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Review: SHIFT 2: Unleashed

08 Apr 11

Website: Official site

Genre: Racing Simulation

Classification:  G - suitable for general audiences

Platforms: PS3 (version tested), Xbox 360, PC

Survival horror may be all the rage these days, but it isn’t everyday that a racing simulation comes along trying to scare the pants off you. In fact, the developer’s name – Slightly Mad Studios – may hold a not-so-subtle hint of what’s in store. Following hot on the heels of the hugely popular Need for Speed SHIFT comes SHIFT 2: Unleashed. Published by EA and developed by those slightly mad guys, this latest offering aims to drop the arcade orientated heritage of the Need for Speed series –  hence the slight change in name from the original – and deliver an experience that captures the true meaning of what real racing is all about. 

The vital stats of this new title can be considered fairly standard these days: With over 130 accurately modelled cars by 37 manufacturers, a mixture of 35-plus real and fictional tracks, and three times as many track layout variations, the content certainly won’t let you down. Throw in a beautifully rendered real-world environment and immersive sounds, and you won’t feel as though you are back in the ‘90s playing Super Mario Kart on your SNES. None of these, however, are inherently new features, and rival titles such as Gran Turismo 5 and Forza Motorsport 3 can easily claim superiority in that department. 

Slightly Mad Studios, to its credit, has tried to take the quality-over-quantity approach, crafting a title that aims to immerse the player in all the petrol fumes one can handle. Admirably, the studio’s done so without overwhelming the experience by cramming in overambitious content that fails to deliver. Instead, the intention is that the entire experience is challenging and rewarding from when the lights go out to the chequered flag.

So does it deliver? It’s not often it can be said that a title’s strengths also highlight its weaknesses. So, in that sense, the results are mixed. 

The heralded "Helmet Cam” vantage point is certainly impressive. The cocooned view through your helmet visor reminds you that this isn’t a Sunday-morning drive. As you hurtle towards each corner, the camera pans towards the apex, challenging you to hit it cleanly. Get it wrong and the whole screen blurs, shakes, and the colour bleeds out;  you’ll feel every bump, grind and bruise that comes with metal smashing against metal at 200mph. Throw in some further challenges like night-time driving and you are left with an experience that can be downright terrifying. 

However, at the same time, the cars feel skittish and, at times, almost uncontrollable without all the driving aids turned on. The other cars around you don’t seem to realise you are there, and through no fault of your own, you’ll hit the dirt following a less-than-polite shunt from behind. It’s frustrating, but if afforded a few hundred hours of practice, these beasts can be tamed. You do, however, feel challenged to rein it in, and in many ways, that is to be respected.  

Is there a new story? No, not really. Start at the bottom, try different events and formats (from straight races, drift events, retro challenges and time trials), earn more experience points and make it to the top. Along the way, earn enough money to purchase new cars and customise your existing ones. Is it enough? Yes and no. It doesn’t overwhelm, it’s simple, and it works. However, an absorbing storyline may have given it an edge.  

Behind the wheel, it is just you and your machine. The racing world, however, is a community. Autolog, which made its first appearance in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, makes an appearance in the SHIFT series for the first time. It is a social-networking community built into the game. Every in-game achievement and action can be shared with the SHIFT 2: Unleashed community, making the game a living environment that allows you to meet friends and challenge them for supremacy. It is probably the game’s most powerful feature. However, if you are not inclined to get involved with the online community, the experience may become stale quite quickly. 

If racing fans in this part of the world require just one reason to get their hands on this title, here’s one word for you: Bathurst! The iconic Mount Panorama circuit is beautifully recreated in all its glory. Experience the thrill of climbing the great mountain and speeding along Conrod Straight. However, the developer may have missed a trick here; the chance of a rogue kangaroo hopping across your headlights on a night run up the mountain may have provided the additional heart-pounding tenseness that would have made even the giant alligator in Resident Evil 2 concede defeat.  

For all its inconsistencies and rough edges, though, SHIFT 2: Unleashed does manage to achieve what it sets out to do. Racing purists will argue that it does not provide the accurate simulation of racing physics that other titles such as GT5 or Forza 3 manage. They may be right. But where SHIFT 2: Unleashed wins is that it taps into the feeling of what it means to be a true racer – the raw excitement, fear and insanity of it all – and the squeal of tyres screaming out that you are one mistake away from an inferno. This is what racing is all about. This is what you want when you feel that need for speed.  

Graphics: 9.0

Sound: 9.0

Gameplay: 8.0

Lasting Appeal: 8.0

Overall Score: 8.5

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