Need For Speed: Shift Xbox 360
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Slightly Mad Studios
If racing games were animals then the Need For Speed series would be a chameleon. The series has gone from being an arcade racer to a simulation for Porsche enthusiasts to an open world racer with tons of cheesy dialogue. There have been some real crackers in the series and, unfortunately, a few there weren't so good. Need For Speed: Shift sees the series attempting to be a simulation. The cheesy cutscenes are gone but there are several elements, specifically the presentation and the handling with the assists turned on, that still help it to feel like a Need For Speed game.
Need For Speed: Shift offers Career, Quick Race and Xbox Live modes. The Career mode is where you're going to spend virtually all of your time with the game however. The basic idea is to qualify for and win the NFS World Tour. To do that you're going to have to work your way through four tiers, each of which contain a variety of challenges for you to complete. As well as normal races you'll compete in manufacturer challenges, duels and drift races to name just a few. To progress through the different tiers you'll have to earn a specific number of stars. There are many races to take part in, around 150 in fact, but you won't have to race through all of these to get to the World Tour. The money you'll acquire from these races can be used to upgrade your existing cars and purchase more powerful and exotic ones. The Quick Race mode allows you to compete in races, time attack and drift events. The Xbox Live options are Versus and Driver Duel.
In NFS: Shift you're given points for driving with precision and aggression. Precision points are earned during a race for keeping to the racing line, having a perfect start overtaking cleanly and mastering corners etc. Aggression points are earned for trading paint, drafting, spinning an opponent, blocking an opponent and making a hash of overtaking and so forth. Both the precision and aggression points you earn will be added to your driver profile points and will you help you to level-up your driver level. The idea is that the game keeps track of whether you're earning most of your points from precision or aggression and you'll either be labelled as a precise or aggressive driver. I do like this idea because it makes both ways of driving viable but I do think the system is slightly flawed. I found that's it's possible to drive aggressively and take the lead from which point I drive as accurately as I can and then finish the race with more precision points than aggression points which seems bizarre. When playing on line it's possible to try and drive cleanly only to be irritated by someone who's going out of their way to drive aggressively. Why not only allow aggressive drivers and precision drivers to race each other? That way those who want to drive cleanly will only race against those who want to do the same thing and vice versa.
You can tailor the handling in NFS: Shift to suit yourself. There are a variety of settings you can alter to allow you to find a configuration you're happy with. There are a fair amount of assists that you can enable or disable. With everything on, the game feels like a typical NFS style arcade racer whilst the game begins to feel more like a simulation as you turn off the assists. I don't think the game ever feels like a hardcore simulation at any point (the rubber band AI, which makes it all too easy to catch up if you come off the track, is certainly one of the reasons for this) but it's certainly a much more challenging experience that should satisfy those who don't want the game feeling like an arcade racer.
NFS: Shift is a fine looking racing title and it has to be said that the frame rate is certainly a big improvement on what we've experienced in previous NFS games on the Xbox 360. The game gives you four different viewing angles to race from. The most impressive of these has to be the in-car view which really adds to the simulation feel of the game. As you'd expect with a Need For Speed game there's a decent amount of motion blurring applied to heighten the sensation of speed and it has to be said that the game does give you a good sensation of speed. I really like the blurring effect that's been used when you're involved in a heavy collision (when using the in-car view) as it really does make the game more immersive. The car models are good, although I wouldn't say they are quite as impressive as those found in Forza Motorsport 3. You can customise the look of your car and whilst the tools at your disposal for doing so aren't as in-depth as they are in the Forza titles, they are good enough. The various circuits in the game, which include Silverstone, Spa, Brands Hatch and the street courses of Tokyo and London etc., all look good.
Some of the previous Need For Speed games haven't been that accommodating for deaf gamers and in that respect Shift is no different. That's not to say there are any serious problems for deaf gamers. All of the important information is shown in text but throughout the game you are given information and advice and the advisor's voice isn't subtitled. Throughout the course of the game that's a heck of a lot of dialogue that deaf gamers will miss out on. The good news is that there's no storyline in NFS: Shift so you're not missing out on anything that's adding to the experience as you were in previous NFS games.
Need For Speed: Shift falls squarely between being an arcade and simulation racer and the various settings and assists you can enable in the game allow you to swing it one way or the other. I suppose the problem with this is that as an arcade style racer there's probably not enough over the top action here and as a simulation it lacks depth. That said, it's an enjoyable racer no matter how you classify the game. Whether NFS fans will take to the change in focus this brings to the series is a question we'll only be able to answer in the months ahead when the sales figures are analyzed. In some respects it's a little unfortunate that on the Xbox 360 it's arrived so close to Forza Motorsport 3. However, there can no denying that it's the best Need For Speed game since NFS: Most Wanted even though it's a very different type of game.