula. At first Ill admit I was disappointed, I mean, the minute I loaded the game and it started its introduction scenes I audibly said to myself This isnt Need for Speed, but hey, I gotta do the review so lets see what we got here. As I played I came to one realization, the NFS I was used to wasnt in my system, and as much as that disappointed me I had to go forward and see if this complete turn around delivered anything, or for that matter could hold up against the big boys it squarely targeted. Because you see my friends, the days of police chases and street racers are over, at least for now, NFS Shift has gone to simulation tier racing ala Forza Motorsports. Quite a change of direction to say the least, and Ill admit it was hard not to keep thinking why? So was this the change the franchise needed? Would this completer overhaul help bring back some of the fans? Maybe.
Lets forget the past and focus on the present, Shift actually does an above average job delivering the Driving Experience The game looks great, houses a commendable stable of vehicles, there not all there, but all the right ones are ready to be parked in your garage. The Career mode plays out in very familiar fashion, start off small and slow, upgrade your vehicle, earn money and move up the ranks. Winning races in Shift isnt the only way to pad your profile; you can also earn badges and bonuses as you race. Mastering turns, running clean lines, all earn you favor with the point system. Your style is judged on a two sided scale completely generated by you. If you like hammering the opponents in corners and trading paint, your scale will tend to lean towards Aggressive. As I said before, run clean lines, drift perfect corners and overtake your opponent with style and your scale will lean towards Precise all of this influencing your racer profile.
As you move from Tier to Tier earning Stars and Badges for more stuff than you can shake a stick at, you not only open and unlock new options but Invitational Events along with profile goodies such as an extra space in you garage or a new wheel manufacturer becomes available. The main menu system is average at best, and the design editor isnt the greatest either, it does it's job but seriously,copying vinyls for the opposite side of your car is almost a mandatory thing now a days isnt it? The options menu houses the usual upgrades and tweaks, everything from wheels to NOS, Body kits to suspension, and custom paint jobs to vinyls.
Now where I feel NFS Shift makes up ground is in the actual racing, still a little Arcady for a simulation racer, but hardly a draw back. The physics from one car model to the other is fantastic. You can feel the difference between a muscle car like a Camaro and a tuner like the Skyline, unlike some racers who seem to have most of the cars start with the same Stats and have you adjust them from there. The tracks are a mix of real life venues with a few mythical locations added in for good measure. One of the unique and polished features in Shift is the cockpit view and cockpit physics. The cockpit views of the past always seemed to be just frame around the screen, just to give the illusion of being inside the car. Well Shift raised the bar a bit in that department. Authentic reproductions of the cockpits of some of the greatest cars on wheels are here for you to drool over, you can even add some custom gauges If you so choose. The other cockpit dynamic is the blur effect and physics while you drive. If you take a turn to fast, or hit the line just right, your point of view follows that subtle sway you would have in your seat, changing the angle of view a bit as you turn and you shift in your seat. Conversely, lose control of your car and hit a guardrail and you get slightly blurred vision from the impact, the greater the impact the more sever the blur and duration. I know cockpit views are not for everyone, but I cant encourage you enough to at least give it a try, it truly does add to the realism of the race.
NFS Shift adds to the experience by delivering some spot on engine roars and impact effects, the sense of speed while racing is adrenaline pumping and it also did a little Addition by Subtraction by removing any soundtracks playback while actually racing, I cant tell you how much that was appreciated. After all, whens the last time you saw a race car driver tuning into his favorite FM station?
So where does that leave me as far as my longing for the street racer I enjoyed so much? Well unsatisfied, but having to judge Shift on its own merit I would have to give it some props. NFS Shift delivers a great looking, highly customizable, solid Driving Experience, great physics and the cockpit upgrade give it some new life and separates it from other driving sims, and who knows it may even give the big dogs a run for their money. The few aesthetic draw backs and the slight arcade feel hardly hamper the game, and racing head to head on-line is sure to garner some attention and fuel those competitive juices. So while its not the NFS I was expecting, it definitely is an exciting addition to the franchise presented in a different way. If you enjoy simulation racers you definitely need to give Shift a few test laps, once you get past the fact that its not a street racer, you can settle in and enjoy it for what it isa commendable tier racer with more under the hood, where it counts.
Suggestions: Kudos to EA and Slightly Mad Studios for a solid racing simulation racer...but I would like to see the old street racer make a triumphant return.