|System: X360, PS3, PC, PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Slightly Mad||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 15, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1 (8 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
The Need for Speed franchise has been a staple in the automotive genre for almost a decade. However, the series seemed to peak during its PlayStation 2 era. While current generation offerings have certainly been competent, many fans wanted change from the series. After last year's dismally received Need for Speed: Undercover, it was clear that the old formula was getting stale, and EA wisely went back to the drawing board. The result is Need for Speed: Shift, which appropriately enough, represents quite a shift for the series itself. While NFS has historically featured very speed-intensive arcade-style controls, Shift adds realistic sim-style controls to the mix, but it doesn't quite go all the way with them, which is actually a good thing.
While series like Forza and Gran Turismo have a far-reaching reputation for appealing to the most hardcore of simulation enthusiasts, Need for Speed has always prided itself on being very accessible. Need for Speed's challenge then would be to make simulation racing accessible to a wide audience by not abandoning its arcade heritage. But how do you reconcile the two? Well, in the case of Need for Speed: Shift, you start with an arcade base and then add scalable simulation elements.
When you first start the game, you'll have to drive through a test lap. This test lap has plenty of sharp turns and obstacles, and the goal is for the game to see how you handle the new simulation-style controls. If you veer off the road a lot or experience some spinning out, the game will recommend an easy control setting, which features plenty of driving assists and some eased turn mechanics. However, if you are a master of the S-curve and don't have any problems keeping your vehicle in control through drifts, swerves, and obstacles, then the game will recommend an advanced setting, which takes all the training wheels off. Though the advanced setting isn't as hardcore as some of the other simulation franchises out there, it does a good job of lending a tinge of credibility to the game's otherwise take-no-prisoners approach.
However, even on the most advanced setting, Need for Speed: Shift still stays true to its identity. There are still plenty of crazy acceleration elements, and you can certainly push most cars past normal mechanical limits. Most cars also have a nitro boost that can be added on if you so desire. However, if you are really digging the sim mechanics, the nitro boost doesn't have to be activated. In addition to the acceleration and boost areas, NFS: Shift also takes an arcade approach to collisions, which can be set to various damage levels, but won't take you out of the race completely.
Its not an exaggeration to say that NFS: Shift is the best hybridization of simulation and arcade styles I have ever seen. The game perfectly balances the two and actually enhances both genres. Though sim-style racing certainly encourages players to be precise, you don't really get the thrill of acceleration and rapid position changes. Conversely, arcade style games provide plenty of thrills, but lack the dedication and precision you need for a sim-style race. However, in NFS: Shift you are able to experience all of these elements (to a varying degree, again depending on the difficulty, driving level, and driving assists enabled), and you can really customize the experience to tailor the game to your individual driving style.
Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the game's level system. Much like an RPG, NFS: Shift awards experience points to you during a race based on how you drive during the race. If you stay on the race lines, turn corners with ease, and pass other vehicles without incident, you'll get points for being a precision driver. However, if you take hard turns, slam other cars as you overtake them, and trade paint to get ahead, then you'll get points for being an aggressive driver. After each race, you'll be able to see how precise or aggressive your driving style is, and the game will award you a badge depending on your overall points for either precision or aggression. Though both types of points count toward your overall driving level (which unlocks extra cars and design features), whichever tally is in the lead will determine your badge design and what in-game awards you are eligible for.
While the game's RPG-like leveling system certainly is interesting, it is unfortunately a little too easy to master. Once you reach driving level 50, you are considered to be "maxed out" and you won't be able to progress any further. This level cap is fairly low, especially for hardcore automotive players who may put hundreds of hours into finishing their garage and fine-tuning their vehicles. While I am sure that this sect of automotive enthusiast will still enjoy the game's 70+ cars, it would have been nice if there were was an advanced leveling system in place so they could get rewards for advanced driving accomplishments along the way.