WHILE MOST RACING SERIES seem to be heading in a more mainstream direction with each successive release, it’s surprising and refreshing to see one of the more arcade-style franchises taking a step in the other direction. EA’s new Need For Speed strategy will see the franchise branch into three sub-genres – arcade, action and authentic racing – with SHIFT covering the ‘authentic racing‘ sector (EA is shying away from calling it a ‘simulation’ style racer).
This game puts a lot of emphasis on the ‘driver’, defaulting to a first-person perspective where you’ll view the race from behind the wheel (you can opt to use a more traditional, external view if you wish, but I recommend sticking to the firstperson driver perspective). The intention is to accurately reproduce the intensity that a real driver experiences behind the wheel of a high-powered race car, and the decision is an absolute triumph. After a particularly nasty crash, your perspective will shake around accordingly and your vision will blur temporarily from the shock. The more you crash, the more your windscreen will crack and obscure your view. It feels less like you’re controlling a car and more like you’re controlling a driver.
The racing mechanics are particularly intuitive for an authentic-style racer. The first thing you’ll do upon booting the game up is race a practice lap, which will ascertain your perceived skill level and set the difficulty, steering assist and damage settings accordingly. It’s also easier to learn how to take corners, with the colour of the racing line as you approach bends indicating whether you’re going too fast, which is a nice touch for novice racers. Of course, advanced racers can alter these settings.
In the vein of the Project Gotham Racing series, there are a variety of event types beyond simple races. You can also earn points in certain events for pulling off particular ‘manoeuvres’ throughout a race, such as ‘trading paint’, ‘dirty overtakes’ and ‘drafting’. You’ll need to reach various in-game achievements for certain tracks in order to earn ‘stars’, with a certain number of stars giving you access to another tier of events, tracks and challenges. Race types include Driver Duel (a head-to-head competition between drivers of different makes of cars – Holden vs. Ford anyone?), Manufacturer Races (where each driver is provided with the same make and model of car), and Drift events among many more.
Although there may not be as many licensed cars on offer as with other ‘authentic’ style racers (with the upcoming Gran Turismo 5 boasting a reported 1000+), Need For Speed SHIFT still offers over 65. These include the likes of the Pagani Zonda R, BMW M3 GT2, and the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. So there’s plenty on offer for true car buffs to unlock and race with.
The game’s photorealistic visuals are, in a word, stunning, and the attention to detail to both the internal and external environments adds layers to the game’s immersive qualities. It’s the closest you’ll get to feeling like you’re inside a car without actually being in one. And, more than ever, you’ll want to watch the replays in Need For Speed SHIFT, the beautiful visuals turning even the most mundane race into a spectacle to behold.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check out the multiplayer component with this pre-release copy, but the typical ranked, unranked, quick match and custom match options are all represented here. And finally, your online friends’ best-lap times will be displayed for each track, with a green light indicating that you own that track, or a red light indicating that one of your friends does.
Need For Speed SHIFT has seemingly come out of nowhere to position itself as quite possibly the best racer I’ve ever played. With so much buzz around the likes of Forza Motorsport 3, DiRT 2 and Gran Turismo 5, Need For Speed SHIFT could well prove to be the surprise racing sleeper hit in the coming months.