Need for Speed: SHIFT Xbox 360 Review

May 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

EA’s Need for Speed series has been predictable in recent years, utilising the underground street racing culture, though ProStreet (released in 2007) did try and take the series in a different direction. It can’t have been good enough as a circuit racer, though, as I yearned the series to return to what I thought it did best: outrunning the police and weaving in and out of traffic.

Need for Speed: SHIFT, the latest game in the series, actually has the very same mindset of ProStreet, taking you from the streets and back on to the legal racetrack. It’s no longer developed by EA Blackbox though, instead an experienced team of racing game developers (Slightly Mad Studios) have been enlisted in an effort to put the series through an evolution.

The results are startling. The game has a very slick appearance, the handling is more sophisticated and actually requires you to slow down well in advance of any big corner (a racing line visual aid is a nice reminder), but the game also has a tinge of arcade, thus, like Burnout, forcing opponents off the track isn’t frowned up on, and doing so actually rewards you with points.

Before sinking your teeth into the career mode, you’ll be given a lap and an empty track to test out your skills. How well you do in this Trial of Fire lap will determine the suggestions for what assists you should have turned on, which is a nice idea, though you don’t necessarily need to listen to what your console tells you to do, and many a gamer will experiment with the options until they find something that makes them feel comfortable behind the wheel. There’s brake and steering assists and traction control, though I personally found the brake assist more a hindrance than a help, automatically putting the brakes on far too early (even on its lowest setting) when approaching a corner: it’s certainly an option you’ll want turned off if you are aiming to drive your motors around the tracks as fast as possible. For the more valiant amongst us, it’s possible to turn everything off, putting full control of the vehicles in your hands, though this shows off a rather sensitive and unpredictable driving model, you’ll therefore have to be patient if you want to tame the fastest of super cars.

SHIFT has a sizeable career mode that has you working your way up through five tiers, obviously with the cars getting faster and the events increasing in difficulty as you progress. It goes without saying that you’ll need a car or two, and the models you can purchase are determined by the current stage of your career, so obviously if you’re on tier 1 you aren’t going to be able to jump in and purchase a fast tier 4 super car. In a nice touch, though, you’re still able to get to race superior cars to your current purchase picks, as the manufacturers are kind enough to borrow them to you. It’s a nice manner in which to preview what to expect in the later tiers.

Your own cars (there’s 72 of them, ranging from the relatively slow to the super fast) can be upgraded, tuned and customised. In these areas, the game has plenty of options, although you’ll need the cash in order to treat your car to some shiny rims or to purchase a stage 3 turbo, and obviously you’ll only make serious money if you regularly place well at the end of races.

Progressing through the career is achieved by accumulating stars, which unlocks new events and tiers. Stars come your way by completing set objectives during races: these range from spinning a certain number of opponents out (see, I told you that the game encouraged dirty racing), getting a required amount of profile points (stay with me, I’ll mention this soon), beating lap times, mastering corners (getting around them in an ideal manner and at a good speed), and, of course, finishing a race on the podium, amongst other things.

So, those profile points? Well, basically you’re going to be either a driver of great precision, or you’re going to be a dirty cheat, and whichever one is determined by your actions whilst out on the racetrack. For example, a precision driver doesn’t bully his opponents, passing them without swapping flakes of paint, they’re also willing to follow the racing line and tackle corners masterly, aggressive drivers on the other hand force opponents off the track, sit in their slipstreams, slide around corners and rudely block any overtake attempts. During the racing, these actions will earn you profile points and depending on the manner in which you’re driving, you’ll be awarded the title of precision or aggressive, and points will also be added to your driver profile, in which levelling up (all the way up to level 50) will unlock rewards.

There’s also a fair few events over the course of the career, as well. Alongside the standard racing, there’s also Drift, Time Attack, Hot Lap, Elimination, and Car Battle events. For the drifting, there’s purchasable specialist cars, though they seemingly like spinning out here for no real reason, making these events both fiddly and frustrating. Time Attack has you aiming to record the best laps (don’t even think about corner cutting, the current lap time will be made redundant and repeating this cheating and lazy move will eventually get you disqualified) whilst your opponents attempt to do the same thing, and are on the track at the same time. Hot Lap is meanwhile just you, your car and the track, and you‘re once again against the clock, and Elimination has the driver in last position being eliminated at the end of every lap until there’s only one driver remaining (hopefully, that will always be yourself). Finally, the Car Battles pit you against a single opponent, the objective being to get to the finish line in first or to get a clear gap of five seconds ahead. It’s all thrilling stuff.

Now, how about the actual racing? There’s much to like here, namely the superb sense of speed, the lovely interior view and a good selection of tracks (a mix of real life and fictional, amongst them is the likes of Laguna Seca, Brands Hatch, Road America and Silverstone). SHIFT is up there with one of the fastest racers I’ve played, it’s graphically slick and when I got the keys to a super car and hit one of the long straights for the first time I was amazed at the smoothness and sense of speed relayed from the TV to myself, it’s absolutely thrilling when it really gets going. The interior view wonderfully conveys this feeling of speed, with the inside of the car shaking about and the dashboard and mirrors blurring out of focus as the speed picks up, whilst the crashes lead to disorientating effects, only returning to normal when you come to your senses after a few seconds. Moving on to another portion but staying with the racing, the AI opponents are pretty good and do actually appear to be fighting for position, and are very much prone to making mistakes, as well.

Online, you can make money and level up your driver profile. The great thing is that it’s clever enough to match you up with likeminded individuals, meaning if you’re a driver of great precision you aren’t going to be matched up with a load of aggressive bullies. But, more importantly, the game is very smooth online and you can play standard races, as well as Car Battles against single opponents, oh and corner cutters are penalised by being slowed down for a few seconds, which discourages idiot cheats from using this to their advantage.

I’ve already mentioned the overly sensitive handling and the drifting events, but also to add to the flaws are the loading times between races, which are rather lengthy. Also, the car damage and crash physics are a little underwhelming, certainly in comparison to something like the recent DiRT 2, which is superb in the amount of parts that can fall off and deform.

But problems aside, Need for Speed: SHIFT does a lot of things right. Assists can help the less capable of drivers, and reaching top speeds really does render the game an absolute thrill ride, making super cars feel like they are actually powered by beastly engines. It’s an exciting direction for the series, and one that makes it feel fresh and a real mark of confidence as a new beginning for EA’s popular franchise.