What a difference a year makes…
The Need for Speed franchise has had a bad spell over the past few years. It all seemed to go wrong around the time of NFS Carbon, and then it went down the odd ProStreet route which didn’t have any NFS vibe to it at all. But then we got Undercover, which was disappointing from start to finish. After that, I thought the series would be done and dusted as it looked like they had simply run out of ideas to breathe fresh life into it. But EA is never one to chuck in the towel with a franchise as popular as Need for Speed and they decided to take one more crack at it with Need for Speed Shift, a game that seems to be half-way between simulator and arcade racer. Does the gamble pay off?
I was skeptical when I first heard that Shift was in development, I figured they would just screw it up like they have over the years…but I was pleasantly surprised by Shift. The series has gone back to the drawing board and decided to take on the bigger racing franchises like Gran Turismo, Forza and PGR. Shift doesn’t focus on cheesy storylines and bad acting anymore, it’s all about the racing and it’s about time. While it doesn’t have the same feeling you got playing Most Wanted, it’s a step in the right direction for the franchise.
NFS Shift has quite a deep campaign in which you compete in races to earn enough points to enter more and eventually win the championship. You get money for each race and can upgrade your vehicle or of course, buy better ones. Each car handles differently and takes some getting used to, but overall they all handle well. Shift does use assists which can be switched off to increase the difficulty of races, but newcomers will most likely want to keep them on.
As with all racing games, Shift has several views to drive from. My personal favourite has to be from the driver’s perspective as the interior of each car is well detailed and gives the game a bit more realism. There’s also an impressive list of vehicles including the Pagani Zonda F, Audi RS4, and Porsche 911 GT3 RSR…all of which look and sound the part. There are also over 15 real-world locations like Willow Springs and Laguna Seca as well as fictional circuits like downtown London and Tokyo. It’s impressive on the whole and won’t disappoint.
Of course, the main problem is competition. Forza 3 is around the corner and having played it (review coming next week) I can say that it surpasses Shift in terms of content and control. But for those who aren’t big fans of the realistic racer, Shift sits somewhere in the middle between arcade and realistic gameplay. Online is a big plus for Shift, but it doesn’t become immediately available when you first pop in the game…you have to go through a few races before the option even turns up, which I found incredibly odd.
It would have been nice to have a rewind feature for Shift so that if you mess up you can just try again without restarting the race. It’s been a feature for quite a few racing games now, so why it isn’t included is quite strange. Visually, NFS Shift is almost there. The cars look great, but the tracks are hit and miss with some bad textures in places and are somewhat blocky. In terms of audio though, the game is incredibly strong…especially if you have surround sound. The purr of the engine on a 5.1 setup is pretty great.
NFS Shift is a step in the right direction for the series, it isn’t perfect but now they have a working formula to improve upon for the next game. All it needs is a bit of polish in the graphics department and a bit of tuning with the controls to make it a contender for the racing crown. But until then, Shift does a good enough job to make up for the bad NFS games over the past few years.