The Need for Speed series has been around for quite a while (certainly in comparison to some of today's top franchises) but as those that have followed the games will tell you, it's a series that's been on its way down. When it looked like EA had published a gem in Need for Speed Most Wanted, they quickly followed it up with a ham-fisted sequel in Pro Street. Needless to say, the game was nowhere near the simulation standards the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport had brought us - games which Pro Street had hoped to emulate. Worse still, the game had lost its street element which so many had enjoyed. The solution was to create Need for Speed Shift (hereafter Shift), a racer which developer Slightly Mad Studios claimed would cater to both arcade and simulation racing fans alike. The result however is a game that seems unclear as to what it's meant to be which is a real shame as it has the makings of a good racer.
Trying to appeal to two very distinct audiences is by no means a small task and has meant that many promising films and games have met little success. With the gameplay likely to be the element that would make or break Shift, it's clear that this should be the focus this review. The gameplay for Shift is great but too many times it's held back by the game indecisive direction. It's neither a great simulation racer nor a great arcade racer. The other problem is that those looking for a particular type of racing experience will often find it interrupted by the opposing type. Whilst the handling of the cars is pretty solid, the back end of cars always seems too keen to pull out which can result in a horrible zigzag like effect. More often than not you'll find that during a corner, you're more focused on keeping the tail-end in check than maintaining a good speed around the bend. However the overall experience of driving in Shift is a good one and an accurate one. Even letting one of your wheels drift into a sand-trap means that you'll be battling to pull the car back out which is exactly what it should feel like. However the real gem of the car handling actually occurs when you lose control and crash. A simply bump will usually have no effect other than slowing your car down but crash with a bit of speed and the effects are fantastic. Firstly, colour will drain from the screen and it may even become fuzzy making driving a nightmare. And if you have a real crash you'll lose all sound save that of a strong ringing. EA wanted to create a racer in which you really felt like you were behind the wheel and that's most certainly the case whenever you crash!
Most of you time in Shift will be spent in the career mode which sees you trying to rise through various tiers in order to qualify for and win the NFS world Series (imaginative title). In order to do this you need to collect stars which are dished out not only for getting a podium finish but for also completing side objectives such as earning a certain score. Every action you perform in Shift adds to a score meter at the top of the screen from overtaking someone to reaching high speeds. What makes this more interesting is that most actions have an aggressive and a precision equivalent (usually referred to as dirty and clean respectively). This shapes your player profile allowing others to see what type of racer you are - do you try to take every corner with the ideal line or simply ram opponents out of your way? To further add to your profile are badges. These are tasks such as mastering every corner of each track to putting a certain number of miles on each car your own. As you do more of these task you earn more badges and your badges will upgrade from bronze to epic. The problem is that most of the badges can be easily earned via cheap methods and therefore matter little when assessing an opponent’s skill. Just as an example, there's a difficult badge that increases as you win more races on higher difficulties - sounds simple. Problem is that you set the AI to its hardest setting and simply race without any opponents - it still counts! It's a great system but one that has more than a hint of rushed testing.
And what would a racing game be without cars? Shift has a wide selection of cars ranging from low end Audi TTs to the famous Pagani Zonda Roadster. Using its tiered system the game does a good job of starting you off reasonably small and letting you slowly upgrade car models until you're in the very top echelon of sports cars. Of course, there's also a wide array of upgrades that can be bought for your car to increase its speed or perhaps its handling. In fact, if you buy a Works car and buy every available upgrade for it, you'll be able to Works convert it, turning it from a tuned street car into a proper racer. However to do so requires a host of money so you'd best win a few events! Fortunately, Shift offers a wide selection of events including racing, time attacks, drift competitions, hot laps (where you need to beat a certain time) and lap eliminators (where at the end of each lap the person in last is eliminated). There's also several invitational events which allow to get a hands-on with top end cars at an early level and compete in one on one matches. You'll also encounter quite a few rivals throughout your career. These individuals have both cars and skills that are well above those of the standard opponent but sadly seem to be lacking personality as does just about every driver. For a game that offers players the chance to define their own style you'll find that every opponent takes the same line at the moment making it all too easy to predict their movements, even on hard. Still, there's no getting away from the fact that though the gameplay is solid, it caters neither to simulation nor arcade fans meaning it's just stuck in the middle.
However one area where the game is not so confused is the graphical department. The game looks damn good. Cars models look fantastic both in terms of their interiors and exteriors with each accurately modelled. First person view is a joy! Sadly the tracks themselves are good without ever matching the same level whilst the crowds lack definition and again, personality. Usually any mention regarding the HUD for a game would be in the gameplay but I'm going to mention Shift's HUD in the graphics section of this review simply because that's where its problem principally lies. It's white. Doesn't seem too much of a problem except that it means the HUD can be often hidden in the whites of clouds or the Sun on the horizon - after a while you'll stop using it as it's all too hopeless. The other disappointment is in the lack of weather effects - if not from a gameplay point but purely a visual one. Whilst you can race at dawn, dusk or midday, the weather is always fine with not a hint of rain or snow. Fortunately you'll be spending too much time staring at the magnificence of your own car.
Perhaps what is most surprising about the game is the sound. The sound effects are terrific with each sound accurately representing the ground you're on - be it tarmac, grass or sand. Each car is also very distinctive in its own sound. That being said there's not too much sound involved in Shift save that of your car. Getting back to the odd element though is the soundtrack. Usually a strong point of EA games, though not that important to myself, many will find the soundtrack severely lacking. I only recognised one song to be honest with you! Then again with most menus only on screen for a few seconds, you'll not be listening to the soundtrack for long.
Speaking of long, the main career is most certainly not. Winning the NFS Word Series can be done within a few nights. However, if you wish to unlock all the badges be prepared to invest a lot of time in Shift. I've spent quite a while trying to unlock more badges though I'm not sure whether this is down to the game or my OCD! Either way the game has the potential to swallow up a lot of your time and that's before you get to the online features. Sadly, at the time of writing I haven't sampled the online nearly enough to give any feedback.
In the same manner as the Pique crisis that it griping F1 just now, Shift is also suffering from a crisis; of identity. Games that are aimed at two separate markets seldom satisfy either and Shift is no different. Whilst it's a solid racer, too often it will either play in a manner that you don't wish it too or it just won't play to the level that you want. Throw in some fantastic driver effects as well car models and you have a solid platform from which EA and Slightly Mad Studios can build on but it's by no means the finished article - it's still at the starting line.
- Excellent exterior/interior car models
- Impact effects work very well
- Good variety of races throughout Career
- All A.I. drivers are identical
- Badge system is flawed
- Horrible HUD