Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Need for Speed: Shift (Playstation 3)

EA's long-running Need for Speed series takes another detour with the release of Shift. The latest edition drops the underground vibe of the last few years and replaces it with a more simulation-oriented approach. There are still vestiges of the old games with an impressive array of high-end sports cars available to race and some drift competitions. However, the main thrust this time around seems to be realism and authenticity. A sophisticated racing engine delivers high-octane visuals with an impressive cockpit viewpoint that puts you right into the action. The biggest question is whether NFS: Shift's new approach brings new thrills to the genre or if it ends up as another me-too racer.

The most immediately striking thing those who've followed Need for Speed over the years will likely notice about Shift is its streamlined, more serious approach to driving. Gone is the faux-underground feel that drove the previous games, replaced by a sober feel and style that makes things feel more serious almost from the get go. You'll still have an impressive garage filled with high-end sports cars eventually, but this time around, you have to work for it. Eventually, you'll be able to race vehicles from manufacturers including BMW, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Chrysler, Aston Martin, Lambroghini, and Nissan to name a few. There are dozens of vehicles available in Shift that you can unlock. Races take place on numerous real-world tracks and locations including tracks in Germany, London, Tokyo and more. There's a good mix between standard racing tracks, street courses and more open sections. Layouts vary as well, with more challenging technical courses mixed with standard ovals. This lends NFS: Shift an impressive amount of depth and helps to keep the challenge level high throughout. However, all of this comes later on. You begin at the bottom of the rankings with some rather underpowered vehicles that you can test around a limited number of tracks. You'll notice that they are a bit more realistic in terms of their responsiveness and handling. A great deal of time is spent going over driving techniques and technical maneuvers, and it takes some time getting used to the realistic physics. Each vehicle has its own style and handling so you need to understand their strengths and limitations. Learning to master corners, drifting and passing will take some time, but once you get the hang of things, the gameplay is quite smooth. Unlike earlier NFS titles, precision is required and the game will penalize or even disqualify you if you spin off the track more than two times per round, you can't cut corners and cheat your way to victory. This makes for a much harder racing experience, but the added challenge gives the game a simulation depth that increases the level of satisfaction. As you build up your skills in Shift, you'll find that the game offers a fairly interesting system of progression that challenges you every step of the way.

As you build up your skills and experience, you'll earn better vehicles that allow you to show off your abilities. However, you'll face off against harder AI opponents, so your skills will be tested as you move up the tiers. There are five tiers in all and each one consists of several different events. These include standard races, where you have to finish on the line first, time attack races, where you have to compete in several laps to perform the best time. There are also multiple race events where you need to persist in a series of course with the accumulated score allowing you to win a bigger prize along the end. There are also drift modes, where your score is based on how well you drift and more. Finally, you can compete in one-on-one races against a single vehicle in Duel Mode. These are usually manufacturer-specific and have you race two laps, one with you beginning with a small lead and the other where you need to catch up to a competitor. Alongside these standard racing modes, you'll also compete in manufacturer and region specific races where you're given specific vehicles to race and compete against opponents in the same class. One of the more important aspects of the game is the ability to tune and customize your vehicle. You can set up a variety of parameters before each race to maximize your performance on the track, or go with the default configurations if you're eager to get into the action. You can also buy numerous parts that allow you to enhance performance as well. NFS: Shift also lets you add your own style to your vehicle with different paints, liveries and decals plus rims and other optional equipment, all of which lets you take your own individual machine on the road.

The controls are fairly easy to learn and the game does well with either the standard dual shock or digital d-pad interfaces. Acceleration and braking are fairly straightforward, it's the turning and drifting that should challenge players. Knowing when to push the pedal down and when to let up is critical, timing your brakes so you don't spin out makes a huge difference. The most difficult skill to learn is drifting which takes timing, speed and agility to master, or you'll find yourself spinning out again and again. As in most sim titles, the key to eventual mastery is timing and precision, which is ranked as you play through. Learning the basics will take time but it helps to know the nuances of each vehicle. Familiarizing yourself with their quirks matters because each vehicle performs accurately in comparison to its real-world counterpart. The controls are very precise and each vehicle has a lot of weight to it. Handling and cornering can be tricky early on, though if you perform upgrades, they generally improve a great deal. You need to be careful to avoid crashing since you take significant damage when you collide with opponents and walls. This can impact the cockpit view by obscuring your line of sight with cracked windshields and slight decreases in performance. The damage system is largely superficial otherwise and doesn't impact performance too much, except to hurt your lap times, which can change your finishing position dramatically.

One of the more interesting aspects of Shift is its reward systems, which are divided into three main categories. The first of these is a Driver Profile system, where the game rewards you with points as you go along. This is a fairly interesting idea that works well within Shift's context, and gives the game a kind of roleplaying element. While you race along the tracks, your accuracy and aggression are tracked, which gives you the ability to earn badges and unlock Driver levels. As you increase your driver level, you'll earn rewards such as cash and extra slots for your garage that you can use to store additional vehicles. During each race, you're also able to earn Stars which are these second main reward. Stars are awards that can be given for earning a set level of Driver points or completing a sub-task such as staying on the course marker, performing clean sections or drifting successfully. You also earn stats for placing on the podium after each race, and they're fairly easy to obtain, and you can quickly use to unlock items. Adding more stars lets you unlock additional events and tiers, which you can then race provided your vehicle meets the specifications for that event or series. Finally, you'll earn loads of cash along the way. This is important since it lets you purchase vehicles and upgrades in your garage. Conistently spending your money to upgrade you vehicles adds to the game's variety and these upgrades are essential if you want to create a competitive vehicle. Upgrading your vehicle engine, brakes, wheels and tires increases performance significantly and you'll notice how much easier it is to overtake, steer and win if you perform these upgrades before and after a race.

While earlier NFS titles were more arcade-oriented, Shifts increased realism makes for much more impressive visual heft. From a presentation standpoint, the game looks amazing slick with accurate reproductions of each vehicle, which is especially apparent in the cockpit viewpoint, which makes you feel like you're sitting right inside the vehicle. Individual elements from the steering wheel to the gears and indicators give you a heightened sense of realism inside. For players who want a simpler perspective on the action, behind the car and first person camera angles are also available. These allow you to have a better peripheral vision, and help you anticipate curves and turns before they happen. Looking out at the track showcases a great attention to detail as well, with each track showing an impressive sense of realism and authenticity. Objects at the side of the tracks are very nicely scaled and the other vehicles look and respond accurately as well. The game moves along at a consistent frame rate throughout, and the sense of velocity you attain when you reach the higher speeds makes for a viscerally exciting racing title. Giving the game more punch are its crashes, which not only cause a massive amount of damage to your vehicles, in the form of broken windows and crumpled bodies, also cause the screen to black out for a few moments, giving Shift's damage a concussive blow. It's highly polished and realistic visuals are complimented by excellent sound effects, whether it's the roar of engines, skidding tires or massive crashes, the audio in Shift definitely brings the noise and thunderous cacophony of intense real world races to life. Add in commentary by your mentor throughout the game and you have a game with impressive visuals and visceral sampled sound effects that immerses you into its action effectively.

Despite the many good points in Shift, there are a few problems that nag along the way. While the game is generally slickly produced, the on-screen display is difficult to use, and the use of a white font makes the numbers vanish onto the screen. The size is also a bit too small, which further decreases the legibility. Shift's online component is fairly rudimentary as well, and doesn't offer the breadth or variety you'd expect considering how much effort went into the rest of the game. Finally, the minimal soundtrack makes things feel a bit too empty at points, and even some background beats here and there would have been appreciated. That said, these are comparatively minor flaws for a title that otherwise delivers a solid racing experience. Some players will probably miss the cops and robbers parts of the previous games, but most will probably love the new simulation style of racing. It delivers some visceral thrills in parts, but the precision racing, realistic car models and challenging AI makes Need for Speed Shift an intense experience. Its frequent upgrade and reward path allows you to consistently unlock additional tracks, vehicles and challenges and makes the game open up very quickly. Solid controls and excellent responsiveness help to create an exciting simulation title that, while not quite reaching the heights of Grid, Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo, point the series in a promising new direction.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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