Need for Speed Shift Review (Xbox 360)
Need for Speed: Shift is the latest entry in the long-running racing series from Electronic Arts (EA). After a number of recent games in the series that were less than well received, EA decided to transfer development duties to Slightly Mad Studios, which is comprised of some of the developers behind the highly acclaimed GTR racing series on the PC. EA clearly wanted Slightly Mad Studios to revive the Need for Speed franchise and help it regain a top spot amongst racing games.
And it appears that EA’s trust was well placed. Though Need for Speed: Shift strives for realistic track racing more than the arcade-like and free-roam aspects of its predecessors, it is still one of the best games in the series in quite some time -- possibly ever.
From the crisp, clear graphics and highly detailed interiors and exteriors of cars to the best in-car driving camera of any racing game to date to a fun, rewarding and varied career mode, Need for Speed: Shift is worthy of your attention -- even if you had given up on the venerable franchise after its recent installments. Shift has now proven that it deserves to be talked about in the same breath as Forza and Gran Turismo.
Need for Speed: Shift is a gorgeous game. All of the cars in the game, totaling almost seventy, are meticulously re-created both inside and out, which makes it one of the most graphically impressive racing games released to this point. It rivals its competitors in the genre because both the interiors and exteriors of the cars are beautifully rendered. The tracks and backgrounds are equally well done, and the lower-polygon models of fans on the sides of the tracks do little to disrupt the player’s sense of actually driving some of the world’s fastest cars.
Need for Speed: Shift looks phenomenal, and it holds its own against the other racing heavyweights.
Another aspect (there are a lot) that shines in Shift is the sound design. Hearing the rumble of the engine and the tires screaming while sliding around a corner is a true aural pleasure. Players can also easily identify the sounds of different tiers of cars in Shift. From the relatively tame sound of a Mazda RX-8 to the roar of a Chevrolet Corvette Z06, everything sounds excellent in the game.
The musical selection in the game is unique, incorporating numerous songs and groups that many people have likely never heard of before. However, as a nod to its fantastic car sounds, the default option is for music to be off while racing, with players likely only hearing the different songs included in the game while in the menus and Drift competitions.
The people who play this game with any camera angle besides the in-car camera are missing out on the best in-car representation in any driving game ever released. It is the most absorbing driving experience I have ever had the pleasure of playing, and it truly makes flying down a straightaway at 150-plus miles per hour a terrifying experience. No other racing game has ever made me think about tapping the brakes simply because my car is going so fast that it is becoming increasingly harder to control.
Along with the sense of speed in the game, the in-car camera view includes subtle shifts in viewpoint that are based on what a real driver would be experiencing in a similar situation. For example, if the player takes a hard turn into a corner, the game will subtly shift (no pun intended) the driver’s perspective to one side, giving the sense that the driver has really just made that turn.
The damage modeling in the game also does a decent job reflecting what is happening around the player. While it isn’t on the same level as DIRT 2 or GRID, the sense of speed and the jarring impact that the players feel when they slam into a wall at a considerable speed is excellent. After crashing into a wall and being forced to watch the camera shake violently while the picture became fuzzy for a few seconds, I was more than willing to forgive the lack of a more realistic damage model.
Pictures can't show how incredible the driving experience and in-car camera are in this game.
Upon first loading up Need for Speed: Shift, players will be asked to complete a diagnostic one-lap race, after which the game will suggest an AI difficulty, handling model and whether damage effects should be set to "full" or "visual only." Naturally, any of these settings can be changed at a later time via the game’s main menu, but it’s a nice beginning to the game, and the one-lap race seems to give a fairly accurate indication of which settings would be best for the player.
After players have tweaked the settings to their liking, they are thrown into their first race. Win the race and they will be presented with $40,000, more than enough to buy their first car in the game. After this point in the process, you will be presented with the concept of the Driver Profile.
There are two main aspects of the Driver Profile: Precision Points and Aggression Points. These points are accrued in every race you participate in, whether it’s part of the career mode, a quick race or an online race, which allows players to constantly add points to their Driver Profile no matter how they are playing the game.
Precision Points are awarded for actions such as sticking to the racing line, performing a clean overtake of an opponent and mastering a corner (where the player stays on the racing line and successfully accelerates coming out of the turn without losing traction and fishtailing). Aggression Points are given out for actions like performing a dirty overtake (where the player passes an opponent after making contact with the car), trading paint with another car or sliding around a corner.
After each event players are shown a screen that reports what Precision and Aggression Points they have been awarded. On this screen the player will be awarded with a medal that displays his or her affinity for either a precise or aggressive driving style. Later in the game, when players begin to unlock Invitational Events, they will be presented with either Hot Lap events or Eliminator events, depending on whether their style is more focused on a precise style or an aggressive style.
These points will eventually upgrade a player’s overall Driver Profile level, which maxes out at 50. While that may not sound like a high level for the system to max out at, it will take a long time to get to the highest level because it requires 500,000 points to unlock it.
After you reach each new level, rewards are unlocked. These rewards range from new rims and vinyls to customize your cars with to Invitational Events to special cars.
The other main aspect of the career mode involves the collection of Stars. Stars can be collected by achieving a podium finish (first place gets three stars, second place gets two, third place gets one), or by achieving certain bonus objectives during races. Many times these bonus objectives also include racking up a certain number of Driver Profile points during an event. Other bonus objectives include achieving a certain top speed on a track, mastering all of the corners on a track or performing a clean lap around a track.
These Stars are the main system that moves the career mode forward. At the beginning of the career mode, players find themselves in the first tier of events. After collecting a certain number of stars, tier two is unlocked, and the process is repeated up through tier four. After tier four is completed, players unlock the NFS World Tour.
With each tier increase, better cars are available for purchase and new events are unlocked, such as Drifting, Manufacturer Races and others I will explain later. Along with all of this, higher tiers naturally present more skilled opponents, and also require players to become more skilled in their racing styles in order to continue to have success in the game.
The one downside to the Stars/Driver Profile system dealt with the number of cars I purchased during my career. Though there are always a number of cars to choose from and purchase within each tier, I found myself buying only one or two cars in each tier and then slowly upgrading them as I earned more money. While it was an effective way to progress through the career mode, I was not compelled enough to buy more cars from each tier and refine each car for a different purpose. Instead of feeling like I had to decide what car to choose for each specific track and event, I felt I could rely on only one or two cars for each event I unlocked, which slightly dampened the effect of having so many cars to choose from in the game.
Badges can be thought of as mini Achievements/Trophies that are unlocked through race accomplishments. These unlockables range from getting a badge for trading paint with 25 other cars to drafting behind 50 opponents. There are multiple stages for each badge, along with track-specific badges that can be unlocked after completing a perfect lap on a track or mastering all of the corners on a certain track. Once these badges have been earned, players can decorate their cars with them and show them off online or in the career mode. However, they are mainly there to prolong the life of the game, and they also do a good job keeping the player interested in unlocking more of them.
One of the best aspects of Shift’s career mode is that there is so much variety. If players are not fond of one type of event, they can focus on other events that they are better at while still progressing through the career mode. This is obviously a nice touch because then you are not forced to participate in a certain event in order to advance to the next tier in the game.
Here are just a few of the featured events that will become available to players as they progress through the game.
Manufacturer Races: In these races the player and his or her opponents all have the same car, making all of the racers even and ensuring that only the person with the most skill behind the wheel will come out on top.
Time Attack: A time trial with a different name, Time Attack pits the player against a full track of opponents and a limited amount of time to achieve the best lap time on a given track.
Driver Duel: One of the more intriguing and fun events in the career mode, Driver Duel gives the player a choice between one of two similar cars. After choosing a car to race in, the competition is a best two-out-of-three series where players are tasked with either finishing a lap first or putting five seconds between them and the other car. In the first round, players start ahead of their opponent. In the second round, the roles are reversed and the player starts just behind the other car. If a third round is necessary, both cars will start next to each other. It’s an interesting scenario that makes the driving experience even more intense because one mistake will likely cost you the race.
Drift: The Drift events feel like an entirely new game in a way, mainly because the cars are tuned differently to allow them to easily slide around corners. However, this is also one of the most difficult events to master, so it could have used a tutorial mode rather than the quick tips that are shown to players on the loading screen. Perseverance will eventually pay off, however, and getting a Star for successfully drifting around a tight corner for four seconds will bring a smile to anyone’s face. The event consists of three rounds, and the player with the highest score at the end of the third round is proclaimed the winner.
Drifting is one of the hardest events in the game to master, so a tutorial would have been very helpful for this event.
Whether it is the AI difficulty or the various braking and handling assists, Shift can certainly be summed up as a very customizable experience that allows each player to completely customize his or her own experience. With that being said, turning all of the assists off and the AI difficulty to the highest setting will make the game even more realistic and much more difficult. Simply put, do not expect this game to be easy simply because of its arcade roots.
But while the game can be difficult, the driving system and the different feel of each new car you purchase help to create a very rewarding experience. What I mean is that when you complete the toughest challenges that Shift has thrown at you, you will feel like you really accomplished something. And while the game may not be as precise as Gran Turismo, it strikes an excellent balance between realism and fun, which allows even the most inexperienced drivers to achieve success in the game.
Something that hasn’t been talked about much is the ability to upgrade and tune a number of different aspects of your cars in Shift. Upgrades are available in three different tiers, with the second and third tiers becoming available when the player unlocks those tiers in the career mode. In addition to that, multiple upgrades are also available for a car’s aerodynamics and race parts, including nitrous kits and wider tires, among other options.
In order to give a sense of how much customization is available in the game, I will list a few of the other options available for upgrading a car below.
Upgrades are available for the drivetrain, engine, brakes, turbo, tires, body kit, weight reduction, race exhaust, shorter final driv, and the aforementioned nitrous kits, among others. All of these upgrades cost money, whereas tuning (which I’ll discuss next) requires no money exchange at all
Tuning allows players to dive into the minutiae of their cars, and it also offers many different options for a player’s cars. A number of these tuning options are available at the start of the game, with others only becoming unlocked once you reach a certain Driver Profile level.
Again, I’ll list some of the tuning options afforded to players to give them a better sense of what they can do with their purchased cars.
These options include front and rear tire pressure, front and rear toe angle, front and rear sway bar adjustments for the car’s suspension, limited slip acceleration and deceleration lock, gearing ratios and front and rear downforce adjustments, in addition to a number of other choices.
If these tuning options seem too advanced for you, there is also a "quick tuning" option in the game, which allows players to adjust steering lock, gearing, balance and downforce. All in all, there is a lot of customization given to players in the game, plus there is the ability to paint various parts of their cars different colors in the garage. You can also select from a variety of rims and add different vinyls to any part of your cars.
And the ability to access your personalized car in online races allows for you to truly show off your creative side.
Multiplayer races in Shift are very well implemented. They allow players to continue to earn Driver Profile points and money that can be put towards purchasing a new car or other upgrades. In the online races I’ve played, I haven’t experienced any lag, and other than a slightly longer loading time to get into the races, the online and offline experiences seem to be nearly identical.
Multiplayer events include Races, Time Attacks, and Drift Competitions, along with the Driver Duel event.
Similar to the event offered in the career mode, Driver Duel pits players against each other with each player driving the same car. There are six rounds in this ladder-based event. After each round the winner advances to the next stage, whereas the loser falls to the bottom of the ladder and is forced to make his or her way back to the top in order to have a shot at winning the championship. Fortunately, the game saves your progress in this mode, so you can shut down the game and continue the event at a later time.
However, it should be noted that while attempting to join a Driver Duel race on a few occasions, I was presented with a black screen when I was racing. I was still able to steer my car, but I was only able to tell where my car was in relation to the road based on the mini map in the corner of the screen. I have not seen any other mention of this problem online, and I haven’t had any difficulties with any of the other online events, so it may have been an issue with my connection or an isolated occurrence, but I felt it was only fair to at least mention the issue.
Sadly, there is no split-screen multiplayer feature in Shift. While it likely would have resulted in lower-resolution graphics when compared to the single-player game, it would have been a nice addition. Still, as it stands, the multiplayer component in Shift is one that will keep people playing for a long time.
When connected to the Internet, players will be able to see their friends’ best times and scores for different career events. A green light next to an event indicates that the player holds the record for a score or lap time against his or her friends, whereas a red light shows that one or more friends currently holds the record. It’s a small detail, but it's one that can lead to more competition between friends and keep people playing the game months after its release.
Need for Speed: Shift has managed to rocket the franchise back to the forefront of the racing genre. While some people may frown upon the new direction the series is taking, it is certainly one of the best games in the series to date. The driving experience alone is enough reason to play this game, and adding in the plethora of customization options, the incredibly deep and varied career mode and an equally fun multiplayer option make this game an excellent choice for racing fans.
Need for Speed: Shift excels because it knows what kind of game it is trying to be. Its intention is not to dethrone Gran Turismo or Forza, but simply to contend with them and ensure that its name is mentioned along with the other racing greats. To that end, Slightly Mad Studios has certainly accomplished its goal.
On The Track: All of the work that Slightly Mad Studios put into the in-car camera paid off because it is the most immersive driving experience of any racing game.
Graphics: Stunning. All of the cars in the game are faithfully re-created and beautiful to look at.
Sound: The roar of the engines in these cars is excellent, and the tires squealing as you rip around a turn is an amazing sound to hear. Once again, top notch.
Entertainment Value: Car enthusiasts will appreciate the attention to detail and effort that Slightly Mad Studios has put into this game. The deep career mode will keep them entertained for a long time, and with quick races and online races adding to the Driver Profile and cash amount, there’s a great reason to play each of the game’s modes.
Learning Curve: The game is very customizable for different skill levels, but with all of the assists off and the difficulty on the hardest setting, prepare to have to work to get through the career mode. Eventually, though, sliding around a corner and cutting seconds off of a lap will become second nature.
Online: Aside from an occasional glitch when attempting to join a Driver Duel event, the online play is fun and smooth with no other noticeable problems.
Score: 9.0 (Exceptional)