Review: Need for Speed: Shift (PS3, Xbox 360)September 28th, 2009 | Written by Chris Selogy | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360
The Need for Speed series has covered quite a few different types of racing styles since the last generation: arcade, simulation, drift racing, drag racing, and overworld, story-based racing games. Need for Speed: Shift is the latest iteration in the series that is arguably the furthest the series has leaned towards the simulation side of the racing fence in a long time. It may be quite a departure from the rest of the series in this generation, but Shift features a great experience that helps it stand out amongst the crowded racing scene this fall.
While Need for Speed: Shift seems like EA’s first attempt to enter the simulation genre alongside Gran Turismo and Forza, you really should be thinking of it being more of a casual sim like Microsoft’s Project Gotham Racing and Codemaster’s Grid. The casual sims provide a much more manageable experience with the gameplay and style of a simulation game, but with more accessibility and freedom to play more recklessly than they’d get in a Forza or Gran Turismo.
The main unique feature in Shift is this scoring system that attempts to measure how you play the game, between aggressive and precision points, and is all collected into your driver profile with a lot of info and features that try to figure out the type of driver that you are. The main issue is that there aren’t enough aggressive options once you get to the front of the pack, so you’re likely to end up with many more points for the precision category than aggression than what really happens in each race. Those points also feed into a level system to give it sort of an RPG feel that rewards you with customization options, more spots in your garage, and more. The master badges are another neat part of the driver profile, which are a bit like Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer challenges in that they are small little badges that you earn by completing certain tasks in the course of one or multiple races as an interesting metagame to go with the career mode.
The main career mode in Shift is set up as four tiers of increasing difficulty before you open up the NFS Live World Championships that cap the career mode. The main means of unlocking new series of races and tiers is through an Excitebots-style star system, which awards you up to six stars per race with three stars for getting a podium finish, two stars for the amount of points you accrue, and the final star for an extra task. The amount of stars needed to unlock each tier and then the NFS Live World Championships is about all you’d get from finishing all of the races in the first two tiers, so there is a lot of freedom to pick and choose the events that suit your tastes. The types of events in the career mode includes your normal races, a series of races, endurance, drift, driver duels between you and a rival, and various restricted events that stick with cars of a manufacturer, country, and more types, so you can easily stick to certain types of races if you find an event you’re not fond of. Money really isn’t much of an issue after the first tier, as you should earn enough from each race that you can easily buy cars and upgrade them a lot in one motion to stay ahead of the pack easily.
The feel of the racing is the most important part of any racing game and Shift has a great feel to it. The game starts off with a quick test race that determines what assists and difficulty you’re probably best off with that can be adjusted to your whim along with a lot of freedom to adjust control attributes, as well. There is a lot of tuning options for those that are interested in tweaking them along with plenty of upgrades that feed into a simple scoring system to let you know how powerful these cars are in comparison to one another.
The cockpit view is arguably the best out there at communicating the feeling of going 150+ miles per hour with blurring and depth of field cues, camera shakes to emulate how your head would realistically move, and a great crash effect where the screen blurs and turns black and white to really immerse you into what you may feel if you were really driving these cars in real life. The cars controlled well, though there didn’t seem to be a great amount of nuisance in the analog stick controls so there was a bit more sliding in faster turns and courses with an abundant amount of turns. There are rare framerate hiccups that cause driving issues and the AI can be as much of a dick to you as you are to them, which makes the absence of a rewind system like many other racing games out there a shame.
Shift does have its fair share of issues that keep it from being an elite racing game. The damage model isn’t really deep enough that severe crashes alter your car’s ability to function any more than a slight lean if you aren’t steering the car. The PS3 version seems to have gotten the unfortunate part of the stick with reports of no damage modeling in the cars, clipping problems, and other issues that aren’t really in the Xbox 360 version. There was an odd, but fairly major bug in the NFS Live World Championships with the second series of races not awarding series points to the right AI drivers, so the same one or two drivers got the highest spots by default and forces you to win most of the races to have a chance since the game unfairly stacks the odds against you. These things can and may be fixed with patches, but it’ll still remain an issue for those without networked consoles.
Need for Speed: Shift looks really good, though it definitely will not match up to Forza 3 or Gran Turismo 5 in comparison. The interiors look to be in great detail with very nice details like cracked windshields and a style of presentation that no other console racer out there can match, though that definitely won’t be a camera view that everybody can handle. The tracks include a lot of well-known courses (Leguna Seca, Nurburgring, and more) along with some fictional courses that should provides some new and nostalgic experiences as you attempt master each of them. Load times are a bit on the long side, with most career races filling up the 35 seconds of load times with information about the race, features, and more to keep your mind off of the wait, which doesn’t work. The opponent AI is quite good, as they can and will make elementary mistakes that can take you by surprise as the car ahead of you veers off course and crashes in a way that takes you out faster than you could ever respond.
Shift does offer a fairly large soundtrack that you’ll rarely ever hear since there are racing sound effects in the main menus and there’s no music in races either, so it’ll be hard for it to get old all that quickly. The cockpit view features some great sound effects, especially with the beating of your virtual heart and heavy-breathing as you get into a severe crash that you may feel if you allow yourself to get as immersed into the cockpit view as we did. Elsewhere, you’ll get a lot of good crash effects and fairly good effects for slides, drifts, and all of those car effects that you expect when you’re not driving perfectly. The major sound issue is more of an issue with the heavy use of narrated introduction videos in the career mode that feature an English man that tries to oversell you on each event when you’re just looking to race.
While Need for Speed: Shift is certainly a different direction for what this series has been for the past four years, the guys at Slightly Mad Studios have done a great job of bringing a simulation style to this arcade-heavy series that will probably turn off a good amount of Need for Speed fans while bringing in new players that will appreciate the new style. There are enough issues that keep Shift from reaching the top tier of simulation racers like Gran Turismo and Forza, though we hope that EA sees enough success to allow the developers to iterate on this game so we can see what they can do in another two years. If you’re a fan of games like Project Gotham Racing and Grid, you’d really be doing yourself a disservice in missing out on this game since it’s probably right up your alley.