Need for Speed: Shift

With Gran Turismo still lacking a confirmed release date, pure racing games on PS3 are somewhat of a rarity. While Motorstorm has set the standard for offroad racing, Dirt and Grid have also carved out their own portion of the racing field, but there's been a noticeable absence of truly great racing games with that familiar Gran Turismo formula, featuring great racing, extensive car tuning and a wide variety of events to tackle. With Shift, the Need for Speed series leaves behind the street scene, with its trophy women and daft bling, favouring instead the purity of wheel-to-wheel competition on famous race circuits like Silverstone, Laguna Seca and Nordschleife. The resulting game isn't something that will make Gran Turismo 5 redundant, but it certainly provides GT gamers something interesting to test their racing skills with during the long wait for Polyphony Digital's next masterpiece.

Need for Speed: Shift

Much like Gran Turismo, Shift sees players start off with limited funds with which to buy their first car. From their, entry into the lower tiers of racing is permitted, and the idea is that gamers will build up funds with successful competition wins, challenge rivals for recognition on the circuit, buy faster cars and work their way up to the Need for Speed World Championships. Simple? Yes, in fact, much more so than a GT game. It's not that the racing is especially easy (the difficulty setting is adjustable, and it's no easier or harder than a GT game), it's just that you'll very quickly find yourself with a huge amount of funding and a wide range of massively powerful cars to choose from. Where as you'd spend tens of races in an underpowered banger in GT before even being able to afford significant upgrades, Need for Speed will have you sat in the cockpit of a fully-tuned Evo in less than a dozen two-lap races. It's clear that the game wants you to get on with the good stuff, but many will dislike the rapidity of initial progression, since there's no real chance to appreciate the gradual increase in speed. Before you know it, you're bombing around circuits in a Zonda, wondering where all the opposition went.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the rapid pace early on, the game is very rewarding to play, and the handling of the cars is solid and enjoyable. There are varying degrees of steering and braking assistance for beginners, and traction control for anybody not quite ready to take their racing to the top level. To help guide players in the right direction, a racing line (on by default, but configurable) is displayed on the road, colour coded to indicate areas of braking, acceleration or lifting. To encourage accurate driving, each major corner on a track is given a marker, which will be ticked when the player masters that particular corner. It's one of the more rewarding of a whole series of badges that players are tasked with collecting. Fuelling gamers' natural instinct to gather stuff, Need for Speed offers stars for winning races, and badges for completing challenges such as overtake targets, cornering performance and manufacturer loyalty (gained by driving set mileage totals in cars from particular continents). The end result, linked in with trophy collection, is an enjoyable set of targets to attain that will keep players occupied for easily twenty hours or more. If you go the full distance and try to star every event in every tier, and any special invitiational events along the way, the game will last longer still.

Need for Speed: Shift

The cars are nicely detailed and, as is traditional for any Need for Speed game, very shiny. Rims are of great importance here, and there are hundreds to choose from (possibly millions, but many won't go beyond the first menu screen), while other visual aspects of the car can also be altered, creating custom colours and logo layouts, and improving bodywork via tuning. The main focus will be on the car tuning though, with upgrades such as turbos, improved brakes, weight reduction and more all ready to be purchased, and tuning for most components an option (with gear ratios being of most importance). Sadly, and somewhat confusingly, the upgrades aren't available for cars in the highest tiers. Perhaps it makes sense that the real-life counterparts aren't actually upgradeable, but in the game, it's disappointing to reach the top tiers with your finely-tuned, perfectly-upgraded machine only to find that the next step is a ready meal with no upgrade potential. True, you can still tune the vehicles, but there's no scope for any upgrades to sculpt the vehicle as you see fit.

Tracks aren't as spectacular to behold as the Gran Turismo courses being previewed, but Need for Speed is the game that's here now, and it does a reasonable job to put on a good display. The marathon Nordshleife is lovingly recreated, and tracks such as London River, Ambush Canyon and Brands Hatch all look very nice, just not quite spectacular. Some of the lighting is pretty decent, with dazzling sunspot effects to irritate and impress gamers in equal measure. The crowds aren't two-dimensional cardboard cutouts either, though they do seem a little wonky. Occasionally you'll catch a replay with a spectator in full view that clearly has no idea where the race track is, let alone the vehicles on it. Still, it's better than it could be, and rounds off a racer that's certainly above average, if not quite the best the field has to offer.

Need for Speed: Shift

If Need for Speed offered more of everything: more polish, more cars, more upgrades, more tracks, more pixels and more attention to everything, then it'd mean people wouldn't have anything to look forward to in GT5's eventual release. What the game does offer is an excellent all-round racing experience that will keep racing fans happy for a good twenty hours. There will be those that aren't too keen on the arcade-simulator crossbreed handling, where Shift blurs the lines slightly between purist racing and arcade thrills, but for those that immerse themselves in the racing, there's plenty of fun events to take part in and some seriously snazzy cars (including the Bugatti Veyron) to race around in. If you find it cheap, it shouldn't be a regrettable purchase, but it won't be worth paying full price anywhere near the release of Gran Turismo 5.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Electronic Arts

Developer:

Slightly Mad Studios

Players:

1

Online:

2-8

Release:

2009-09-18

Trophies:

29

Review summary

Gameplay:

Decent handling and strong AI opposition

Graphics:

Reasonably polished and pretty; lacking fine detail

Sound:

Raging engine noises and inobtrusive music

Lastability:

Tonnes of events and challenges to take on

8.7

Supernova

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