Shift 2: Unleashed

Need for Speed has always been a franchise more about replicating the exhilaration of driving than actually offering a simulation of the sport. Everyone wants to chase past police cars and dodge rival street racers, but not everyone is ready for in-depth racing simulation. However, it didn’t stop the company from making the well-received Need for Speed Shift, a racing title barreling head-first into the very market Forza and Gran Turismo have settled themselves so nicely in.

Last week, EA wanted to share some love and let us get some hands on with Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed, the gangly-named sequel to the 2009 original. Spending time with the game, one gets the impression that developers Slightly Mad Studios is working hard to address the issues of the first game, and to make this sequel shine. With a tighter career mode, more-realistic vehicles and modeling, and a brand new camera, there’s a lot for fans of the franchise to look forward to.

Truth be told, there is not a lot here that a player wouldn’t expect. Shift 2 has all of the expected vehicle licenses ranging from entry-level Fords and Nissans to supercar Lamborghini and Bugatti, which itself isn’t so special. What is is the inclusions of older versions of popular cars. For example, the ’86 Toyota Corolla is a very popular car for tune-enthusiasts, and considering the rarefied nature of those cars, their inclusion in Shift 2 is appreciated. Certain races and modes within Shift 2 is actually based upon racing old/new versions of cars and seeing what they are capable of. A fun feature, to be sure, car aficionados will find a lot to love.

One area that I’m a little curious to see is the drifting elements of the game. Many racing games are incorporating a more realistic physics engine that will allow for real-world drifting as well as high-speed racing on a straightaway. For Shift 2, this doesn’t mean Gymkhana-style tricks, but it does ask for a high degree of tuning application from the player to get your tricked out Audi to swing back and forth around the drifting course. It will be interesting to see how fleshed out this mode will be, as this sort of realistic drifting appears to be a popular new arena for racing titles.

Tuning in Shift 2 is intense and deep, allowing for players to modify every element of the car. When I say every element, I mean it, from the angle of turns, tire pressure, steering lock, toe angle, differentials, aerodynamics and more. The interface for this is outlandishly technical, and it will definitely keep more casual players from diving in. However, those who like to pick their cars apart will be in heaven.

Improved damage modeling is also a major addition Slightly Mad Studios wanted to incorporate into the game. While the feature can be turned off, the damage modeling makes a major impact on the racing itself. Racing around on a night track, if a player breaks one or both of their headlamps, they can expect their night races to be that much more difficult. Again, players will be able to turn this feature off, as well as other features that could make the game easier, such as driving assists along the road. Slightly Mad Studios is clearly trying to balance between challenging the hardcore and appealing to new sim racers. Seems like they are doing an alright job on it.

Visually, the game is beautiful, on par with many other simulation racing titles. However, one stand-out feature the game does is regarding the camera. Called the helmet cam, this perspective doesn’t just place the player inside the vehicle, but rather is recreates the jostle and flow of a driver as they feel inertia and drag within the car. As a player makes a turn, for example, the camera will pan into the turn, exactly like a real world racer. Having spent quite a bit of time in the helmet cam mode, I can say it is one of the most realistic representations of racing that I have ever seen.

Much thanks can be given to the developers, as they have incorporated real-world drivers into the development of their game. There exists a real Need for Speed car in the real-world racing circuit, and this car can be unlocked through progression in the game, providing incentive to take on progressively difficult races. Slightly Mad Studios has broken up the career mode into a series of increasingly harder challenges. The game is designed to allow players to focus on the areas that they want, be it drifting, muscle car racing, retro vehicles, or whatever. Progress through the single player will offer anything from low-tier Modern D racing to GT1, and while the game will throw better cars at you, tune-focused players can take a crappy car and make it shine. All in all, there’s about thirty to forty percent more content in the single player than in the original Shift.

Autolog, the backend racing service introduced in Hot Pursuit, will be making a return to Shift 2. Fans of the service will find that all of the metagame elements will still be integral, and this feature will be vitally important to competitive racers and their friends. Multiplayer scores, times and other important bits of information will keep racing nuts happy.

Once everything is said and done, it looks like Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed will be an improvement over its predecessor, a racing title that takes good features and makes them better. With a March 29 release date, players will not have long before they will be jumping behind the wheel of Shift 2.