Hands up if you can remember the driving scene from the Simpsonâ€™s intro. You know the one, where Marge and Maggie are taking home the shopping and the car viciously swerves as Maggie tugs at her fake steering wheel. Oddly, after spending a decent amount of time with Electronic Artâ€™s Shift 2 Unleashed for the iPad, thatâ€™s a little how I feel.
Racing games on the iPad go together like blue cheese and port. They seem a little incongruous, but throw them together and the result is usually a pretty pleasant mix. EAâ€™s Shift 2 fits that mix. Its a nice rehash of what weâ€™ve seen before, with some neat updates and a little more pizzazz, but that's all it really is - a decent rehash.
The mechanic of Shift 2 Unleashed is fairly similar to what weâ€™ve seen before in the Need for Speed franchise. You start a career, race against other drivers, rake in the cash and improve your speed wagons.
Its a simple formula, but its works. And this latest instalment on the iPad has enough bells and whistles to keep even the more lacklustre racing fan entertained for an hour or so. For the hardcore, or the obsessive compulsive, the various options on offer do present a worthwhile portable gaming experience.
There are a variety of cars to collect, each is fully customisable in a multitude of different ways, and itâ€™s fairly easy to progress your way through the career mode. In addition there are healthy multi-player options, and a decent amount of tracks to unlock.
But that's just the framework. This is after all, a racing game. The only really important thing is how well it plays. On the iPad that presents some interesting, but rather immersive challenges. Your car is steered by how well you control your iPadâ€™s rotational axis. Itâ€™s a fairly enjoyable experience, and one that does given you a more visceral driving experience than simply sitting in front of a screen with a controller or a keyboard and mouse. But this being the iPad, it also suffers from being dogged, clunky and sometimes a little unresponsive - and as a result your racing experience tends to wildly fluctuate between minute, precious adjustments and major Maggie-like haymakers.
It probably looks rather funny to your fellow bus (or even car) passengers, but as far as game experiences go, itâ€™s a little frustrating. However, it is not an insurmountable problem, and like all other car games it wears off with practice. But therein lies the rub: true racing fans arenâ€™t going to be making a chicane for the iPad when they need to get their racing fix. Unless, of course, itâ€™s mounted to the dashboard of their Subaru WRX (which is plainly illegal and very dangerous, but would be pretty sweet).
However, this being Need for Speed, the cars are just as important as the racing, and here they are presented pretty well for the iPad. Some of the upgradeable options for your petrol-guzzlers are probably a little lacklustre â€” for example your custom mags â€” but on the whole the racing experience itself is smooth, well presented and enjoyable.
Thankfully, Electronic Arts havenâ€™t let the environment go to waste either â€” while itâ€™s no HD masterpiece, the tracks themselves and the racing paraphernalia that adorns them is also given a decent amount of love and attention. Itâ€™s nice to see that level of detail in a game, especially one on a platform as underdeveloped as the iPad.
So what then to make of Electronic Artâ€™s latest drift into the iPad market? As a game it doesn't really offer us anything new. Its driving mechanic is a little clumsy and frustrating, but itâ€™s got enough variety and depth to keep you moderately entertained. As a portable driving distraction itâ€™s a decent attempt. But it could hardly be called the breakthrough ingenious iPad title we are all still clamouring for.