So you want to be a professional racing driver? Well, Shift 2 hits the streets and it is a lot safer than charging around an Asda car park at 2am in your N reg Corsa, but is it as much fun? Let’s find out!
The latest release in the Need For Speed series takes us behind the wheel of some rather pretty cars which most of us will never even see in a lifetime, let alone have the opportunity to drive. So this is your only chance to get up close and personal.
I like racing games! I’ve played most of them; from Wheelie (Spectrum) through Destruction Derby (PS1) and the modern classics of Project Gotham, Gran Tourismo and Forza. Now Need for Speed has been around since the mid 90’s and the franchise is quite synonymous for it’s street racing titles, and cop chases. So how have things changed in the 17 years reign? not by much actually, it’s just faster and more furious.
Shift 2 promises you the next level of immersion with ‘true realistic racing’, ‘amazing variety’ and ‘career depth’. All of this of course begins with the standard ultra flashy opening scene, offering high speed carnage and eye popping speeds, introduced by some crazy American dude that I almost guarantee you have never heard of. He jumps up throughout the game to give hints and tips about your progress, my best tip for him would be to wipe the bird shit off of his chin. But hey, I guess he knows his stuff!
The game plunges you straight in to a reasonably nice car and 2 test laps of the Japanese Suzuka circuit, to get a feel for the handling. At the end of these laps your default race settings will be created based on how you did. The system will decide what driver assisted aids you will need.
Now, considering you have never played the game before, and possibly not played the previous Shift instalment, how do you think you will do? Do you already know how the car will handle? No! Do you know the track intimately? probably not! So, what a waste of bloody time it is. First time out, you will most likely be quite rubbish and the easiest settings will be selected for you. Chances are that you like your racing games so you won’t actually need the system to brake and steer for you, leaving you to simply hold down the accelerator and watch the pretty scenery go by. Whatever settings it chooses for you, fortunately you can simply ignore them and reset it the way you want it. Vaughn Gitten (I should just refer to him as bird-shit chin from here on in) pops up again to tell you how cool you are and a rather awful rock track, courtesy of 30 Seconds To Mars, will flop around feebly in the background. Now, I like 30STM but the track choices throughout the game totally do not work with this sort of genre. They are good names, but terrible song choices by the developers.
Once you start the game for real you get dumped back to the low, slow, end of the car showroom. The usual options are available to you; from the Ford Focus to a VW Golf. The garage detail seems very slow to update, and that seems the same for the menu system through the game, but no big deal.
Okay, finally time to get on the track for real and the naturally you turn to the career mode.
As with all racing games in the beginning, the slow cars are pretty tedious to get around the track. You would really love to jump head long in to the Bugatti Veyron, but such is life and you have to learn the ropes. Choose you viewing pleasure from the usual camera angles: You can use the low down ‘arse scrapping go-kart bumper’ view, the bonnet view (my personal favourite) the standard ‘in-car dash’ option, the much hailed ‘helmet cam’ or the external behind view. If you choose either of the in-car views then be warned; I found the left/right head movement to be very nauseating, it doesn’t work, it’s far too slow and unnatural. All the options allow the HUD to be tweaked. You can have nothing but what you see through the windscreen, or you can have REV and MPH counters with a mini-map, rear view mirror etc. For the real petrol heads you can select to show your tyre temps and loadings, gear ratio, torque blah blah blah <yawn>
Clearly these early stages are designed to ease you in gently. Progressing through the game will find you, within a few hours, finally reaching the top end motors that you are really looking for. Each time you move up through the field your friendly American will be right there to explain your next baby steps, what skills are needed for your next challenge and how to keep your wheels in the right direction. Clearly as you progress you will need a meaner machine to compete. Winning is earning, building your bank balance is the key to buying the best parts and upgrades for your garage.
Back to the track as things move on. Trundling around at 90mph is pretty easy, my cat could drive a Ford Focus. It’s only when you get in to the top end, with brain melting high speeds, that you need a steady thumb. Much has been said about the handling of the Shift series, I nearly binned the game after the first couple of races because initial feelings for the handling are ridiculous. It amazes me when designers tout a game as the most realistic experience: How realistic is it for you to drive a car at 200mph using only a thumb stick? No, not that clever is it. However, once you are aware of the twitchy understeer oversteer cornering, you can adapt quite well. I urge you to give this game more than 10 minutes, and you might be ever so slightly surprised.
One big question is where is Shift 2 trying to plant itself? Cuddling up next to Forza? or burning GT5 off at the lights? Is it sim or a balls-out racer? Is it both? Yes is the answer, but I’m not sure to which question! Drop your tyres just one inch on to the grass and you will find an incredible magnetism dragging you towards the wall. So it is a very good sim. But then hit a corner doing 150mph, brake late, turn in tight and you find yourself strangely managing to keep it on the black stuff, very arcade-y. Shift 2 is quite simply whatever you want it to be, depending on your skill.
If you do find yourself magnetically attracted to a very nice barrier at great speed you will soon learn that spectacular damage is quickly forthcoming. Your thumb will still be steering in the wrong direction as you knock all 4 corners off the car, your brain might just have time to think “this is gonna hurt” but it is a damn good way of showing off an impressive graphics engine. Hitting something heard will literally knock the wind out of you, tunnelling your vision on screen and a few seconds pass before you virtually wipe the blood from your eyes and carry on, crunching your way through bodywork and glass to get back on the track. The streets circuits are very lively with towering buildings either side flying past at very good frame rate, with draw distances to the horizon showing what the current gen consoles are capable of. Helicopters will fly over head and the spectators seem to have a bit of life to them, not that you notice too often as they pass in a blur. Additional graphical tweaks to the cars have made them a bit shinier than the original Shift , but to be honest I didn’t notice much after the first few rounds. Bug impacts on the windscreen can be a bit annoying, perhaps that’s the point! Anyhoo there’s probably not much space left in the GPU to make things any better.
The audio is to be expected from races, lots of tyre screeching and high revs, however there is the most bizarre sound effect I think I have ever heard in a game. When cornering it sounds like a horse is galloping along side your car, a very out of place clip clop sound. Now I’m not that familiar with supped up kit but I thought the horses were supposed to be under the bonnet? You listen and judge for yourself, tell me if I’m going mad. Also, as mentioned earlier, the traditional ‘Rock’ soundtrack is very out of place, because it is hardly rock at all. The developers have chosen some cool hip bands, but clearly the slower ‘arty’ tracks were cheaper, there’s hardly any decent fast paced heart pounding tunes to drag you through the game.
If you are one of the afore mentioned Asda petrol heads then the obvious bells and whistles can be attached to your vehicle of choice. Upgrading is essential to moving on through the game, but it is quite simple – just buy the best you can afford from each area; brakes, engine, weight reduction, transmission (gear box to you and I) Spreading your cash over each area will make your hot hatch a scorcher. No point buying the best brakes if you have crap tyres and are overweight. Tuning your car will help you gain the edge over your competitors. Speaking of which, a much welcome new function in Shift 2 is the ‘Autolog’, this is basically the ability to gain serious bragging rates over your mates online. The competition has seriously levelled up with Autolog. Not only do you get in-game alerts if your times are beaten by a friend, but it also displays details on your HUD of the best times amongst your friends, whilst you are actually racing in single player, so you know exactly what you have to beat, adding great replay value to the game. This is a good new addition to the Shift series, but they have kinda stolen their own idea from other branches of the franchise.
In summary: If you own the first NFS:Shift then I honestly don’t think the additional gimmicks in Shift 2 are great value, to you it’s probably worth it as a 6 quid DLC tweak. However, if you don’t own the first game then Shift 2 is definitely worth an investment.