The “Need for Speed” franchise is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, and what better way to do it than by re-imagining the series, and releasing three completely different versions of the game. Fifteen years is a long time for any franchise, much less one whose key mechanic is driving, and with the release of “Need for Speed: Shift” the series has gotten a beautiful and realistic makeover.
“Need for Speed: Shift” takes the racing from the streets and puts it back on the track. Gone are the high-speed police chases, FMV/animation hybrid cutscenes, and the NFS ladies; in their place are checkered flags, rolling starts, and corporate sponsorships. The career mode offers 36 different courses that house over 150 different events, covering the entire spectrum of competitive racing.
Driving is, without a doubt, one of the most monotonous and repetitive genres of video games, and, can force gamers to hit the preverbal wall if it takes too long for them to upgrade their cars so that they can actually compete. “Need for Speed: Shift” does a great thing, and allows at least some degree of progression no matter how well you do in the race. As you drive, it tracks two different sets of skills, precision and aggression, each of which has a list of driving elements that will award you points. The more points that you get in each race add up, therein increasing your driver rank, which, rewards you with sponsorships (read: money), additional races, and upgrades for your car.
It’s one thing to race against the computer and prove you’re the best, but taking your skills online, and playing against other humans is the real challenge. “Shift”’s eight-player online matches run smoothly, and without any kind of lag, so you shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the game is going to lag out, as your taking that sharp corner.
“Shift” offers a handful of toggleable assists depending on your driving skills going into the game. Based on your performance in the first race, the game suggests an A.I. difficulty level, along with car-based options like steering and braking assists, anti-lock breaks, traction control, and stability. After that race, the options menu also allows you to drill down and tailor the gameplay depending on your driving preferences, and allows you to decided whether you want to allow the game to offer a helping hand, or go at it by yourself.
Slamming into other cars never gets old, and, with "Shift"'s driver progression system you get points for it. It’s not quite the same as “Burnout”, but smashing is smashing no matter how you slice it.
Any racing game worth its salt is centered slow increase in difficulty over the course of numerous races, where your car's specs are as important as your driving skill. “NFS: Shift” follows this formula by offering a tiered level progression, leading up to the ultimate race, the Need For Speed Live World Tour. However, Tier 1 and 2 will be a breeze for any gamer that has played any modern day racing game, but once you hit Tier 3, it’s time to hit the shop. You absolutely need to upgrade your cars, as it's the only way you’re going to shave valuable seconds off your lap time. Some gamers that are used to playing “NFS” games that don't necessarily offer "Shift"'s level of customization might be a little turned off by the amount of time they’ll spend upgrading and tuning the cars in their garage.
“NFS: Shift” includes virtually every kind of race imaginable, stopping just short of races that end in “kart”. That means drift races are inevitably going to come up in your career mode. The game’s default controls can be less than forgiving in a normal race, but when your trying to pull off a perfect drift, for as many points possible, as you slide your way around a figure-8 track you’re going to end up being a little frustrated. Locking in to the optimal angle, and riding it out for the life of the drift might be the ultimate challenge in the game.
There isn’t one. While it’s safe to assume that this racing game plays like every other one, a little guidance as to what button is the emergency brake is would have been welcome. Additionally, some in-depth suggestions, or even a demonstration on how to drift might have kept it off the lows list.
The Final Word
“Need for Speed” used to be synonymous with arcade-style, high-octane, street racing, but those days are no more. The release of “Shift” proves that EA is looking to go in different directions with the franchise, and change can be good. “Shift” definitely offers something new to the series, without completely throwing the brand out the window. Precision racing is still at the heart of this game, and that has always been one of the most important elements of the "Need For Speed"s, whether you’re on a narrow side street, or a quarter mile straight away on a track in Japan. Also, The game’s driver ranking system is continually rewarding experience, no matter what level you're playing at.
However, long time fans of the series may be a little let down when they realize they’re racing to beat track times, and not to outrun the cops that have been chasing them for the past seven minutes. “Shift” manages to pull some of the arcade-style gameplay of “Burnout”, as well as push the franchise as close to realistic as “NFS” has ever been. However, this “Need for Speed” finds itself in the middle of the pack, between the arcade racers like “PGR” and the sim racers like “Gran Tourismo”, but it seems like that’s actually where it wanted to be.