The Lowdown: Need For Speed: Shift is a great first attempt at bring the series into the simulation world. They’ve managed to get most things right to satisfy the hard core racing fan, but the arcade elements still linger.
THE FACT SHEET
RELEASE DATE: September 22, 2009
PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts
DEVELOPER: Slightly Mad Studios
ESRB RATING: “E” for Everyone
GENRE: Racing Simulation
Need for SpeedTM SHIFT is an all-new simulation racing IP that combines the true driver’s experience with real-world physics, pixel-perfect car models, and a wide range of authentic race tracks. Need for Speed SHIFT takes players in a different direction to create a simulation experience that replicates the true feeling of driving high-end performance cars.
Players are thrust into the loud, visceral, intense, athletic experience of racing a car on the edge of control from the driver’s perspective through the combination of perception based G-forces, the hyper reality of the cockpit view, and the brutal experience of a first person crash dynamic. Need for Speed SHIFT features an accurate, accessible physics-based driving model that allows you to feel every impact, every change of track surface and every last bit of grip as you push yourself to the edge.
- True Driver’s Experience – A variety of visual cues delivers the true driver’s experience including a three-dimensional HUD that mimics driver head movement, inertia and G-forces. The depth of field also adjusts based on the speed of the car; so when the car is travelling at high speeds the perspective will shift to the distance putting the car/cockpit out of focus.
- Driver Profile – What kind of driver are you? Driver profile tracks the player’s evolution as a race driver from event to event. This system is made up of a driver’s personality on the track, their success rate and any profile points and badges accrued all of which work together to create a tailor-made career and gameplay experience. Driver profile is pervasive throughout all modes: career and online.
- Dynamic Crash Effect – When the player hits a static object or opponent car, the player will feel like they are ‘taking damage’. A combination of visual and audio effects will leave the player disorientated and briefly disrupt the race.
- Total Customization – Need for Speed SHIFT features a comprehensive customization option that lets the player tailor every aspect of the cars performance and styling. Go under the hood to upgrade and tune your vehicle to increase its performance. The visual customization system allows players to personalize both the exterior and trick out the interior to reflect their individual style and preferences.
- Photo Real Cars and Tracks – Nearly 70 licensed cars are available including the Pagani Zonda F, Audi RS4, and Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. There is also over 15 real-world locations like Willow Springs and Laguna Seca as well as fictional circuits like downtown London and Tokyo.
So here we are again, another year, another Need for Speed game. All the over the top style and flash you could want. Vibrant urban settings, pimped out cars and of course some sort of story line that just never made sense.
Well, the giant that is EA decided it was time for a change. And so, they swallowed up a company by the name of Slightly Mad Studios. What does that have to do with starting over? Slightly Mad Studios are the people responsible for bringing the gaming world a PC racing sim known as GTR. One of their tasks under EA was to transform the Need for Speed series into something a little different. And by a little different, I mean A LOT different.
Starting with Need for Speed: Shift, the story line will have gone through some much needed changes. No more good cop gone bad, racing kids in Civics for some asinine reason. No more pink slip racing in Chinatown. This time, the story is all about… Well, this time there is no story line. The purpose of the game takes on a much more Forza-like tone.
Your ultimate goal is to start your way at the very bottom, with the little cash you’re given, and make your way to the top. According to Need For Speed: Shift, the top would be an event known as “NFS Live World Tour.” As you can imagine, getting to this world tour will be no easy feat, we’ll get in to that in a few.
Slightly Mad Studio’s most apparent task was to see to it that NFS Shift found a home in the world of sim racers. Given their past track record, one wouldn’t expect this to be a problem, as GTR was known for its simulation mechanics. Ordinarily this isn’t a problem, but simulation? In NFS? Sounds a bit strange to the ear.
The only way for you to fully understand what the good folks over at EA were trying to do is to dive right in. When you first start your career, you’re greeted with some flashy high quality videos, followed closely by a staged test run. This test run is put in place to see how well you can actually command the vehicle in the new NFS world. Based on how well or not so well you do, settings like AI difficulty, handling model, braking assist and etc. are automatically dialed in. You can adjust these settings yourself later, buy it’s nice to see EA trying to get the best experience for you set up right away.
From the very first run on this test lap, it is plain as day to see! This is not Need for Speed. Well, it is Need for Speed, but not the Need for Speed we’re all used to. Mashing on the accelerator when the voice in the mic says “GO GO GO,” yields a strange feeling of…..”Wow.” It’s as if the roar of engine and the kick back in the cockpit was made to be. Yes! As it turns out, they were meant to be! Until you get to that first corner. And off the track you go.
In NFS world, any corner can be defeated at a nice 80 mph. And given the fact I was playing a Need for Speed title, I expected nothing less. Surprise surprise, that’s not going to work. So being the perfectionist that I am, I had to reset the race. Even if the purpose was to dial in my driving experience, my pride wouldn’t let me falter to the first corner. So I did it again, thinking to myself that I knew exactly what I did wrong. But, here I was on the second try, in the dirt again. Then it hit me on the forth try, I’ll have to brake, gear down and turn the car. I couldn’t believe it, but here came the second corner, then the third. The way the car gripped the apex, the way the torque sounded its resistance to the groves in the track via the raspy screams of the engine, it was all so very real. This game felt very true to the roots of a simulation franchise. Is this really Need for Speed?
The second most obvious thing about the game was the graphics. The game is drop dead gorgeous. The cockpit view has managed to outdo even the great DIRT 2. Judging from the cars I’ve been using in the game, every single detail is there and accounted for. Right down to the working dash computer read out in the skyline. It is amazing. The animations of the driver as he change gears, turn the wheel, react to sudden shifts in direction and G-force is all on point. In fact, it was scary. At one point, I stopped the car, held down both the accelerator and the brake to see what would happen. Much to my surprise, the driver switches one foot from the clutch, and mashed down on both brake and gas. I was shocked!
After being awed by the happenings in the cockpit, I switched to the chase view. The cars are all beautifully done. They even went so far as to have smoke spewing from the tail pipes when you open up the throttle. Even when the cars are idling, you’ll still see the heat signatures kicking up from the exhaust. Wow! If you flirt with the gas, and build up a nice amount of fuel to burn off, you’ll be treated to a pop and flames from the tail pipes. Details like LED lighting and angle eyes on the bimmers are all well represented. So much so, that I wish there were some night stages to really set it off.
If you can pull yourself away from the art that is the vehicle, you’ll be treated to some more eye candy. The asphalt, dirt, grass and other objects on the track and incredibly polished as well. It’s almost insane the amount of detail displayed in the environment. To add even more of a delight, it all looks so much better when you’re flying past it at insane speeds.
The sense of speed in the game is rivaled by few. When you’re doing high speeds, you can feel it! You’ll know it! When approaching 200 mph in the Veyron, the background and cockpit become blurred. It gives a crazy illusion, where the only thing in focus is the road ahead. They also added some depth to this element. This sense of speed is dynamic. You’ll start to notice it at around 180 mph in the Veyron, but you’ll see it occur at 100mph in the Civic SI. This adds to the individuality of each car in the game.
That brings us to the stars of the game, the cars. You won’t find all your favorite cars here, but most car classes are well represented here. The European luxury is here, American muscle is present and the Japanese tuners are alive and well. You’ll find most of the popular choices are all accounted for. The always adorable Civic and its Vtech, that sexy e92 M3 and even the illusive Lexus LF-A. I never got the feeling a car I really wanted to drive was missing.
So exactly how does all of this hold together with no story line? Very well actually. The race world is set up in tiers. You’ll start your from tier one and fight your way all the way to tier 4. In each tier, there are multiple series which are grouped by race type. You have drift, race, battle and time trials. For every tier, you get a certain set of vehicles qualified for those events. Naturally as you move up in the tiers, you get the faster vehicles. There are also another set of events called invitational events. As you win races and become more experienced, you’ll receive invitations for special races. These races often involve some of the higher-end exotic cars in the game. They give you a chance to feel some of the best speed there is to be had, while earning some money. The invitational events aren’t required to move up in the ranks of the Career mode, they’re more so in parallel to your tier events.
As you advance in your Career, you’ll find yourself working harder and harder to keep up, which is where upgrades come into play. Each car can be upgraded in three stages. They all include things like drive train, engine and turbo upgrades to name a few. Aside from the staged upgrades, you’re offered two more sub sets. Aerodynamics and race parts. In aerodynamics you’ll find things like body kits and weight reductions. In race parts you’ll have upgrades like Nitrous kits, race exhausts and increasing boost. Aside from all these upgrades, when you’re done fully upgrading your car, you have the ability to purchase the “works” package. This pretty much turns your car into a full blown race car. After this is done, you can no longer add and remove upgrades. Aside from the performance upgrades, you’re also treated to visual modifications. You can customize everything from paint to rims and vinyls. With a creative mind and some time, you will be able to pull of some really impressive designs and car setups.
What good are all these upgrades if you can’t tune them? Luckily the good folks at EA have included a plethora of tuning options. Tires, brakes, alignment, suspension, differential, gearing and aerodynamics can all be tuned to your heart’s content. The cars generally feel pretty good with their default tunes, but I find a minor tune here or there really helps those bad behaved torque monsters to relax on the track. And sluggish cars like our civic dearest really benefit from a close gear ratio tuning.
While NFS Shift may have all the makings of a true sim game, it is not 100% simulation. The team has managed to leave some arcade elements lying around for the NFS fans out there. It’s hard to tell where the arcade part of the game is by just driving. But the minute you make contact with another car, it hits you. With a mild rear end collision, I’ve seen cars fly 10 feet in the air, flip over other cars or just rammed straight into the wall. It does feel a little out of place, but it sure is pretty to watch!
So you’re probably wondering what kind of mayhem causes a car to flip 10 feet in the air? Two aggressive AI driven cars, that’s what. The AI in the game is worthy of mention. They all seem to act different in various scenarios. It’s really interesting to sit back and watch them battle it out. I’ve managed to sneak by two AI drivers fighting for position on many occasions; it’s a very satisfying feeling. What’s even better, the more you progress, the tougher the AI becomes. By the time you reach tier 4 events, you’ll be either a seasoned vet, or a completely frustrated gamer. Either way, the challenge presented by the AI drivers is top notch.
The last thing to be mentioned here is the online mode. You’re able to take your career cars online for some head to head show down with up to 8 players. All tracks are available, as well as leader boards for time trials. NFS shift may not be exactly innovative in this area, but it does manage not to screw anything up. Given EA’s history of horrid online menus and Xbox Live integration, having them not screw up the online experience is just as good as gold!
Conclusion: All in all, Need for Speed: Shift is an excellent game. Some might even say it came from left field. It feels every bit like a next generation sim at times, but gives us the fun we used to love in PGR. There is a lot of challenge and fun to be had here. Not to mention, is just about the prettiest racing game on the market right now. Kudos to EA for pulling off such a bold move.
|- Spot on simulation experience
- Car models are top notch
- Cockpit views are amazing
- Sense of speed is captured well
- AI components will challenge you
|- Car to car physics are a little too wacky
- Online portion could use some innovation
Single Player: 9/10 | Multi-Player: 7/10