Need For Speed Shift 2 Review
Fast. Visceral. Unforgiving. You jump into the driver’s seat as soon as you start the NFSS2 career mode in a practice run to determine driver-tailored difficulty settings. And what a practice run. Your heart begins pounding so loudly that you can hear it thumping over the shrill whine of the engine as it thunders towards the redline, and you, down the straight. You lean forward into your monitor screen in an attempt to peer round the approaching bend, slow down a little, looking to the side you turn, and stomping down with the right foot, you sprint relentlessly onwards. All around you are other racers determined to get to the finish line before you. But beware. You push too hard, and you won’t get anywhere. Striking the right balance is not only a benefit, but a necessity. Steering wheel setups contribute to the effect, but regular keyboarders aren’t left in the lurch as they press their keys to the breaking point, willing their cars to turn.
Such immersion is in no small part thanks to the never-before-seen helmet camera view, depicting the action from a whole new perspective. Where previously racing game cameras felt more as if they were glued to the car, now it feels as if it is actually the driver’s eyes the player is looking through. The view ‘looks’ into approaching bends, the view shakes as the car judders and the driver’s head shakes. Lurches are properly portrayed during drifts and when the car is driven on to the shoulder. A universe apart from the laid-back driving style of Hot Pursuit, Shift 2 is a game that commands the respect of the driver. Even on the easiest setting, slack isn’t an option. You have to be on your toes all the time.
This is the humbling effect that Shift 2 has had on this reviewer. It appears as if here, realism and simulation are secondary pursuits to the primary goal, that of making the hairs on the back of the player’s neck stand up straight. And it works nicely too, what with the superbly worked engine noise. Although the music tracks are largely ignore-worthy, the overall sound effects of the driving experience are majestic. The rumble of the engine of the car right behind you chills to the core, as does the juddering of the car and wailing of the tires on hard bends.
A brand new radial main menu system provides access to the game’s features. Career mode, with the same XP system that was to be found in the original Shift, is divided into car categories. Starting off from Category D, you work your way up to the extreme GT1 class, unlocking cars and upgrades along the way. Visual upgrades are limited to paint, vinyls and aftermarket rims. However, there is a rather limited car set in Shift 2, and would have been starkly apparent if it were not for the many performance parts upgrade options, which are also divided into tiers. Body-kits make a welcome appearance in this section. Also, the tuning feature, although recommended only for racing junkies, is very useful for tweaking the individual parts, and hence the behavior, of the car to one’s own liking.
The popular AutoLog feature has been carried over from Hot Pursuit, and works well with the other features of the game. More so because one is often competing not with the AI (although rather good compared to that found in most other racing games, there still is the odd random behavior such as t-boning the driver’s car on sharp turns) but with friends via AutoLog.
As far as physics are concerned, the game manages to clearly indicate that it is taking a step away from the Undercover/Carbon/Hot Pursuit league of casual fun driving and reaching out towards hardcore simulators the likes of Forza Motorsport 3 and Grand Turismo 5. However, it falls just short, but not short enough to keep the big racing sim league from watching their backs. The handling seems very light, as if it were some kind of point-and-turn thing. If you lessen the steer a little during a bend, the car suddenly veers off in a straight line. Keep it held, and you’re fine, though. Unrealistic, to say the least. Steering heaviness would have added to the realism aspect. Further, it takes a LOT of tuning to actually make cars come close to reality. Slight adjustments don’t work. Heavy changes are required to feel any noticeable effect on the car’s behavior.
Graphics are very sharp and crisp, and make up to an extent for the lack of realism in the steering dynamics. Well worked shadows and reflections abound. Glare is very beautifully portrayed, and so are the cracks and bug splatters on the windshield. Car models are nigh on perfect, and look stunning on full graphics. Combine this with the accurate representation of challenging real-life circuits such as the famous Nurburgring, and a very satisfying experience results. It so happens that the revised graphics are much easier on the computer hardware than the previous version of NFS Shift. If only there were more cars…
In summary, this is a rather well put together iteration of the NFS series. Good enough and balanced enough to appeal to both the casual gamer and the racing sim fanatic, EA has struck gold here. Almost. The odd niggles here and there add up to prevent it from being truly great.
- Awesome helmet camera
- Stunning visuals, remarkable audio
- Return of customization
- Limited car choice
- Featherweight steering/handling
- Occasionally inconsistent AI