The Need for Speed franchise has been having an identity crisis of late. Indeed, the series has been meandering back and forth between sophisticated simulation and blinged-up street battles for a while now. With Shift 2: Unleashed, EA is attempting to find a middle ground – by placing the driver, not the vehicles, at the heart of the experience.
It’s all part of what EA is calling the ‘True Driver’s Experience’ – in which acute visual feedback attempts to replicate the intensity and exhilaration of being behind the wheel. Make no mistake, Shift 2: Unleashed boasts some of the most startlingly impressive and photo-realistic cockpit views ever conceived, even better than Gran Turismo 5, and when it comes to putting you into the heart and mind of a pro’ racer, Shift 2: Unleashed is in a class of its own.
Windscreens shatter, tires fly towards space, bonnets swallow themselves whole – and all the while, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that you’re seconds away from your inevitable demise. In fact, Slightly Mad Studio’s ability to replicate the minutiae of driving occasionally borders the obsessive.
Take, for example, the all-new helmet cam, which aims to recreate realistic driver head movements – as though the game’s gorgeously rendered cockpits were not already sufficient. Approach a nasty bend, and your driver will lean and tilt into the apex of the corner – just like a real driver. Brush against a signpost, and your driver’s head will jolt abruptly – providing a perspective never before been seen in a racing game.
At its very best, the helmet cam provides a running commentary between the driver, the vehicle and the sun-baked tarmac. But at its worst, especially on the tougher tracks, it renders the game almost unplayable. Before long, you’ll tire of the constant head-bobbling; if only because it doesn’t match that of your very own, stationary head. And that’s just the problem: while the helmet cam is flawless from a visual standpoint, it only really serves to detract from the immersion of the game, since players cannot experience the head wobbling first hand.
Of course, that’s not to say you’re forced to use the helmet cam. Alongside the regular cockpit view, players can also opt to use more conventional cameras. But even so, these are plagued by ‘rad’ tremors and the occasional splattering of mud for the sake of tonal cohesion.
The handling, which feels very much like a cross between Forza and Race Driver GRID, fairs a lot better. But even so, the game never feels quite as intuitive as the former, nor as energetic as the latter. Shift 2 occupies a peculiar halfway house that many players may find off-putting. Stick with it though, and you’ll find that Shift 2’s unconventional handling model does eventually get better.
The career mode is a little half-baked too. The sequel drops the Aggression and Precision element of the first game. While this is generally for the better, it has resulted in the new career mode feeling a little skinny around the midriff. Races are still objective-based, but XP is now earned by completing (rather stunted) rituals, such as leading for an entire lap, mastering corners, adhering to predetermined race-lines, overtaking the opposition, performing clean laps and beating lap times. There’s certainly a lot to get cracking on with, but it always feels as though you’re ticking boxes, as opposed to competing in heated battles. It also doesn’t help that the game seldom rewards your hard work, even after extended periods of play.
Fortunately, the game does look stunning. Everything from the car models, to the race tracks themselves look as fantastic and believable as their real-world counterparts. What’s more, the inclusion of long neglected British racetracks such as Donington Park and Brands Hatch also raise a smile – and both arrive looking superb in Shift 2: Unleashed. The game’s rock-laden menus also set the tone nicely – as do the thunderous engines and authentic sound effects heard during the races.
Shift 2: Unleashed can’t be faulted on its production values, that’s for sure. It’s a highly polished, competent racer, and an exceptionally pretty one at that. Attempts to make Shift 2 a more engaging and visceral racer than Forza and Gran Turismo ultimately fall short, but that’s unlikely to stop petrol-heads lapping up every last drop. The addition of Autolog makes the experience a little more palatable with friends, but for most, Shift 2 will be a little too pedestrian.
For all its talk about it delivering a ‘True Driver’s Experience’, Shift 2 fails to make a convincing argument as to why you should pick it up if you haven’t already purchased one of the aforementioned racers. This is one for the die-hard motor fans only.
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