Need For Speed: Shift
Developer: Black Box
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1, 2-8 online
Words By:

And so Need For Speed’s identity crisis goes on, the only thing the games in the series seem to have in common are fast cars and mediocre review scores. What was once EA’s premiere racer has tried to dook it out with Midnight Club and Project Gotham as a street racer, and two years ago went kind of “Racedriver: Gran Forzmo” with Pro Street which had no cops, no car chases, just fast cars and races, mostly on closed road circuits. Last year NFS went Undercover as you played a cop infiltrating a car smuggling gang in a HUGE free-roaming map. But despite the size of the play area and and expensive real time movie back story it turned out to be one of the famous franchise’s lowest points for many years. This year Shift seems to be trying to the Gran Turismo/Forza/ Racedriver thing again with another stab at the serious racer, encompassing a “career” and all the spares, upgrades, tuning and tweaking anyone can stand, but they couldn’t leave the street racer heritage completely behind, so nitrous boost is an option on many of the cars.

First off I have to say this isn’t one of EA’s better presented games; the menus when compared to the recent DiRT 2 are clunky and slow to use, and the loading times seem sluggish too, with several of the other Gamecell guys commenting on the time it takes to enter a race from the setup screen (25-65 seconds). You don’t have to use them, but the tuning and upgrades departments are easy to use, and can be made complex or simplified by using your “race engineer” to offer presets. You’d best raise the amount of steering lock for the numerous Drift events, but this means should you use a car set up for drift then go race at say, Road America you’ll be right up the swanny with hopelessly oversensitive steering – it’s a daft oversight that they didn’t include a quick setup screen just before race. All tuning options can only be done before entering an event, meaning if things feel way wrong, you have to quit, tune it, then reload the race and hope it feels right. Although you can “quick race” at any track to set up a car in advance, there aren’t any practice sessions or qualifying sessions attached to the race events so occasionally a car will just be all wrong, sometimes with the gear ratios set all wrong so the car hits the rev limiter on the straights or can’t get anywhere near its top speed because you put a lot of downforce on for a twisty circuit. This means you may as well leave everything set to medium defaults and makes a nonsense of even including extensive tuning options.

Once in a race, the cars handle like you ‘d expect them to and all favour the “understeer” side of things – in other words if you go too fast into a corner then you’ll drift wide and this’ll be accompanied by the sound of the front tyres squealing loudly to tell you to slow down. Whichever view you use Shift looks great, this may well be the best-looking NFS game yet. The scenery is excellent, the trackside detail immense and you’ll notice animated spectators who all seem to be doing something different and planes, helicopters and airships overflying the circuits. The game sounds good too, with amazing raucous engine sounds, gearbox whine, the thrum of the other car’s engines and rather too-loud tyre squeals as you corner hard. Although it makes you feel every bump in the road the in-car driver’s head-cam seems nice and usable, and a bonnet, bumper and two behind-the-car-chase-cams are also available. Racing in Shift isn’t just a matter of going faster and overtaking your opponents. A new “stars” scoring system means that every single corner and manoeuvre is analysed by the game engine and you are marked accordingly. This is where the game’s identity crisis again makes things confusing; you earn stars and badges for precision driving and are praised for your skills, but then some races will encourage or even demand aggressive driving, with the race’s requirements even expecting you to spin out a certain number of opponents. I find this counter-instinctive in this type of racer, and can’t think of a good reason why it’s in there – Burnout this ain’t. Good performances are also rewarded with extra garage slots and cash prizes which can be used to upgrade your car or buy better ones, although you’ll probably only need three or four for the entire game, which is divided into 4 “tiers” to divide the levels of car performance.

The paint job and vinyl editor is nice and easy to use, but again has some clunky controls, and is slow and limited compared to Forza 2’s – you don’t even get the option to “mirror” one side of your car’s vinyls to the other meaning that making a paint job and sponsor vinyls symmetrical is more time consuming that it need have been, and although it’s moveable the paintjob camera has a strange, offset position that makes something as basic as putting a stripe down the middle of a car a fiddly operation.

For those who like to know what they’re going to get to drive (and where) here are some lists:

Shift car list:
• 2006 Aston Martin DBR9
• 2009 Audi R8 LMS
• 2008 Audi R8
• 2008 Audi RS 4
• 2007 Audi S3
• 2007 Audi TT 3.2 quattro
• 2006 Audi S4
• BMW M3 E36
• BMW M3 E46
• BMW M3 E92
• 2008 BMW 135i Coupé
• 2009 BMW M3 GT2
• 2007 BMW Z4 M Coupé
• 2008 Bugatti Veyron 16.4
• 2006 Dodge Challenger Concept
• 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10
• Falken Tire 2010 Ford Mustang GT
• 2010 Ford Shelby GT500
• 2007 Ford Focus ST
• 2006 Ford GT
• 2006 Need For Speed Shelby Terlingua
• 1996 Ford Escort RS Cosworth
• 2009 Chevrolet Camaro SS
• 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
• 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
• 2006 Honda Civic Si
• 2000 Honda S2000
• 2006 Koenigsegg CCX
• 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4
• 2007 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640
• 2007 Lamborghini Reventón
• 2006 Lotus Elise 111R
• 2007 Lotus Exige S
• 2005 Maserati MC12 GT1
• 2008 Mazda MX-5
• 2006 Mazda RX-8
• 1995 Mazda RX-7
• 1994 McLaren F1
• 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 Edition
• 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG
• 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer EVOLUTION
• 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer EVOLUTION IX MR-edition
• 2003 Infiniti G35 (V35)
• 1997 Nissan 200SX (S14)
• 2009 Nissan 370Z (Z34)
• 2006 Nissan 350Z (Z33)
• 2009 Nissan GT-R SpecV (R35)
• 2008 Nissan GT-R (R35)
• 2000 Nissan Silvia (S15) spec.R AERO
• 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R (R34)
• 1972 Nissan Skyline 2000GT-R
• 1992 Nissan 240SX (S13)
• 2006 Pagani Zonda F
• 2010 Pagani Zonda R
• 2008 Porsche 911 GT2
• 2009 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR
• 2006 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
• 2004 Porsche Carrera GT
• 2007 Porsche Cayman S
• 2008 Renault Mégane RS
• 2007 SEAT Leon CUPRA
• 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STi
• 2007 Lexus LF-A Concept
• 2008 SCION tC
• 1986 Toyota Corolla GTS (A86)
• 2008 Volkswagen Scirocco
• 2006 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Shift track list:
1. Alpental
2. Autopolis International Racing Course
3. Ambush Canyon
4. Brands Hatch
5. Dakota
6. Ebisu Circuit
7. Glendale
8. Hazyview
9. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
10. London
11. Miytomi
12. Nordschleife
13. Road America
14. Rustle Creek
15. Silverstone
16. Circuit de Spa Francorchamps
17. Tokyo
18. Willow Springs
Plus several tracks have shorter circuits that are used in addition.


As I said, the game looks great, with nicely detailed cars and crisp, well-drawn tracks with plenty of trackside detail and wonderful, organic looking trees and bushes that sway in the wind. Shift quite possibly has the best representations of the Nordschleife, Brands Hatch, Laguna Seca, Road America and Spa I’ve seen, and the stunning London track rivals anything that you’ll have seen in the Project Gothams. If you like reliving your victories or crashes the replay mode is pretty good. It isn’t quite as flexible as Grid’s or DiRT’s but like in NFS: Pro Street, once you’re registered it does allow you to upload snapshots to www.needforspeed.com, view and download the last 10 you saved, view other player’s pics and your stats, which is a nice touch.

The one complaint with the visuals is the ‘stunned’ crash effect which basically blurs the picture and drains the colour to black & white-o-vision whenever you make contact with ANYTHING. The developers have done a good job of providing us with a genuinely thrilling, seat-of-the-pants visceral racing game, and when driving the faster cars, it’s so vivid, fast and realistic that it’ll make you hold your breath. Therefore I can see the point in having a blurring effect when you have a heavy crash, but this is triggered with the slightest contact and is SO disorientating (particularly when using the in-car view) that it usually results in ANOTHER crash. The pained groan that issues from the driver when you have a heavy impact is also quite dramatic, and should help dissuade any boy racers from driving like a loony on real roads.

Sadly it’s not all good news down at the track. The game seems to have been rushed to the shelves and this is exhibited by a catalogue of odd things like cars that seem to drop in from a few feet off the ground at the start of some races (this is a hangover from Pro Street) and promo girls on the grid are sometimes stuck right in the middle of your car! (see screenshot below left) There’s also a serious glitch in the handling and physics of the game that, it should be said, not everyone seems to have appear, and while we’ve had different experiences with different copies of the game so many other people have experienced the same sort of thing, we can only presume it’s a problem with the way the game has been copied onto the disc. The handling and physics, which seem fine in the early stages of your career with slower cars, sometimes go completely ummm… mental, with your car bouncing all over the place like the shock absorbers have dropped off, or occasionally one will settle into a series of bounces like a lowrider with hydraulic suspension! It’s very disconcerting and is particularly common with cars like the Bugatti Veyron, the Pagani Zonda R and the Porsche Carrera, and disappointingly on classic tracks like the Nurburgring Nordschleife and Spa, but can happen with just about any car, on any track, and can be caused by leaving the track, or simply by sliding sideways or clipping a curb or just by passing a dip or bump in the track.

Although the "bouncing bug" exhibits itself most frequently with supercars, we fully ‘pimped’ a tier one BMW M3 with the ultimate tweak option, a factory conversion, only to find that it’s virtually undriveable on most circuits, and you can fiddle to the cows come home with settings to no effect. We’ve had a strange glitch in which all the AI cars stop dead on the track and settings and upgrades seem to randomly vanish from your car! On some heavily banked tracks such as ovals, your car will be sliding down the slope before the race starts. In one race I sat there revving the heck out of my Corvette and found that it wouldn’t go anywhere, it was as if the transmission had blown or the clutch burned out. Sometimes when a race (commonly a drift race) is over and the AI is in control of your car it just piles into a wall! There are bugs in the replay mode too; a replay will sometimes get stuck on the static TV-style camera and doesn’t switch, so you just watch your car disappear into the distance. On other occasions you just get stuck in a replay which will loop and restart ad infinitum with no control buttons visible, which means you can’t end it so all you can do is turn off the 360 and restart!

But then we loaded the game up the next day and everything was fine! Cars and races that were plagued with this strange bug now handled as we'd expect. Switch the 360 off and reload and it might be back again, it seems completely random as to when and why it appears. Despite highly variable difficulty which is often compounded by tricky handling, SHIFT is still a mostly enjoyable game to progress through, even though you have to retry a lot of events. The star system's various goals mean you will still make regular progress and the achievements seem well spaced and keep popping up to keep you engaged. Tier one events can be used to unlock high-tiers, and a well-modded and tuned tier one car can be used to win tier 3 races, but it’ll be very demanding, meaning that, whilst the game seems to adjust to your abilities and class of vehicle quite well, you can set your own challenge almost infinitely. Making a race almost impossible to win or having a guide line on screen to show you the best line and automatic brakes and assisted steering, the options cater for all levels of driver experience and ability. There’s open racing, single-model manufacturer races, time trials on tracks full of other cars, endurance races, demolition derbies and… FAR too much bloody drift racing for my liking, which seems a more and more wasteful use of a high performance car the more you do it. At the end of each tier you’ll be challenged to a one-on-one duel by a rival, and have to either get ahead of him by 5 seconds or simply beat him to the flag.

The online racing works well and I’ve had some good, clean and fair races - even with transatlantic opponents which normally are plagued by lag-caused crashes or skipping. With its varied tracks and car selection this is the best online racer since PGR2 for me. But even the online modes have bugs, with the online duel results often being displayed wrongly, sometimes telling you you’ve lost when you’ve won, although on the good side it does seem to promote you up the ladder correctly when you win regardless of what the erroneous results screens says.

I must say I’ve enjoyed a lot of my time with Shift, it ticked so many of my boxes that I had to love it. I mean - How could you not love a game that gives you the chance to race across Westminster Bridge in a Zonda F, or trash a Lamborghini in a demolition derby? But to love it you also have to accept its eccentricities - like many high performance cars and their quirks. It’s like Jekyll & Hyde, but Hyde rears his ugly head far too often. A potentially first class racer ruined by some inherent bugs and glitches that, it seems, the developers are unlikely or unable to fix with an update patch. If it worked properly for everyone, all of the time Shift would rate a solid 9/10 unreservedly, but with its dark side only too happy to show up and ruin a race - and even render winning some series impossible, it can only be an unhappy 6. Let’s hope EA fix it (if they can) so everyone can enjoy the game as it was intended. However I’m not going to hold my breath for that, especially with Forza Motorsport 3 just around the corner.


Best Bits

- A great, raucous track racer
- Excellent range of cars
- Varied tracks
Worst Bits

- Bugs and glitches abound
- Too much drift racing
- Daft control defaults for manual gearbox users

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2009