|Posted by Terrorized666 on April 9, 2011 at 10:32 AM|
The more serious side of the Need for Speed franchise is rolled out for its second run, and I got to take it for a test ride at my buddies.
I’ve been looking forward to Shift 2 for months. I played the first one all the way through, and have been interested to see how it would evolve for its second run out. Now I’ve had the chance to play it extensively, it’s been very good on the whole, but not without its problems.
But before I get into them – here’s a quick overview on the game. Understanding that going head-to-head against the driving simulation behemoths Forza and Gran Turismo might be a tough thing, EA has looked to find a gap to slip Shift 2 into. And they’ve certainly found it – it’s a racing sim, not a driving sim. That might sound like a completely dumb statement, but what Shift 2 does is give up some of the accuracy and definitiveness of Forza and GT’s physics engine, and instead tries to deliver an exciting, very visceral racing experience. That’s not to say Shift’s handling engine is not realistic – but when you play all three games together, it’s pretty obvious that Shift leans more to an arcadey feel, whereas GT and Forza are really trying to be more like simulations. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s definitely noticeable when you step from one to the other.
Shift 2’s presentation is also geared towards delivering a feeling of excitement. Areas of the screen blur at speed, there’s a “helmet cam” that “looks” into a corner for you, making the game feel more dynamic, and there are a lot of visual effects and tricks used to enhance the sensation of speed, bumps, and jolts and to give the racing a very visceral feel.
The end result is definitely exciting. It often gets the adrenaline pumping because the racing is close, and the stakes are high. Whereas in games like GT you can often hit other cars and trackside objects and get away with it, in Shift 2, you can’t. Crash into something, and you crash. Oftentimes it’s impossible to recover to a winning position. This definitely creates a feeling of stress, and it also makes you drive “properly,” since you can’t careen off cars and use walls to speed around corners. Indeed, there’s some irony in that while the handling is less realistic than Gran Turismo, the racing itself is more realistic.
The more I play Shift 2, the more clear it seems that the series is moving away from its Fast and Furious wannabe Need for Speed roots and trying to be a lot more serious, and for the most part it succeeds. But there seems to be stuff tacked onto the game that doesn’t quite feel like it belongs there, like the cheesy videos that you can’t skip through, and the painful dude-bro voiceover. I’m sure plenty of Shift fans like that kind of thing, and if you’re one of those, ignore me. But to me, it feels like the game is trying to grow up and get more serious, but it’s being held back by its own legacy. Personally I’d love to see a full-on serious treatment of the game based around racing, without the cheese. I think the game deserves it, especially since most of the presentation is excellent and nicely put together.
One part of the presentation that I’m not sure about, though, happens when you start the game. Shift 2 puts you through a series of tests and based on how well you perform, the game assigns a control setting and difficulty level. I did very well in mine, and was assigned what turned out to be very challenging settings. I certainly felt good about that, but as I started to play – with my S2000 that I bought as my first car – I had a bit of a tough time. The car was twitchy and very challenging to control, and if I made the slightest mistake, I’d crash and the race was pretty much done. I soldiered on, and started to win, but it was certainly a struggle – a struggle that I wasn’t enjoying much because frankly it was so stressful. I’d be ahead, but a slight mistake on a corner and I was toast. So I started over, and this time picked a 4WD car, and that was a lot easier to control, and I aced the early races. However, as I advanced, the game became increasingly more challenging as I stepped up to the more powerful cars, especially those with RWD. So I tweaked the handling, and that made things a little easier, but then I felt the driving aids were sometimes holding me back. So I downgraded the difficulty of the opponents, and that made the game incredibly easy – I was usually at the front by the first corner, and would stay ahead the entire game, with the driving aids keeping me on the tarmac.
I ended up spending quite a lot of time trying to get the settings right – more than I think I should. While I understand that sometimes with driving games you need to fiddle with things to find the right balance, Shift 2 seems to be either too easy, or too hard, and in terms of the handling, it either feels over-assisted, or very challenging to control.
In the end, I found a steering setting that felt reasonable enough so I wasn’t crashing too much, and that let me set the opponents to hard. Hopefully other Shift 2 players won’t find it as tough as I did – but I wanted to put it out there just in case you started fiddling with the settings as I did, and at least you’ll know you’re not the only one. One thing’s for sure – if you want to faceroll your way through the game, you can certainly do that. And if you want a super-hard challenging race game that’ll test your skills to the limit, Shift 2 can certainly do that too.
Once I’d finished tweaking the controls, and finally got down to racing with the right setup, I began to enjoy myself a lot more. The way racing works is pretty much the same it always does: win races, earn money, unlock cars, buy cars, enter more challenging races. Shift 2 also features “boss” races where you race against a rival. On the whole, the racing is fun. The progression is good, there’s a very nice suite of cars to choose from, ranging from hot hatches and supercars to modern classics and full-on racing cars, and almost all of them can be modified to a very high degree. I’ve managed to build one of my favorite old 90’s cars – an Escort Cosworth – into a pseudo-German Touring Car racer, complete with fairly authentic livery of the day – something I really enjoyed doing. Shift 2 is certainly excellent in that respect – it makes it fun and easy to make your cars feel a lot more personal.
The variety of races is quite broad, and some require specific cars. There are also drift events, which didn’t feel very realistic at all, but are nevertheless fun and entertaining. I ended up using an outside-the-car view, which I normally don’t use for racing, but it let me score very well. For normal races, I used an inside the car view, which felt pretty good. One view incorporates the dynamic helmet cam, a view that “looks” into corners while you’re driving. It does look cool, but I found the way the game sometimes adjusted the view made it feel like the car was going off line, so I’d correct a line that was actually right, resulting in a missed apex or over-correction – because it was the view that was shifting, not the car. I’m sure some people will like it – it’s just another one of the game’s features that you can either take or leave.
And taking or leaving it seems to be a big part of Shift 2. A lot of work has been put into the game to make it as customizable as possible, but in a way, I think it’s a little too over-engineered in that respect. If you stick with it, at least you can eventually find something that works, even if it is somewhat frustrating going through that process. When you do, though, Shift 2 delivers some extremely exciting, white knuckle racing that is both enjoyable and challenging to play (assuming you’re on hard), and it looks absolutely spectacular. The visual effects are very cool – especially night racing – and the way cars are damaged in crashes looks awesome.
I’m finding I’m burning through the game fairly quickly in terms of career, and if that’s all there was to the game, I’d be a little worried about its lasting appeal. However, adding a little extra longevity is Autolog, which tracks your scores and enables you to set up social matches. I think it works very well, and lets you see how your performance stacks up against your friends – or indeed the rest of the Shift 2 player base. This will definitely help extend the game’s replay value long after the career mode has been done and dusted, and will help build a Shift 2 racing community for the game’s hardcore fans.
At the end of the day, Shift 2 is an enjoyable racing game. It certainly doesn’t have the finesse or the definitive feeling of its rivals, but it doesn’t set out to do that. It’s pretty up front about what it wants to be – a loud, brash and exciting thrill ride of a racing game that mixes realism with over-the-top action. If you’re not so keen on the more sim-like nature of Forza or GT, it’s a great buy. And if you like either or both those games, but want to experience raw and exciting racing, Shift 2 certainly delivers enough frenetic action to make it a great additional purchase. In that respect, it’s a winning formula.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
PROS: Exciting racing action. Very dynamic visual presentation. Excellent car customization options. Fun, once you get the game set up right for you. Autolog adds replay value.
CONS: Difficulty setting seems either too hard or too easy. Handling settings a bit fiddly to set up. Sometimes the videos and commentary seem cheesy.