I’ve been waiting a long time for a new Gran Turismo, and I’ve been counting the days until Forza 3 is unleashed.
I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing rFactor, iRacing, Race Pro, and any other ‘racing sim’ title I can get my hands on.
Half of my gaming space is taken up by racing wheels, controller mounts, and an authentic cockpit setup.
I am a virtual gearhead.
While previous entries in the Need For Speed series have been too much of an ‘arcade’ experience for my taste, EA has thrown it’s hat into the simulation ring with NFS: Shift.
Too little too late, or a pleasant surprise? Find out inside.
NFS:S has had the benefit of being able to analyze the pedigree of the dozens of racing titles currently on the market, and the resources EA provides, allowing the game to being a mash-up of concepts borrowed and in most cases improved upon from other games.
The menu and interface is VERY familiar to anyone that has played Forza 2, the replay system and cockpit view are similar to Gran Turismo titles, but these elements are vastly improved, implemented in such a way that comparison doesn’t do the game justice.
Visually, Shift is jaw-dropping beautiful.
Head movement in the cockpit view works to convey a sense of speed and give subtle indications about how your car is behaving. GRID tried to do the same thing (was it just last year?) and wound up giving the player an exaggerated thrashing that didn’t add to the game, it just added to frustration levels. Shift got it right.
At 150mph+ your vision begins to blur, obscuring the gauges and dials on your dashboard JUST ENOUGH to let you know the car is being pushed to it’s limits.
While much of the game appears to be borrowed and polished, NFS:S does bring a few new elements to the genre.
Depending on how you drive, you will be awarded points at the end of a race. If you like to run into competitors, spin them out, nudge them in a corner, you’re going to earn ‘Aggression’ points. If you are the type of racer that follows a consistent line around a course, does your best not to hit other cars, and show a modicum of skill, you’re going to be awarded ‘Precision’ points.
These points add up over your career, identifying your style of driving, and determining some of the events you will be run.
As cool as this is, it also brings up the first problem with career mode; you’re always going to be a Precision Driver.
As aggressive and reckless as I tried to be, eventually I would run out of competitors to harrass, and by simply driving on the racing line (hopefully to start lapping other drivers so I could be aggressive again) I would gain about the same amount of Precision points as Aggression points.
If you want to be considered an Aggressive driver, opening up those types of events… you’re going to need to be completely reckless AND you’re not going to win any races. This means the events won’t open up anyway.
The Aggression/Precision trade off is a nice touch, especially when some events require you to win the race but ALSO to achieve a certain level of aggressive acts, but in the overall scheme of Career Mode, it’s ultimately broken.
Another piece of the game that is broken? Drift racing.
You CAN finish an entire Career, winning a championship, without ever participating in a Drift event, but if you want all Trophies/Achievements, you’re going to need to get your hands dirty. Drift racing with a standard controller is difficult, painful, and frustrating… don’t even attempt it with a steering wheel. Seriously, with a force feedback wheel, you could be injured. I have the bruises to prove it.
While I realize that Drifting is growing in popularity, I desperately hope that it will be removed from the inevitable sequel.
Other things that were mildly annoying: load times are LONG, the menu music sounds like something from Dead Space (I like scary games, I just don’t want my RACING games to freak me out), and many of the AI drivers are named after prominent video game journalists.
Were they trying to score extra Metacritic points?
With all of that out of the way, I have some nice things to say.
The game never feels overwhelming. Other titles will throw 800-1000 cars at you, dozens of tracks, and infinite tweaking options. NFS:S has achieved just the right balance. Just enough licensed cars to keep you happy, just enough tracks to challenge you, and just enough upgrades to make a difference.
EA entered a new genre, saw what other games did right (and wrong) and did an amazing job putting together their entry. Welcome to the party, we’re glad you made it.
The game is polished and just plain fun.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay Shift is in the fact that my review is so late. I COULD NOT STOP PLAYING IT LONG ENOUGH TO WRITE THIS ARTICLE. Literally, I handed the disk off to Josh for a few days so I could focus on work, else this review would never have been completed.
Matt says BUY IT.