Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed

Next to shooters, and sports, the racing genre offers gamers the rare chance to interact in a game AND the same room at the same time. With all the hype surrounding Shift 2 Unleashed, my friends and I gathered in my lounge (well, I was there - they gathered with Bigguns and soft drink) to bask in the Unleashedness.


The latest chapter in the Need For Speed Shift series is here to challenge the might of Forza and Gran Turismo for Driving Simulation King. It's here to show a third way - a blend between Arcade racers and Simulation. It's here to electrify fans of both genres with gameplay that appeals to both.




So, not the greatest start. But after a few (FIVE!!!) false starts, we got into the game - and then things got… unleashed?


Slightly Mad Studios second instalment in the NFS Shift series graphically improves on its predecessor, however it lacks the immediate oomph of both Turismo and Forza. If you're wondering where the memory is being used, simply switch to the new driver's cam view - which becomes more impressive when you realise they've had to specialise that for each of the 140 different cars in game.



Before people double take on that number (what?! Only 140 cars for me to drive! How very dare they!) take a moment, and think of how many different cars you've ever actually used in a Sim Racer. The designers have blatantly gone for style over (graphic) content, and shouldn't really be faulted for trying to differentiate themselves as such.



When justifying why Shift 2 Unleashed's frame rate doesn't match Forza's, Marcus Nilsson, the games producer came up with this pearl of spin:


"Either you go for.. the bland graphics of GT and Forza, or you try to push the bar for what consoles can do."


Brilliant, and commendable. Except the graphics are for a Simulation Game! And it's an intriguing marketing pitch to criticise Forza for not pushing the bar for consoles when it has superior graphics at a faster frame-rate. In Kiwi terms, that's the equivalent of me criticising Richie McCaw for his bland style of Rugby, rather than focusing on raising the bar for how Rugby can be played with my "try-not-to-die" style.



The arcade view outside the car works well with the physics engine which, while also improved from Shift 1, is still a bit light to handle. However, this is balanced by some fantastic courses to spin around. While not quite graphically punching with the heavyweights, the designs are fantastic. There's also an improvement to car damage, with more realistic consequences for high speed prangs. And then there's night racing. Driver cam is a must here. Limited visibility, a roaring engine, and the ability to look around your car mean it's one of the few times you'll really feel immersed in the game.


That roaring engine must be where the Unleashed comes from, coz hoo-boy it's loud. Slightly Mad haven't broken new ground with their audio work, but they've raided the Growl garage for their engine effects which, along with generic racer music, keeps the blood pressure up during the midst of competition.



Actually one of the more calming sounds in Shift 2 Unleashed is the good ol' boy southern tones of real-life racer Vaughn Glittin Jr giving you hints, tips, and occasional exposition in Career Mode. It actually makes a better fit for a Need for Speed game narrator, than the Basil Expedition from Shift 1. And those tips of Glittin Jr's would do Peter Brock proud, as they're actually helpful for negotiating some of the harder tracks.


A main difference Shift 2 Unleashed has tried to bring to simulation is an enhanced emotional experience. You'll immediately see what they're talking about from entering Career Mode. This is Sim Racing as Jerry Bruckheimer would imagine it - CSI editing et al.


Your career goal is to be world champion, which is something you and the game can have in common. Experience is earned through racing and skill feats, and essential for progress. Yes, to achieve your goal, you'll have to race, accumulate, and update your way through several grades before finally making the GT round. There is a method to this, as by the time you get to GT you should have raced so much that you'll be able to get the most out of Shift 2 Unleashed, racing at top speed expertly in super cars. And no man walks such a path alone.



Vaughn Glittin Jr doesn't just want to help you with advice, he's obtained a car for you. An awesome car no less, that he wants you to drive. He'll also help you buy your first car and tell you what a good deal it was. Chur Vaughan. Now please explain the driving mechanics.


Shift 2 Unleashed’s biggest flaw (apart from freezing - never forget!) is how unforgiving it is as a game. It looks like an Arcade game set in a Sim world, but it drives like a Sim with Arcade rules. No amount of pretty women at the starting line can make up for the cruelty the AI will compete with. Apparently it's not the engines, but the cars that are Unleashed - and if they're not nagging at your behind with near fatal shoves, then they're ahead, and merciless in allowing gaps to overtake.



"No worries" you think, its NFS, and drift shall save the day. Sorry son, drifting is for Arcade games. This is a Sim, and you're up Shift creek. It's not that you can't drift, it's the amount of time required to get it down is a tad too life-like.


But if this drives (no pun intended) you online, that's probably the idea.


EA are rewarding fans of NFS by offering downloadable extras to anyone with former NFS saved games on their Xbox. Online is also a fun way to compete and earn xp. There are unlockable challenges, and racing strangers can be fun - but limited options mean there's room for improvement here before Shift 3 comes out.



What EA are counting on, as distributors, is that fans will fall in love with the concept of driving in the car (as opposed to driving as the car) and have heavily invested in making this look as cool as possible. It works. Driving as the car can be immersive, and is exclusive to Shift 2. Well done EA. But they forgot the driving aspect.


Honestly I’m not sure what game I just played.


Slightly Mad Studios have definitely lived up to their namesake by putting together a racing game that's part Gran Turismo, with a bit of Forza, and the gaps filled in by NFS Underground. I know, it sounds awesome - which is why it's such a disappointment that they seem to have gotten the mixture wrong.



This isn't to say Shift 2 Unleashed is a bad game, in fact it's quite good. And it would be even better if I had never played GT, Forza, Burnout, or even - in fact especially - NFS Underground. Each of those titles has either raised or challenged the bar in their respective areas of the Racing genre. That's why Shift 2 Unleashed gets a (generous) 7.5 - because if this is the finished product, then someone should have walked back into Slightly Mad Studios and slapped them sane. I simply can't recommend to the gaming public that this game is worth buying.


Need For Speed Shift 2: Unleashed feels like an intern, in that it knows what it wants to be - but it isn’t quite sure how to do it yet. From a simple consumer point of view, this isn't THE game. But from an industry standpoint, it's an exciting warning shot to Turismo and Forza.


Because if Slightly Mad and EA can get this formula to gel, and improve for Shift 3 in the same way they've improved over Shift 1, then they may just have the future of Console Sim Racing.


Just not quite yet.

"Not the Sim it thinks it is, and not the arcade racer it almost is"
- Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 2 Hours


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Comments Comments (15)

Posted by Ubercuber
On Thursday 14 Apr 2011 3:04 PM
...something seems off about this review. It kinda reads like incoherent rambling.
Posted by Kegz
On Thursday 14 Apr 2011 3:48 PM
I am glad mine wasn't the only one to keep freezing up.
Posted by PandaJenkins
On Thursday 14 Apr 2011 4:23 PM
14 April 2011, 03:04 PM Reply to Ubercuber
...something seems off about this review. It kinda reads like incoherent rambling.
Yea I gotta agree....
Posted by highnzbudsmoka
On Thursday 14 Apr 2011 4:53 PM
Been playing hardcore since release, hasn't frozen once.
Posted by nimrod76
On Thursday 14 Apr 2011 6:57 PM
7.5/10 but can't recommend a purchase... mmmkay

I'm loving it, it takes a bit of getting used to but once you have played for a while it's fine, apart from the drifting which I suck at but that's me not the game.
Posted by leopardsqueezy
On Thursday 14 Apr 2011 8:01 PM
People who call games like this a "sim" racer obviously have no idea what a sim racer is supposed to be. Has the game been developed, like Forza and GT, from the outset with all underlying design and programming to *FEEL* and *BEHAVE* as realistically and intuitively as possible, and does it achieve that mission goal? Yes? Then, and only then, is it a sim racer. If not, then it's NOT a sim racer. Very simple. The dev's anti-Gt and Forza comments highlight just what a weak imitation of a proper racing game this is.
Posted by tnzk
On Thursday 14 Apr 2011 8:43 PM
Yeah it's a little bit incoherent. There's several grammar mistakes and just a lot of hokum all in the text. C'mon NZGamer, some of your reader's reviews are better edited than this!

I'd move the side note to the bottom of the review though. It's a side not, after all, not a review intermission =P.
Posted by Nokise
On Thursday 14 Apr 2011 11:25 PM
Generally, unless it's an 8 or higher - I'm not gonna tell people to spend their cash on it. 7.5 means go rent it, or borrow it off a mate. At the very least don't fork out full retail for it.

IMO Forza and GT beat this as a sim, and Burnout and High Pursuit beat it as an arcade racer. The developers have aimed for a middle ground and missed.

Apologies for the grammar - it is particularly bad in this one. The rambling is just because I write how I talk - however, I will earnestly aim to make my points clearer in the future.

Appreciate the comments. As with all games, if it looks your thing (and the trailer is cool) go rent a copy and check it out for yourself. $8 is a lot less painful to burn than $109.
Posted by emetic
On Friday 15 Apr 2011 1:00 PM
This review doesn't even have NZG signature "the good, the bad, the ugly" at the top.
Posted by emetic
On Friday 15 Apr 2011 1:10 PM
15 April 2011, 01:00 PM Reply to emetic
This review doesn't even have NZG signature "the good, the bad, the ugly" at the top.
Oh wait, that "good, bad and ugly" thing seems to not be on any of the reviews I checked just now.
Posted by brettz0r
On Friday 15 Apr 2011 11:17 PM
I hired it and it was a terrible game.
played it on ps3 and it didnt freeze once in the 5hours i played it.
I felt the same way, its trying to be a arcade sim racer and they failed at it completely. The helmet cam is pretty good but useless for people like me who despise using R2 as accelerator (analogue sticks are more my style)
GT5 is the way to go for sim racers (yes the damage is waste of time and not all cars are premium.. but other than 2 minor flaws its bloody great)
And hot pursuit is definitely the way to go for arcade racer (and wait for dirt 3 - its going to be epic!)
this game is just as bad as the first and I regret wasting my $4 hire fee on a game i knew was going to be so bad. Shouldnt od listened to people who said it should be good :(
Posted by phantom
On Saturday 16 Apr 2011 10:35 AM
15 April 2011, 01:10 PM Reply to emetic
Oh wait, that "good, bad and ugly" thing seems to not be on any of the reviews I checked just now.
That's just on previews :)
Posted by Wh1teDeAth88
On Saturday 16 Apr 2011 9:54 PM
Agree with the review completely. Except perhaps I would have given it a lower score. Extremely disappointed with Shift 2, the floaty controls put me write off it from the start. I got release day and had it traded in within 3 days.
Posted by brettz0r
On Saturday 23 Apr 2011 10:22 PM
16 April 2011, 09:54 PM Reply to Wh1teDeAth88
Agree with the review completely. Except perhaps I would have given it a lower score. Extremely disappointed with Shift 2, the floaty controls put me write off it from the start. I got release day and had it traded in within 3 days.
I hope you returned it for a full refund, instead of trading it in.
Only place I know that does trade in's is EB's and they also have a 7 day return policy.
Posted by Wh1teDeAth88
On Saturday 30 Apr 2011 8:39 PM
Sadly no, bought it online through mighty ape, but got a good trade-in deal for it at EB. Kept the free t-shirt I got with it though lol