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Firstly, I would like to make the comment that I downloaded this game for free from the Playstation Network Store (accessed via the Playstation 3 console) & I really wasn't expecting too much from this title. Shortly after beginning the game I began to change my mind.
Shift 2 knows what you want from a racing title so doesn't try too hard as far as story goes. It's the generic new driver working his way through the ranks up to the ultimate racing challenge in the FIA GT1 racing tourament. You get there by winning races in a total of 16 classes while each progression in the story is narrated by someone who is obviously important in the FIA Racing world but unless you are an avid fan of the sport you won't really recognise.
The unique system in Shift 2 Unleashed is allowing the player to do some test laps on the Suzuka Race Track while monitoring your overall driving ability. After this is completed automatic adjustments are made to improve the players chances of succeeding. The driving itself is simple enough, with the L2 controlling the break and R2 the accellerator. Settings are fully adjustable to suit any skill level.
The game comprises of 140 fully licensed cars all with different accessories and parts to fully customise each car to the player. Since release more cars have been available from the Playstation Network. All the makes you would expect are here, from the basic Golf to the high spec Bentley Continental.
Again Shift 2 doesn't rewrite the rule book as far as tracks are concerned. If you are a regular gamer and enjoy racing titles then you know what to expect. From the wonderful Brands Hatch to the legendary straights of the Monza GP, the emphasis here is on real tracks, real environments and giving people what they know.
This is game is very pretty to look at, although nothing in this department really sets it apart. The cars look great on the track, the scenery of the tracks look reasonable but you can never really get a great view due to the speed your travelling at.
Since playing I have been converted into a fan, this is far more of a "pick up & play" game than some rivals such as Gran Turismo which require time and effort to master. If you want some fun then this is a decent racing game that will keep you entertained. However, If you are looking for a real driving simulator then I recommend you check out Forza or the Gran Turismo series
The second Need For Speed title made by Slightly Mad Studios, Shift 2 seeks to improve upon the already impressive foundation introduced in Shift 1 - and it duly delivers. As an overall package, Shift 2 works beautifully - everything comes together so well, and it's a lot of fun as a result.
Shift 2's content is easily its strongest point - there is about 150 cars, which, in comparison to Forza and Gran Turismo is low, but then again, only the most desirable cars are in this game, all of them speed machines that you'll really want to drive. The track list is very, very impressive - over 35 tracks, most of which have multiple layouts, with real world classics such as Road America, Bathurst, the Nordschliefe, Spa Franco-champs.............the list goes on and on. This is all put into a lengthy career mode, where you rise from racing small hatchbacks to becoming a GT1 champion. There is a lot of freedom in the career - earning XP allows you to increase your driver level, which allows you to enter higher league races - and you earn XP very quickly in this game, so you're able to very quickly rise up through the ranks, and choose the events you want to compete in.
Visually and aurally, the game is fantastic. This game captures the sense of speed in motorsport better than any other racing game I've played. At times it can be absolutely terrifying - take the (somewhat exaggerated) motion blur, the bone-shattering sound, the new helmet cam (which constantly shakes and moves about, looking to apexes like a real racing driver), and night racing, put them all together, and you have an experience like no other.
There is only two real complaints I have with Shift 2 - first, the handling of the cars takes some getting used to. It's quite floaty, but nervous at the same time - it's not bad by any means, but it is very tricky at first. Once you do get used to it though, it doesn't detract from the fun at all. The second complaint is the collision detection, which is far too sensitive. The AI are quite aggressive in this game, which means banging wheels with them can be common - but even slight contact can send your car flying off into the nearest barrier. This can be very frustrating after a while.
Apart from those two issues though, I have to say I love this game, and if you're a sucker for speed, I fully recommend it.
From the earliest days of computers, I've always enjoyed racing games. Despite many improvements in graphics and sound, the superb Commodore 64 game Pitstop 2 from Epyx represents the zenith of the genre for me. It was an out-and-out racing game which rewarded skilful driving whilst introducing a small tactical element (the timing of pit stops to refuel and change tyres was critical) which added a surprising amount of dept to the turbo-charged fun.
Many modern racing games have lost sight of the fun element and are just so damn complicated, requiring the player to twiddle with tiny little settings to squeeze an extra percentage of performance out of their cars. This might be a realistic representation of motor racing but (for me), it's not a fun one: I just want to get in the car and race around tracks at ridiculous speeds.
Shift 2 Unleashed - part of the Need for Speed series - seems to recognise this and providing enough to satisfy those who like balls-out racing games, whilst also catering for those who like tinkering.
Right from the start, the game helps you just get racing, if that's what you want to do. You start off with a couple of practice laps and, depending on how well (or badly!) you do, the game will suggest some default settings that suit your driving style and ability. You can always go in later and change these settings to make the gamer easier or harder, but it's a good introduction to the game, ensuring that gamers of all abilities can enjoy it. From this point on, you can just start racing or start tinkering with your car to make it as fast and streamlined as possible.
If you are the type that likes to tinker, virtually every aspect of Shift 2 is customisable. As you earn money from racing, you can upgrade your car or buy a different model, alter the way the brakes or steering operates and so on. If you're so inclined, I'm led to believe that you can spend hours changing almost anything you can think of in order to make your car more efficient.
I say "I'm led to believe" because (if you haven't guessed by now) this is not really my cup of tea. It doesn't matter though because unlike Gran Turismo (where tweaking is an essential part of the game), you can just accept the default settings start racing and (apart from upgrading your car/parts) can ignore this side of things and just concentrate on having fun.
Graphics for Shift 2 might not push the PS3 to its limits, but they do their job. Presentation screens are well laid out and simple to navigate, whilst in-game graphics on the whole are very good. They are occasionally a little blocky (the people standing around on the starting grid at the beginning of the race look a little odd), but the cars and tracks look great, with a lot of nice little touches (brake lights on the cars in front light up as they slow down for corners) that really add to the atmosphere.
Crucially, there is a real illusion of speed. Trackside scenery and obstacles hurtle past and there is a real difference (as there should be!) between travelling at, say 60km/h and 130. The graphics don't suffer from any slowdown and everything looks fantastic as it whizzes by. True, the high speed nature of the game means it can sometimes be a little tricky to work out the lie of the road ahead, but this just adds to the game's realism. You'll often find you need several attempts at a track, gradually memorising its bends, before you come close to winning a race, but this is all part of the challenge and the learning curve is generally well balanced.
Sound is a little more disappointing. In-game speech is good and very clear, but nothing to really get excited about, whilst the songs that accompany each track are slightly repetitive and bland. The real disappointment, though, is the in-game effects, which are really limited. The throbbing, roaring sound of your engine is superb and sounds great and really makes you feel as though you are in charge of a powerful car. Sadly, apart from the vague cheering of the crowd or the occasional chatter of instructions over your radio, there's not much else.
One thing the game is not lacking is a long term challenge. There are dozens of tracks from across the world and competitions at several different skill levels for you to master. To progress, you need to get a podium finish in each race - often more difficult than it sounds and some tracks take a lot of practice. Each track also has additional challenges (such as lead for an entire lap or go through a whole race without any collisions), so even when you get a podium finish, there is still something to aim for. Thrown in online gaming (which I've not played, so can't comment on) and you have a title that will keep you entertained for many, many hours. The fact that you can just get in a car and start racing means that this is a game you will keep coming back to, to see if you can beat best lap times and so on and because it's just so much fun!
It's a real pity that there's no split screen two-player mode. Yes, you can play against up to 16 other players via a network, but racing against an opponent sitting in the same room as you is always better. There's nothing more satisfying than gradually catching up with a real-world opponent and racing past them laughing as you do so - doing that over a network is just not the same!
The single biggest issue that will determine whether you love or hate this game are the controls. The actual basic controls are pretty straightforward, but the handling of the car takes a little bit of getting used to. Although it Shift 2 remembers to be fun, it's not an arcade racer where you can hurl your car around corners at 200km/h and expect to emerge the other side unscathed. Take a corner too quickly, and you will smash into a barrier, leading to poor lap times and race positions. Too much speed can also cause your car to fishtail wildly, making it difficult to control and costing you precious seconds.
It's true that the controls initially feel incredibly twitchy and mastering them can take a bit of practice. Move the joystick just a fraction and it seems as though your car is veering wildly out of control. Indeed, on your first few games, it feels like a major achievement just to drive a few feet in a straight line, let alone take a corner successfully. The sensitive controls are a real issue in the short term. It took me a good few games before I began to feel comfortable with them, and even longer before I felt close to mastering them. This is seriously going to dampen some people's enthusiasm, and is a major potential stumbling block. With practice, you will actually find the controls give you an incredible amount of control over your car (particularly if you tweak the settings to suit your style), but a lot of people are likely to give up on the game before they ever reach this stage.
There's no getting away from the fact that your enjoyment Shift 2 Unleashed is going to boil down to the controls. If you can master these, then it's a cracking racing game that offers a massive long term challenge and lots of depth; an excellent balance between an out and out racer and a racing simulation. If you're not prepared to spend some time getting used to the twitchy controls, all you will see is an unplayable, uncontrollable game that looks good but plays like a drunken donkey on roller skates.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012