Shift 2: Unleashed Review
With all the hubbub surrounding EA’s Need for Speed franchise, one can't help but wonder why its presence was downplayed for Shift 2. These decisions aren’t made at random. Ingenious marketing backed by immense budgets have been vital to the success of many games, particularly those produced under EA’s massive wing. So what gives? As it turns out, not everyone has a glowing perception of Need for Speed. Shift 2 makes quite a drastic--well, let’s say “shift”--from its predecessors in nearly every respect. For hardcore racing fans, this move could prove either dastardly or refreshingly bold. Thankfully, the latter seems to be true in this case.
One of the major complaints with the first Shift was the awkward handling, and the developers have since heard our cries of anguish. Shift 2 plays like a dream, with an impressive balance of precision control and a realistic feel that surpasses most casual arcade racers. In all fairness, many casual players will likely be turned off by the demanding maneuvers and unforgiving tracks that are integral to the game. Setting the difficulty can help soften the grinding climb of Shift 2’s steep learning curve. Assistance mechanisms can also be tweaked to help keep you from, well, flying off the track in a fantastically fatal wreck (if that doesn't sound cool to you), but it's difficult to imagine playing the game any other way. Shift 2 becomes a more intense experience with these dangers present, and a single mistake could push you back to last place. As with any polarizing element, big racing buffs will relish this challenge. Drifting at corners and blocking your competitors is outrageously rewarding and becomes a vital part of the game rather than high-level fluff.
Speaking of levels, you may find that your experience doesn't proceed in the expected manner. This may hold true for genre veterans, as well, because the slow ascension to power is marked by steady gains in experience that are inconsistent with bigger events. Once you’ve climbed ranks properly, you’ll find not only a higher rate of gains, but also a plethora of treasures at your disposal. Naturally, the hardware is the big draw here, and you’ll get to treat your sporty babies to all manner of upgrades depending on your taste. One may adopt a “work hard, play hard” philosophy because many of these races will definitely test your patience and endurance. At the risk of sounding soft, Shift 2 does push the player a bit hard at times. During its most frustrating moments, the game feels as though you can never catch up with the leaders. Even with a dozen trackway tricks up your sleeve, the AI is completely merciless in its desire to punish you for your mistakes. I would wager that folks who normally avoid brawling games will find Shift 2 just a bit too much, yet it remains an undeniably exciting experience. There’s plenty of fun to be had in the multiplayer modes, which include competitive timed laps, but again--why miss out on so many hilarious crashes? Since one screw-up in the lead can fell the other racers, perhaps avoiding a frustrating scenario is understandable after all.
As always, the modern racing title is expected to impress players (and buyers) with overwhelming visual flash, and Shift 2 has plenty to share. The brilliant shimmer of sunlight over the hood, a lavish cornucopia of clouds across a blazing sky, and the intricately detailed vehicle interiors all contribute to a graphics feast comparable to the best racers on the market. Despite this richness, the draw distance is nice and the overall look is quite clean. Visual clarity is reassuring with games like these, provided you discount the rubbish on the road (you shouldn't--it can mess you up something awful). The foley is equally satisfying, from the abrasive squeal of a hard brake to the visceral staccato of a purring engine. Only the monotonous music besmirches an otherwise delightful atmosphere. Players can easily relate these games to the finest in their field, and Shift 2 does dip slightly below the lofty realms of Gran Turismo and Forza. But even with its flaws, dedicated racing fans can embrace Shift 2 for an authentic quality that is too often overlooked.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]