It’s provable that driving a car at speed can be exacting, thrilling and really rewarding. This much has powered the likes of Gran Turismo 5 or Forza Motorsport 3 except there’s one element those games don’t convey too well: the admission that driving a car at speed can be truly terrifying and this is a facet sitting at the very core of Shift 2: Unleashed, EA, DICE, and Slightly Mad Studio’s second crack of the racing whip.
When it was released late 2009 Need for Speed: Shift introduced welcome flair to the well-worn art of pounding the tarmac with its depiction of sensational speed and colours draining from a screen that was smeared with a liberal splash of motion blur. Shift 2: Unleashed takes this idea and runs with it, the result being the new all helmet cam.
Framed by the visor it’s a driver’s eye view which exaggerates the extreme. If you head towards a corner, for example, the eyes will shift towards the apex, and if you pull alongside a driver, and it’ll just as likely glance over, whilst colliding again will dramatically shift depth of field - and this is all performed to the terrifying soundtrack of an engine’s exaggerated bark and roar. All this will certainly immerse you and it really feels like the experience of racing a car as viewed through the lens of Gaspar Noe.
“If you go to Elite mode you obtain all the benefits of a totally accurate physics model”, speaks DICE’s Marcus Nilsson, and with his boss Patrick Soderlund’s involvement in the FIA’s GT series we’re inclined to believe him. “If you get into the GT car which Patrick drives, that feels like that car does in real life. We’ve got a good mirror of how to create that. The physics engine is very sim, and we can tweak it to make a more sensational feel for the player who wants that.”
There’s also the expected boost in content - Shanghai and Bathurst help the track list fill out, plus the addition of the official FIA GT licence brings with it a fleet of desirable race cars and an opportunity for Soderlund to play as himself. The track list runs to about 100 with 130 cars to hurl around them - numbers which are eclipsed by Gran Turismo 5, although EA’s not specifically bothered. “We’re not trying to innovate with the numbers like other games in the genre do,” boasts Nilsson, “we’re trying to innovate behind the wheel, where it really matters.”
Of course, this is a thinly veiled potshot at Polyphony’s opus whilst at the same time EA’s not exactly being shy concerning its expectations for Shift 2: Unleashed. Until a few weeks ago the original Shift was quite easily the best Need for Speed game for nearly half a decade, but this time round its concerns are greater than simply revving an ailing franchise; now it’s got Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport in its sights. “This game is built to become number 1,” says Nilsson, speaking in a typically Nordic and matter-of-fact sort of way.
And why ever not? With DICE now heading up the franchise and Criterion also delivering what could be aptly described as the best arcade racer of this generation with Hot Pursuit, the Need for Speed series has never looked healthier. Shift 2: Unleashed might be bashful regarding its heritage but its immediate bloodline is apparent, even if the Need for Speed part is relegated from the title and will merely be part of the game’s box branding.
Autolog, the social networking feature which formed the backbone of Hot Pursuit, arrives here in tweaked form, and so providing a thread that’s set to continue with future Need for Speed games. But the benefits are clear and obvious within the more serious minded world of Shift 2: Unleashed - competing for fastest times amongst a group of friends has already proved addictive in Hot Pursuit, so you can only imagine that when it’s transferred across to the more precise art of race car driving this factor will only be amplified.
XP earned by beating friend’s times on the speedwall (Autolog’s own take on friend’s leaderboards), will itself feed into the overall progression system, and it’s a system with depth, doling out points for various on-track achievements. In the original Shift the feature was smart and compelling, so there’s no reason to believe this won’t be the case a second time around.
And, second time around, it’s just heartening to know that with the new helmet cam experience, DICE and Slightly Mad Studios is finding space for innovation within a genre which can be slow at times to move forward. So expect to read more in the run-up to its Spring 2011 release.
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