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Need for Speed: SHIFT Review

Need for Speed has come a long ways since its introduction back in the PS1 days. There have been many games since, 13 titles total, and many of them have a distinct theme or style. When Underground came out, the series really spun into popularity.

It wasn’t until Pro Street came out that people started looking down at the series because the game returned to it’s more realistic racing roots. Gone were the storylines and open-world cruising. The iteration, Undercover, went back to the open world racing and whatnot of Need for Speeds before it because of the critical negativity Pro Street received.

But this review isn’t about those games, this one is about the newest addition to the franchise, SHIFT. Apparently, SHIFT was supposed to have been a sequel to Pro Street originally, but due to the game’s previously mentioned less-than-stellar critic reviews, the name was dropped and SHIFT took its placed.

This is their first title that delves into the simulation aspects of the racing genre, leaving the arcade style of racing behind. Overall, this was definitely a good decision, as the game is more suited for my tastes. It’s not without its problems, though, as I will get more into detail from here.

Visually, the game looks amazing. It may not be the best looking, but it’s definitely up there! The cars are very detailed and the lighting just pops out at you. Sense of depth is very good as well and the motion blur you get as you’re speeding down a straightaway at 130+MPH really gives you a sense of speed (though, driving that fast in real life doesn’t result in that effect, but it still looks cool).

As you’ve seen from many trailers in the past, the cockpit view is superb. It really gives you a connection to the car and effectively makes it an extension of you. What’s really cool is when you do cockpit upgrades, you can actually see the roll cage and whatnot in there as well. Since it’s dynamic, the view responds to your acceleration, turning and braking so you feel like you’re actually driving it.

When you get in a wreck (and a lot of us almost definitely will), your helmet will shake violently and gray out the screen. When your senses come to, you can see the cracks in the glass and the damage done to your front end, both obstructing your view. There were moments for me when it got bad enough that I had to switch to an external view! The game also allows flipping over, so you can either cause, or be involved, in a spectacular wreck with a car flipping wildly on the road.

The tracks, a lot of them actual racetracks, are highly detailed and feel very much alive, with onlookers watching the races and photographing you as you pass by. If you’re inclined to do so, you can go ahead and snap photos of your car yourself! Some of the tracks have been modified in the backdrop slightly, so they aren’t 100% faithful reproductions of the tracks themselves, but the layouts are the same.

The visuals aren’t without their flaws, though. Occasionally, so much will be happening at once that the frame rate can drop to a very noticeable chugging. It’s not that frequent, but it is a nuisance when it does happen. The rear view mirrors also hold a few issues, as you watch your opponent behind you, you will notice a lot of pop-out in the background as things like signs and overpasses disappear. I mean, it’s not a huge deal, as you’ll be paying more attention to what’s in front of you. There is also some occasional pop-in as well, usually with billboards that feature in-game ads, but its not noticeable, as I’ve only actually seen that happen to me once.

The sound in the game are very well done, and are a huge benefit for those with a surround sound system. They really immerse you into your race as you can tell if a car is coming up beside you as your engine is screaming down the track itself (and it sounds really cool when you get superchargers and turbos in there). You can hear your tires squeal as you enter into a drift and the sound of driving through gravel as you head off road. They did an excellent job with these sound effects, and it really draws you into a race. Not very many games are quite as effective in the sound department as this one here, including games such as Forza and Gran Turismo.

As a compliment to the very well done damage system, trading paint with other cars or careening into a wall sounds great and adds depth to the visuals, which is a big plus. When you’re in a more serious wreck, your hearing will fade into a ringing as well, to compliment the feeling you get visually (with the screen fading to black and white, and your vision impairment with basically a still of where you wrecked). The sound of impact is quite punchy and gives you the sense that you can feel it.

Even though the sound, in general, is great, I do have a few issues I’ve noticed. Occasionally, I have heard some effects crackling, adding some unwanted “noise” to my speaker set up. I know it’s not my speakers or receiver, as none of my other games have that happening, so my assumption is that it could be some faulty coding in how the sounds are processed. It doesn’t happen that often, but I even noticed it on the demo a few times.

The music, though not my taste for sure, fits in with the theme well and reflects that of the soundtrack featured in Pro Street as well. You can change some of the options for the sound in the Options menu, seeing as the music doesn’t play when you’re racing (apart from Drift competitions). I like racing without music anyways, as I feel that takes away from the whole racing experience.

Keep in mind that this is Need for Speed’s first attempt at a simulation game. With that said, they actually did a heck of a job. It’s still got a somewhat arcadey feel to it, but it’s not to the point where you can do ridiculously impossible maneuvers. You can literally feel the car losing control as you take a turn at high speeds.

At the beginning of the game, you partake in a few races that help the game decide your difficulty and driving abilities. I know I’m not the best in the world, but after taking these “tests” if you will, they recommended me use the Experienced difficulty level with factory options turned on (like traction control and ABS), which, after working with that set up, works great for me. You can opt to change those options if you feel, though, as there is no commitment to them.

Getting into the actual races, you can really get a good start if you pay attention to the RPMs of your engine (the Neutral indicator will turn green), as that will get you a Perfect Launch. You are scored on many things while you’re racing, including things like drafting, trading paint, following the racing line (best route to follow on a given track), and performing clean overtakes. At the end of each race, you will be awarded stars that unlock new tiers and events as you progress. You get three stars if you place first (2 for second, 1 for third), more if you can meet the Points objective and another if you meet the special objective criteria, such as Drift Time or performing a clean lap.

If you perform enough of these maneuvers, you will unlock Badges for completing certain milestones for each type of badge (which range from Bronze to Elite). You will also be rewarded toward your driver score as well. Depending on how well you drive or how aggressive you are, your driver rank will reflect that. Personally, I found trying to become labeled as an aggressive driver is very, very tough, despite the fact that I’m immensely aggressive at the beginning of the race, forcing spin outs and wrecks with people as I pass them. I don’t become more precise in my racing until after I get in first, but I’m considered a Precision Driver.

As far as races themselves go, there’s a bit of variety. You have your standard races, drift, endurance and 1 on 1 types. Standard races are usually just your circuit races with a set number of laps. Your drift races are self explanatory, and usually focus on certain series of turns on different race tracks. Endurance races are like the standard races, except they take far longer to complete and are made up between 10 and 30 laps, depending on the track (in career mode anyway). Some of the most challenging are the 1 on 1 races, where you face off 1 on 1 with another car and/or driver.

Standard and endurance races are relatively easy to race, but when it comes to drift and 1 on 1 races, you need to approach them quite differently. Drift races are quite easy to complete, each taking three rounds per event, to garner up the highest cumulative score. The hardest part, though, is actually drifting as braking and throttle control are extremely critical. A lot of the special objectives require you hold a drift for a certain amount of time (most of what I’ve seen was four seconds), and unless you have good brake and throttle controls, it’s very tough to do.

In the one on one races, you must face off against either another specific car or a specific driver, or rival, that usually gets second place throughout other races in the series (these races are locked until you make podium on all previous races). The game’s narrator will explain to you who it will be at the beginning of the event when they run the little video introduction, so you know who they are.

These races are some of the hardest, as they will force you to bring all the cards to the table. One little mistake could mean the end of the race for you. Each event comprises of a best 2 out of 3 rounds. If you are in the lead when you cross the finish line, or get five seconds ahead of your opponent, you’ll win a round. Usually, you’ll have to rely on your driving skills to even cross the finish line first, seeing as the only way I’ve been able to get 5 seconds ahead was to force my opponent to wreck into a wall and flip over! Other than that, they are usually on your tail by less than a second.

Now for vehicle handling, here’s where it starts to get tricky. For beginners, I definitely recommend turning on the Racing Line, as it helps show you where you want to be and whether or not you should be accelerating, coasting or braking. If you come into a turn too fast, you will fly off the track and hit a wall, seeing as you lose about 90% of your vehicle control when you’re bouncing around on the dirt.

Speaking of bouncing around, on some areas of a track, there could be spots where the road gets a bit bumpy. If you hit these going at a high speed, it could send your car’s front end bouncing high into the air, forcing you to slow down as you will not have any turning ability. One track, in particular, I had quite a few issues with, seeing as it had at least three sections of bumpy areas (all of which were within turns), and it was a one on one race. Sometimes it made me wonder if the developers tweaked the AI (which is excellent) to where they can pass those areas unscathed, giving the game an unfair advantage. If you add downforce to the front end, it can help get you through those tricky parts, but you need to modify those settings, and have the right parts, to do so.

Modifying your vehicle is a must. Most of the options aren’t available until you reach certain career levels that will unlock modification parts you can use. If you have all the right parts installed, you can modify pretty much anything from downforce levels to transmission gear ratios to toe and camber settings. If you don’t have the technical know-how, you can also quick tune the vehicle and select whether you want a higher speed or faster acceleration, or if you want your downforce levels to compliment speed or grip, etc.

If you have all the parts installed, you can then give your car a Works conversion, which essentially turns your vehicle into an all-out race car (most cars support this feature, however, most of your high end factory cars don’t). I have a 2010 Camaro that I gave a Works conversion to, and it increased my car’s rating exponentially. The only downside, was the cost, as the cost of a Works conversion is about $250,000 (for the Camaro at least). It also upgrades the car visually, giving you racing gauges, steering wheel and a complete race interior (and a new body kit). It looks really good, too.

Apart from that, the only negatives I have with the gameplay are the bumps in the road and the touchy throttle. More often than not, when I hit those bumpy areas, no matter how slow I go (well, down to a reasonable speed, not something like 10MPH), they send me flying a little off course and my opponent would pass me. The throttle is very touchy, and if you happen to get your wheels into grass or dirt, you definitely don’t want to oversteer the car, as that would then send you to the other side of the road on that side’s grass because you gave it too much throttle.

Now since the big stuff is out of the way, we now get to what is included with the games. First off, the car list features about 72 cars in all, which range from the old 1972 Nissan Skyline 2000GT-R to the 2008 Bugatti Veyron 16.4. They all handle differently and, as labeled by certain symbols, can be modified to a Works conversion, can use nitrous (speaking of which, it acts more realistic than the sudden burst of speed we get from previous games), or if the car can be used in drift competitions.

For the total number of race tracks, there are 17 in all, but there are also variations for the tracks you race in as well, so it’s a lot closer to, say, 20. It would be nice to see more, but there’s enough variety so it won’t become boring. Plus, it gives you enough to master the corners on a track as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if any future downloadable content would include new tracks.

You can also race friends online and show how well you do on certain tracks (if you’re signed into PSN, it tracks your progress and shows off whether or not you own certain tracks or if your friends do, so you can compete against their times as well). Also of note, racing online increases your driver score as well, which adds to your career progression all the while making friends, or enemies :P.

Now to where the negative aspects of content come in. Despite the game having around 70 cars, what is surprisingly missing is the inclusion of any classic muscle cars. There are modern muscle cars like the Challenger and Camaro, but nothing like, say, an old Barracuda or Chevelle. This is especially strange considering they have a 1972 Nissan Skyline. That was one of the more disappointing aspects of the game.

As far as the biggest disappointment goes, I’ll have to give that to the visual modifications of the cars. First off, you can only buy whole body kits, and not specific parts (and to make it worse, there are usually only one or two kits to choose from). Then you have the vinyls. This was the most disappointing part of the whole game. I’ve noticed on numerous occasions that my vinyls would shift when I start the game, causing me to have to go in and maneuver the vinyls back in place again (and patch up any unmasked areas).

Going beyond the vinyl shifting itself is the vinyl selection, which is very limited. You can’t really express yourself very well, especially since the vinyls have a fixed scale percentage (in other words, they can’t get too big or too small) This stymies any ability to create intricate, advanced designs. Not only that, a lot of the vinyls are only available after you reach a certain Driver Level.

It gets worse, though. If you have one side completed, there is NO option to mirror it on the other side of the car. It’s even harder to apply vinyls at the front of the car from the sides, because there’s a black shadow overlay on the HUD/menu system that effectively blocks your view, even when you move the camera. Working with vinyls is very, very frustrating, so I keep my designs as simple as possible. It wouldn’t be nearly as bad if it were more like Midnight Club: LA where it gave you a number scale when modifying things like rotation, scale, and skew settings.

The changes to the series is definitely a huge plus. Going from what is essentially arcade to a quasi-simulation game is something that should have been done from the beginning. The game looks and plays great. The sound is amazing and there’s enough there to warrant coming back for more. It’s not without it’s problems though, as I have had a couple visual and sound issues, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. Keep in mind some races might be a bit frustrating, as I’ve had one race where I had to restart about 30 times before I succeeded :P. Whatever you do, make sure you have a lot of patience when working with the vinyl system, as that part is the most awful of my whole experience with the game.

[review pros=”Great Visuals
Good Track Selection
Amazing Sound Work
Extensive Tuning Capabilities
Option to Turn Cars Into Race Cars
Sense of Speed
” cons=”Minor Pop-In/Out and Some Audio Noise
Some Races are Frustrating
Bumps in Tracks 😛
Lack of Muscle Cars
Horrible Vinyl System
” score=80]

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Need for Speed: SHIFT provided by EA.