It’s abundantly clear that Need for Speed: Shift is intended to compete with franchises which have a serious foothold in the present gen-console space - Forza on the Xbox and Gran Turismo on the PlayStation spring readily to mind. You’ll find these games lean fast and furious towards racing’s simulation side by recreating the experience of driving top-end and high-performance automobiles which are authentic to reality and whilst at the same time providing fun as far as video games are concerned. But the big question remains as to whether Need for Speed: Shift lives up to similar expectations of those aforementioned games whilst differentiating itself sufficiently to be unique?
The simple and immediate answer is affirmative! Need for Speed: Shift captures the same authentic love of racing which is built upon a foundation of real physics plus deeply or lovingly researched car statistics. Plus there’s a wonderfully designed game to top it all off which really places fun at the foremost yet relies on its realistic core to keep racing fans coming back for more! On top of all this it provides its own gimmick which culminates in an attempt to recreate the experience of the driver, the flesh and blood meat-bag behind the wheel of these amazing and accurately recreated vehicles - this works in its own right, in fact, making it vary from the Forzas and Gran Turismos of the world! Indeed, if you like those games, the chances are you’ll like this game too with the proviso you’ll enjoy what new stuff Need for Speed: Shift brings to the table.
You’ll achieve this by making a great game with an equally great single-player experience which is not only fun to play on the surface but also a game you’ll find engaging during the first 20 minutes and beyond! Games like the aforementioned ones - excuse me but I’m growing tired of typing the F-word and the GT-word! - have in fact succeeded because they nail the single-player experience. Need for Speed: Shift achieves this experience quite differently yet still manages to make you care about the cars you’re driving, whether they’re fresh off-the-factory floor production models or high-end modified racing beasts.
The single-player mode is simple yet effective. It divides itself into four different “tiers” which each represent a different level of racing which you must unlock by earning “stars”. These are earned by driving in the purest form, taking corners with a great accuracy, and passing opponents with a clean bill of health, but you can still earn the necessary points to acquire those “stars” by driving aggressively. This means bumping and grinding your way to the front of the pack. In fact, Need for Speed: Shift doesn’t lock you into the clean driving necessities which so many other games attempt.
OK - you earn points, you unlock races and cars, but most crucial of all, you earn money, which you can spend on upgrades, providing some long-term investment in the cars of your choice. Here the progression is well laid out although it might appear as nothing new for fans of the games which revolve around taking a simple car and making it something great. The design behind the single-player progression is easy to understand and hard to earn but it is with a well designed effort reminiscent of other games in the specific racing genre. Thankfully, Need for Speed: Shift doesn’t take too long to work through, giving you supercars after only a few hours.
Need for Speed: Shift progresses at a medium pace, as you would come to expect, providing access to better parts and better cars, which is dependant on your ability to drive sufficiently well. To be honest it’s very much like the games it aspires to be, whilst at the same time being its own unique progression via the world of supercars. In fact, you won’t spend days with underpowered cars - it’s more like hours - and the money you earn ramps up quickly enough so that you’ll soon discover yourself at the highest level of racing with the highest level of cars - before you know it!
You’ll soon find yourself competing at the most extreme level of play once you get the highest level of unlocked car, but this is only to be expected from a game such as this. Whilst you must perform to progress you’ll also find Need for Speed: Shift does render it relatively easy to attain the highest level - provided you know what you’re doing, of course, which will be based on prior experience. But it’s nothing less than a challenge to do so, meaning that your successes are hard earned, yet so satisfying once you achieve them!
Need for Speed: Shift fits into that rarefied category occupied by games like Forza and Gran Turismo quite easily, and, there, I’ve said it! Used the F-word and GT-word again! It exhibits the same love for simulation and authenticity which equates with the aforementioned games, yet with added ease of a really well designed career interface. Multiplayer is likewise just as good which results in a game with its heart beating in the authentic simulation of real car racing, yet at the same time is powered by the same achievement-based gameplay which drives so many good Xbox 360 titles.
Need for Speed: Shift is excellent in concept and flawless in execution. In fact, it’s nothing less than the next great racing simulator to grace the Xbox 360.
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