Monday, October 5, 2009

Need For Speed Shift: This Game Races Past All Other Racing Sims.

In a way, writing a review for Need For Speed Shift is probably the easiest review I am ever going to review.  When you find a game that you absolutely love, telling what you like about it should be easy.  And believe me, I absolutely love this game.  Since getting it last Tuesday, I don't know how many racing miles I've logged, but I do no that it is a lot.  Like a great book, NFSS is hard to put down, and you end up staying way past your bed time.


On the other hand, I can see where writing a review for this instant classic is going to be hard.  Why?  Simple.  It is so good that I am afraid that I will find it to hard to pick the correct superlatives for this game.  And, if I do, you the reader, will think I'm overstating the entertainment value of this game or that I have some connection with Electronic Arts that impels me to write a positive review.  I can assure you that neither is the case.  (If I did have one though, I sure wouldn't knock it.  EA, are you listening?)  Just kidding.

I first heard about Need For Speed Shift on the Internet, probably at or some other gaming website, exactly when or where, I don't remember.  I do remember that it was early in the summer and have been looking forward to it ever since.


I am a big fan of racing games  I have played a lot of them over the years and generally have enjoyed most of them to some degree, rarely actually hating a race game, even when I could seemingly get nowhere with the game because of an AI program that sought only to kick your butt.  By the way, in a unique way, I think, EA has managed to create a tough AI that you don't even mind all that much.  More on this later.

May3_Screens_0003 Here are some of the key features of NFS Shift:

- True Driver’s Experience – A variety of visual cues delivers the true driver’s experience including a three-dimensional HUD that mimics driver head movement, inertia and G-forces. The depth of field also adjusts based on the speed of the car; so when the car is traveling at high speeds the perspective will shift to the distance putting the car/cockpit out of focus.

- Driver Profile – What kind of driver are you? Driver profile tracks the player’s evolution as a race driver from event to event. This system is made up of a driver’s personality on the track, their success rate and any profile points and badges accrued all of which work together to create a tailor-made career and game play experience. Driver profile is pervasive throughout all modes: career and online.

- Dynamic Crash Effect - When the player hits a static object or opponent car, the player will feel like they are 'taking damage'. A combination of visual and audio effects will leave the player disorientated and briefly disrupt the race.

- Total Customization – Need for Speed SHIFT features a comprehensive customization option that lets the player tailor every aspect of the cars performance and styling. Go under the hood to upgrade and tune your vehicle to increase its performance. The visual customization system allows players to personalize both the exterior and trick out the interior to reflect their individual style and preferences.

- Photo Real Cars and Tracks – Nearly 70 licensed cars are available including the Pagani Zonda F, Audi RS4, and Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. There is also over 15 real-world locations like Willow Springs and Laguna Seca as well as fictional circuits like downtown London and Tokyo.

May3_Screens_0005 So, first of all, I should tell you about the graphics.  After all, isn't that the first thing everyone notices about any game?   From the very first videos that introduce the game to the first race you attempt, the images that you see in Shift are simply mind boggling.  The backgrounds are recreated in painstaking detail, so much so, that as I raced along the course, I actually felt like I was zooming past real objects, including the trees that are so vivid that they almost seem real.   This game is like a total immersion experience where your mind actually believes you are zooming down that race track.  The cars are so lifelike that you would swear you are watching an actual race rather than playing a game.  What is really cool though, is the damage that is inflicted on your car as you meet with numerous wall and vehicle collisions during your journey to master the roads and complete the challenges.  From watching your hood rip itself off of the vehicle to the cracks in your windshield on hard impacts, you would swear you are seeing something out of a demolition derby.  It makes for great fun.

The game gets started by letting you choose from either Career Play, Quick Play, and Online Play.  In my case online play would be XBox 360 Live.  In Quick Play, of course you go straight to picking a track and a car, but no records are kept.  And in Career Play, you start out on a journey to become the ultimate racer, a challenge that no one ever said would be easy.   This review deals mostly with the Career Play, since that is what I started playing first and have spent the most time doing.


 May3_Screens_0008On the first stage of your career path, you race long enough for the computer to analyze your level of playing.  After you complete the first race it will make suggestions as to what level of play is best for you.  It is up to you to decide whether or not you want to accept these settings.  For entertainment purposes and to see if the AI was correct, I went with their suggestions.  By not forcing you to accept these settings though,  it was one of the first things I liked about the game.  I didn't want to be forced into a method of game play that I wasn't comfortable with.


So, how is the gameplay?


First, let me make the suggestion that while racing you do so in the view that you are in the cockpit of the car.  You will soon see that this gives you the actual feel of being in a real race.  Using the third camera view where you are watching from just behind your car is the norm for most race games.  The cockpit driving sets Need For Speed apart from the also rans and will just overwhelm you with the experience of playing this way.  Plus, at least in my case, it seemed like  I was a better driver in this mode.


Slightly Mad, who developed the game, has made it easy for newcomers to play by keeping the controls in an arcade mode, and the result is that you are essentially given a racing experience that is extremely close to the real thing in terms of presentation but is a much easier entryway into the game than the likes of say,  Gran Turismo.


So often with video games, and especially true with racing sims, is that at first the game is so hard and it takes seemingly forever to master the controls and get anywhere on the career path.  So what do you do?  It seems like you end up just spending most of your playing time on a quick play option and never get to enjoy the thrill of monitoring your improvement on the career path, and you wind up with nothing to show for your effort.  This isn't the case with Need For Speed Shift.


During the race you earn points based on your driving precision and also on aggression.  As these points add up your driving level increases, eventually unlocking medals, bonus races, and also new tracks.  Your ultimate aim however, is to earn five stars on each track.  The first two stars seem to come relatively easily, even if your performance is under-whelming, while the final three stars are awarded when you make it to the podium for being one of the top three finishers.  The video above is one of the bonus rounds.


This game will have your adrenaline rushing and your heart pumping with the intensity of each race that you compete in.  It is a full throttle rush of fun and energy that may even leave you breathless as you zoom across the finish line.

Incidentally, the background music played during replays of your race or while looking at your statistics is nothing to sneeze at.  I have no idea who the artists are or the titles of the songs, but they provide the perfect touch to a game that is without a doubt the best racing game that I have ever played.

And with that being said, we go to our blog-o-rama blog-o-meter and for the first time in our three year history, award Need For Speed Shift a perfect 10.0 out of 10.0.  Take my word it. Rush out and get this game.  If you don't want to take my word for it, visit NeedForSpeed.Com and find out how you can play the demo on your PC, Xbox Live, or Playstation 3.

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