I have been playing the Need for Speed series since Hot Pursuit 2 came out on the PS2 and have watched it change ever since. Shift is both good and bad at what it does but in what it tries to be it loses itself in trying to act like one of the big kids on the block.
Right from the start this game has the professional racing feel going for it. The intro whizzes by, car tires screech but all with a stiff attitude. Gone are the police chases, personal rivalries, and catching the need for speed. Instead you are given tracks to race on instead of the open streets or highways. Your character has also undergone a change in that you are now a professional driver instead of a kid looking to make his name. The car may be fast and tuning precise but it’s ultimately a caged beast forced to run a linear path with no deviation. This limited sense of freedom takes away from what made the other games more enjoyable, free run of the raceway.
As I said Shift tries to act like one of the big kids on the block by trying to imitate Forza and Gran Turismo. Now, that isn’t so much a bad thing but the game can’t seem to leave it’s roots behind. The home menu screen is displayed in large angular letters which reminded me of Midnight Club, a less professional racer gamer and with a style much like the previous games. The art style also lends itself to a more free environment but doesn’t help to hide the fact that you are playing something entirely different. In regards to the camera you don’t get to control it freely while looking for your next purchase. This can be annoying as examining a car is best done at ones own pace.
NFSS may have an identity crisis but it acts the part quite well. On the starting line your car will rumble and shake from revving your engine, reflections of the road ahead appear on your hood, and engines have their own little unique sound. As you go through the races collisions will definitely affect the way your car handles and even how you see, a too large of an impact will cause the screen to blur and lose color as you are “rattled”. NFSS gives you the option to allow for full damage or just visual, full damage affecting your car’s performance over time thus prompting you to be more cautious while driving. For those that aren’t going for the real deal the visual damage is very well done. Nicks in the paint will appear when you collide with a car or wall, body structure will crumple, hoods and trunk lids will fly off, and grating against the side of a wall will leave nice streaks of gray where your paint no longer exists.
The appearance of the cars is about where the beauty ends. The environments that you race through give no sense of speed, unlike Underground which had streaking trails of light from the light poles, and feel much like cardboard cut-outs. Sure you have the tires and barriers that will move when struck but other elements of the environment, trees and lighting, don’t seem to change at all when you “race” passed. The gravel and asphalt do keep their consistencies though when you skid out or find your way to the side of the road, your car will bounce and shake as dirt is spun from under your tires.
Sound is a major part of any racing game as you want to hear the engine roar, the intake scream, and exhaust belch which is all clear and crisp. But something missing is the music. Where is it? During races you hear no music until after you finish or you do a drift. There isn’t even an option to hear the music in the options menu which is another problem, you have no choice over the matter. The engines may have their own unique sound but it’s not a big enough difference to tell that you are driving a different car.
A new innovation, the analog stick was supposed to act more like a steering wheel when pushed and turned, was highlighted in this latest installation but it played little part in actually affecting game. It’s noticeable but only makes you change tactics and adapt slightly from other games. Also new to the game was a track system of arrows that guided you along the track and warned you about oncoming turns that you may be going too fast to take. If the arrows turn red your car will actually slow down and assist in making the turn. Now this can be turned off for those of you who wish to make it as professional as possible. The online also allows for rough competition as you can entirely customize the race options, including the level of car that can be used in the race.
The progression of the game is determined by your ability to earn stars and unlock new races within tiers. While racing you can win stars for placement and style points. Medals are also awarded for executing a certain style which increase to a “master” level. With the medals and points for style you rank up your driver statue which in turn unlocks special items and sponsor money. The rest of the system is pretty straightforward and simple: win races, earn money, upgrade, reach the big race. Now, you have to unlock a specific tier to buy a car even if you have the money for it. You also cannot drive a tier 3 car in a tier 2 race, a kind of disappointment but it’s more a love/hate feature.
They say something is equal to the sum of it’s parts and Shift is definitely that. While it has many good qualities there are confusing and bad qualities that equal to the positive. As a fan of the old school Need for Speed series I am sad to see the game become such a serious contender for a crown that others, GT and Forza, have been doing better than it for quite some time. This game is of quality build but tries to one of the big kids which is where it loses its unique light and standard. If you love racing game and customizing options then this is worth your time and money but otherwise, it’s just another racing game that can be bought later down the road.
Review copy courtesy of EA