Two years ago, we got our hands on Need for Speed’s take on “simulation” racing. It was a decent go for its first try. Now, we finally get the sequel to the arcade/simulation hybrid in the form of Shift 2: Unleashed.
I was a fan of Shift 1. It was a different feeling game that tried its best to balance an arcade feel while still keeping the simulation aspects intact. It accomplished what it set out to do, for the most part. Shift 2 does the same with a few new upgrades and, unfortunately, some downgrades.
First off, the career mode is about as standard as you can get. You’re a new racer trying to make it in the professional racing scene. You meet up with some pros that are kind enough to lend you one of their cars so you can win an easy race and make some money for your first car. Then, you take on the best the world has to offer and become the world’s greatest racer/drifter ever. Yeah, something like that.
What really matters here is the racing. Which, I have to say, has improved over last year’s model. Control of the cars is more fluid, and they handle quite nicely. Of course, going all steer-happy with the wheel will throw you straight into a wall, but there is some leeway with the steering.
One of the nicest features of the game is the helmet camera. It basically puts you behind the eyes of the driver. You can even see the outlines of the helmet you’re wearing. It’s a really nice touch that should be experienced by all that play the game. Not only is the view nice, but the tings that happen while in this view are great. When running at high speeds, the driver will begin to have tunnel vision. The console, mirrors, and foreground will become blurry while the main focus is on the road. The driver’s head will even look towards a turn as if they are leaning into a curve when coming up on a hairpin turn. It really gets the player invested and immersed in the race.
There is also the addition of night races that put you into a nervous and cautious state, especially when racing in the helmet cam while taking a big turn on a blind curve. It truly enhances the realism of the races.
The cars you obtain and purchase are all customizable through visual upgrades, like paint jobs, rims, and decals, and performance upgrades including turbo kits, upgraded fuel systems, and weight reduction. There is a ton of parts that are available and at your disposal if you have the cash for them, of course.
When upgrading your car, the vehicle is given a rating on how well it will perform. Upgrading the car will increase the rating, so keeping an eye on how much your car will improve is important. If you’re in search of a good car for B rank events, be careful what enhancements you make. If you install a part that makes it go up to an A rank, you can’t use it in B rank events.
One of the best features when upgrading your car is the tuning. You can performance tune your vehicle to your heart’s content. This is something you really need to take into consideration when upgrading and when learning which set up is right for you and the track you will be racing on. If you’re racing on a track that has a lot of straight-aways, you’ll want to gear it for higher speeds and turn down the response of the steering. For tracks that have a lot of turns, you’ll want to have a very responsive steering ratio. It all depends on how you drive the car and what feels right to you. You can always test your setup before you race.
In Shift 1, you were given experience points based on your driving style, whether aggressive or tactical. They have done away with that in Shift 2. Now, you will gain XP based solely on how well you drive. Drafting, clean laps, and using the driver’s help line will all don you XP and help level up your driver. This will grant you exclusive cars, new paint and decals, and cash bonuses. I do have to say, you level up rather quickly while playing which brings into question the longevity of the game and the lasting appeal.
Much like in Hot Pursuit, there is the Autolog that keeps track of all your friends’ stats and racing accomplishments. You can share photos and race times with your friends and offer up challenges to them whenever you want. It is a very nice feature that can add some extra play time.
There are a good amount of different race types that the game has to offer. You have your standard race; elimination, where the last place driver is knocked out of the race after a certain amount of time; hot laps, where you try to beat a certain time in 3 consecutive laps; and of course, series, where there is multiple races that you race in to gain points for a leader board.
One of the biggest problems that I had with Shift 1 is back and more bothersome in Shift 2. That problem is drifting events. Now, I will say upfront, I am not a fan of drifting. I don’t see the appeal, and I don’t enjoy doing it in racing games. Still, I gave it a fair shot in both Shift 1 and Shift 2. It seems like Shift 2 tried to improve on the drifting mechanics, but still couldn’t get it right. The cars feel almost like they’re on ice the entire time. Granted, the car guys out there will probably say that a drift car is supposed to feel like that. When you spend 4 hours getting used to how a car handles during races and then are shoved into drifting with a car handling completely different with only a 15 minute tutorial on how to drift properly, you can get frustrated, too. The problem is that Shift 2 seems to focus more on drifting competitions than it did in Shift 1. You don’t have to do them, but if you’re a perfectionist like me, you have to at least try them. Of course, there will be players out there who will find drifting fun and easy. I’m just saying that I’m not one of them.
There is online multiplayer that pits you against other aspiring racers trying to make it big in the Need for Speed world. The races feel just like they do in the single player, and offer up some nice competition. One nice thing is that, in multiplayer, you still gain XP and cash that can be used in your single player career. I experienced almost no lag at all, and getting into a race was simple and quick.
Shift 2: Unleashed is still a great racing game. Slightly Mad Studios really has found a good formula for keeping a game feel like an arcade racer while mixing in a healthy amount of simulation. It does have its faults, but for the most part, I can look past them. It may be a somewhat short experience, but with the Autolog feature, players can keep busy with their friends. The helmet camera is something that should be experienced by all players. If you’re looking for fun racing and don’t mind a little patience with the drifting mechanics, you should pick this game up. Even if drifting isn’t your thing, the racing is good enough to make you look past it.
Review copy provided by publisher and based on majority PlayStation 3 gameplay.