Over the past few years the Need for Speed franchise has survived many low points. There have been silly additions and subtle changes to each edition of the series which have pushed the well known brand further towards the mediocre and sometimes awful territory. For their latest release, however, Electronic Arts went back to the drawing board, thus handing over the reins to developer Slightly Mad Studios, who’d had a lot of experience crafting the award-winning racing franchise GTR. This remains a smart move. Need for Speed SHIFT not only revitalises the franchise’s name but also at the same time revolutionises some aspects of the racing genre, and so providing gamers with a palpable sense of what it actually feels like to sit behind the wheel of the fastest cars on the planet.
Find out why, after the jump.
Unlike many of the more recent Need for Speed games SHIFT is purely a track racer. This time round there’s no running away from cops or thin storylines - it’s just racing, earning money, buying and customising cars, and generally dominating the worldwide race challenges. After waiting a few minutes for the game to install all the necessary files to your PS3 hard drive you’ll soon navigate the slick menu scheme and start your first trial race in My Career. And once you’ve experienced a quick trial lap around a course the game will then recommend control and difficulty settings based upon your achievement. And, if you so choose, it’s possible to change these settings at any point throughout your career to affect situations like opponent difficulty or car control assistance. After this, well, it’s off to your first race. You’ll soon start earning some money, or purchase a Tier 1 car from a moderately extensive car list, then get to the meat of the game’s experience.
It needs to be pointed out that Need for Speed SHIFT is neither a “simulation” racer nor an arcade experience. Truth told it sits in the middle somewhere. It really straddles the line between something like Burnout, known for its high speed, arcade control, and awesome crashes, with titles like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, which emphasise proper race mechanics combined with a steeper learning curve. But Slightly Mad Studies has nonetheless done a fantastic job. It provides players who are unfamiliar with simulation-orientated racers the opportunity to undergo a simulation- like experience comprising only a few minutes of training, and they achieve all of this by creating a compelling control scheme which enables heavy computer assistance as and when necessary. Of course, more experienced players can turn off different areas of this assistance if they so wish, which will give them more control over their cars, and provide a more realistic racing experience. However, for the gamer who’s in fact inexperienced, switching on all assistance options will still make for great game play. But there is one gripe which concerns the assistance and difficulty options: and that’s there’s very little incentive to alter the assistance modifiers or increase the other drivers’ difficulty. The game can be played on “easy” from start to finish with the only reason to change the settings being to improve your own racing ability or even for purely personal satisfaction. It depends how you spend your cash. Depending on this can become increasingly difficult in the higher Tier races, regardless of what assistance you’ve enabled.
However, where SHIFT truly excels, separating itself from the myriad of other racing titles on the market, lies within its ability to make you actually feel what it’s like to race in one of these powerful machines. And this begs the question: have you ever been going so fast in a car so that somewhere in the back of your mind you know that just one false move could so easily send the car out of control? This will give the impression of what going fast in this game feels like. To put it more simply I have never felt a more palpable sense of fear for the speed in which I am travelling in a virtual environment more than in this game. And I’d like to add further that this sense of speed is even heightened as you progress through the game itself. In fact, as soon as you step on the gas, at that precise moment, you’ll know the difference between racing in a Tier 1 car and a higher Tier car like the McLaren F1.
As far as the online section of the game is concerned it is quite good, and remains nearly lag free. There are a few different modes of competition, either ranked or the unranked matches, which reflect similarly those found in the single player campaign. The greatest part, however, is that you continue to earn badges, and fulfil experience, even whilst competing online, which will benefit your single player career. And in an effort to maintain a level playing field drivers are penalised with a temporary “speed cap” mid race, if they try to go off-road and cut corners. But it’s fair to say the online gameplay remains as solid as its offline.
There is much to accomplish and unlock, incredibly detailed graphics and sound, with a sense of speed unmatched by any other racing game to date. It’s not quite perfect, yet even if you’re remotely interested in the racing genre, you owe it to yourself to check this game out.
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