Published on October 29th, 2009 | by Cameron Woolsey
Review: Need for Speed: Shift
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3 and PC
What normally enters your mind when you think of the Need for Speed series? Fast cars? Some customization? Maybe a cop chase or two? How about as a simulation racer? For some fans, the thought of their beloved racing franchise becoming another stiff racing sim sounds frightening. But fear not my skittish friends! The style may be different but the heart of the Need for Speed franchise is still alive and well in this latest installment in an already respected series: Need for Speed Shift. I would like to throw out that EA let NFS Shift to be developed by Slightly Mad Studios in conjunction with EA Black Box. If you read our preview article, you should know that our guide, Drew, is the Community Manager for EA Black Box. If you ever meet him online, be sure to give him thanks for being such a swell guy.
Now back to the game.
As the “new guy” among many respected racing sims, it begs the question: is Need for Speed Shift worth the purchase even though there are many other racing simulation games that have already proven their worth? A short answer would be yes, but for the long one, keep on reading. Let’s start with the eye candy.
Despite the occasional blurred texture, NFS: Shift’s graphics are clean and impressive. The car models are realistically detailed down to the precious lug nuts of each wheel. The environments are also nicely detailed, though you may not be able to notice as you keep your eyes down the road while your surroundings fly by in a blurry smudge of colors. The main thing you should be aware of is the “cockpit mode” which Slightly Mad has worked hard to perfect. The detail within the driver’s seat is amazing. Every small detail from the dashboard to the gauges make you believe you have your hands wrapped tightly around the steering wheel of a 700 horsepower driving machine.
Driving while entering top speed in your vehicle will cause the graphics to blur around the screen mimicking the tunnel vision that drivers can be subjected to while narrowing all their focus on the road ahead. A word of warning: don’t break that concentration. Hitting a wall will cause the screen to violently shake and the colors will fade out. Crashing in this game definitely leaves you believing that you hit a wall going 150 mph. I’m being honest when I say that I have winced and turned away from the screen a couple times during these collisions. Other than that, the game’s graphics are really good but don’t match up to the likes of other racing sims such as Forza 3, though that shouldn’t be a deciding factor on a purchase since the graphics are still great on their own.
NFS Shift uses a scored soundtrack much like that of the previous titles. Expect to hear some rap music along with rock while playing. Soundtrack aside, the audio for the rest of the game is superb. The cars sound realistic and more than once I cracked a smile while hearing the raw power of the car engines as they reverberated through my speakers. Each squeal of the tires and scrape of metal is tuned to perfection.
So here’s a question: though this game is a racing sim, how does it continue Need for Speed’s legacy? The answer is playability. The Need for Speed franchise has always been prided itself as a series that can be picked up by anybody. Need for Speed Shift continues that legacy. When you first begin, you are given a car to drive around the track. The game will test your driving abilities and adjust difficulty meters based on that performance. If you score as a beginner, you will be granted steering assists, braking assists, easier AI, everything that will make the game as less “simulation” as humanly possible. If you have experience with racing games, your score will go up and you will be given fewer assists. You can also go into the menu at any time and change the function of the assists to suit your needs. If you want the braking assist to stop, turn it off. If you want the AI to be more challenging, turn it up. You are also allowed to have a racing line which travels the track and shows you the optimal path for you to take. The line will normally be green but then change to yellow as you approach a corner, prompting you to slow down. When it turns red, you better start braking or end up driving off the track. The racing line can also be turned off in the menu if you prefer to tackle the track without the assist. The choice of what kind of game you expect to play is completely up to you. This is what keeps NFS Shift as a Need for Speed title. It provides the simulation for simulation fans, but it can also be more arcade-styled and easier to play, allowing fans and newcomers alike to be able to pick up the game and have a blast regardless of their abilities. Changing a few options can change this game to a full blown racing simulation to an easy-to-pay racer that NFS fans will find more familiar. Need for Speed Shift is arguably the most user-friendly racing simulator on the market today.
The handling for each car feels pretty good. Moving from a Tier 1 to a Tier 2 car means a big difference in performance and handling. Practicing with new cars can help you find the one that handles the way you like. The only problem I had was that at certain moments the handling would get a little odd at a corner. Instead of turning like I had assumed I would, the car instead started gliding over the road while the car rocked from side to side before sliding off the track completely. I don’t know if this is because of something I did, but I know I would be watching more races if cars normally could gracefully dance off the track this way. I wouldn’t watch the race for the sport but for the sheer hilarity.
The other problem I faced was with the drift races. Drift racing in this game feels like an odd addition. After playing the game for several hours, playing a drift race felt, to me, like I was suddenly in a different game altogether. It doesn’t help that I completely sucked at it. I ultimately found myself trying to avoid the drift races as much as possible. Other players might not find it so difficult to play, but I couldn’t get the hang of it so my inability to drift might just be due to me sucking. My inability to drift won’t affect the score; it’s just something I thought I should share. You can start giggling at me now.
There is no actual story in NFS Shift to speak of. When you start, you are informed by some faceless Brit that you are being given the chance to prove yourself and earn some money. Sure. Each set of races is set in a tier. Tier 1 will be easier races that you need to tackle with your starting car. You progress by earning stars during races. Earning enough stars will subsequently unlock tiers and races and the opening of each tier will grant you access to the next level of vehicles. You can get three stars just by placing in the top 3, and you can earn more stars by completing some racing objectives. Tier 1 races make it easy to earn the extra stars which usually just ask you to earn a certain amount of points or overtake a number of opponents. Later Tiers will up the difficulty with such objectives like completing a clean race by not hitting anyone or going over the track.
You gain points and badges depending on whether you play aggressively or with precision. If you like to smash through opponents and pull off moves like trading paint or spinning cars out, you will rack up some aggressive points. If you take your time and move past cars cleanly, you will earn precision points. Earning a certain amount of either during a race will build up your driver profile and will classify you as a precision racer or an aggressive one. Earning points expands your experience level; there are 50 levels in all. As you gain certain levels, you unlock new items for your garage such as upgrades and vinyl to help make the car of your dreams. You can also earn badges but they don’t do much beyond being just something to earn and show off. Cash you earn in your races can be spent at the car lot for a new ride (there are 72 cars in all), or to upgrade one you already own. You can also spend time in the garage to tune your car the way you want it. After buying some new race parts, replacing the brakes and adding aerodynamics, you will find yourself on the way to creating a powerful racecar that you can be proud of.
As far as graphics go, your choices are pretty limited. Don’t expect Forza-level customization. You can paint your car to the color you want, but the vinyl decals–most of which are OK at best–can only be unlocked as you progress in level. This means that even if you do find some decals that you like, there’s a chance you won’t be able to use them for your car until you reach level 7 or 21 or even higher. By that time, you might not even care anymore. I wish that all, or at least most, of the visual upgrades were at my disposal in the beginning instead of having to wait for hours in order to use one of the few decals that wasn’t as disappointing as the others.
Beyond that, the campaign is pretty dull. There are only about 18 tracks to choose from and near the end things began to feel a little familiar. There is a goal at the end but I never felt that driven to reach it. After the game is done, you will have few reasons to want to go back and play it again. The actual longevity of the game will ultimately end up being the online mode.
In the end, I enjoyed Need for Speed Shift very much. The later races in the game driving vehicles going over 170 mph was a heart-pounding thrill. Sadly, I feel the game ultimately winds up falling a bit short of its expectations. The Need for Speed franchise is well known to constantly change its formula with each game, so chances for a sequel might be anyone’s guess. But hopefully we will see Slightly Mad come up with a sequel that can take everything that NFS Shift did right and fix some of the small issues to come out with a racing simulator that can truly match up with the rest of the greats. Until then, Need for Speed Shift is a fun game that can satisfy the speed freaks and maybe help create some new ones. It may have done just that.
+ Easy to get into, regardless of experience
+ Cockpit mode is amazing
+ Incredible engine sounds
+ Strong sense of speed
– Handling can be a little wonky at times
– Campaign mode falls pretty short
– Not enough visual customization options