Need for Speed: Shift

The last few Need for Speed games haven’t really managed to push the racing genre forward too much. By and large, they’ve been serviceable, but for every NFS game that came out, you could probably point to one or two of its contemporaries that did things better. However, EA has recently been making noises about refreshing the brand, and here we are with Need for Speed: Shift.

If you’ve played previous NFS games, you’ll know that some are some are arcade-like, some are simulation-focused…and some have really, really cheesy FMV cutscenes. Shift falls into the middle category, putting it right up against big titans like Gran Turismo and Forza. So is this one worth looking into for serious racing sim fans? And how about more casual players looking for a decent racer?

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Happily, Shift marks a return to form for the series. This game is polished and fun – it gets the fundamentals right, and features a host of little things that are well executed.

Let’s start with the driving itself. Unlike other NFS games, this one doesn’t have an open world to explore or any other gimmicks. It’s straight up racing along set tracks, and is all the stronger for it. What works most of all in Shift is the feel of the driving. I can’t remember a game that did a better job of putting you right in the driver’s seat and experiencing every twist and turn, while still being so rooted in the world of simulation. Unlike some other titles, when you’re doing 200km/h, you really believe it. And you really don’t want to crash – doing so results in a deliberately jarring effect combining monochrome and screen blur. This kind of thing helps shed Shift of its simulation feel while leaving the actual car handling untouched.

I know just enough about racing games to know that what’s included here is enough to satisfy fans of the genre. From the cars to the tracks to the tuning options, it’s deep and it’s satisfying. Having said that, there are only about 60 cars available, which is obviously not going to satisfy car collectors. The tracks, however, are fairly numerous and are nicely scattered all over the world.

The game starts with a test lap that determines what sort of difficulty you should be racing on, and how many assist options should be turned on. It’s a good idea, and helps ease new players in to the game. From there, the full career mode is introduced. It’s staged in tiers, with a wide range of race types to sink your teeth into. You’ll find yourself racing in straight events, manufacturer challenges, and much more. To progress through the tiers, you need to earn stars, which you acquire from placing well in each available race.

As you progress, cash is earned that can be spent on either new cars or upgrading old ones. If you start doing well, though, you’ll probably find it quite easy to keep buying top-tier cars, so upgrading the ones in your garage won’t seem so enticing. That’s only a minor flaw, however, and there are a lot of other features to keep you driving just one more race. Taking the whole Achievements craze on board with a vengeance, Shift pats you on the back every step of the way. Besides stars, you also earn precision and aggression points that combine to help you gain levels, very much like an RPG. These points are gained through moments of good driving, such as sticking to the racing line or cornering just right. Gaining these points will eventually unlock goodies like new parts or cash. They also make everything you do feel rewarding, which certainly helps alleviate the pain of losing a race for the 10th time. Crucially, it also makes you feel like progress is always being made, whether you’re a racing veteran or a newbie.

All of these elements are tied together with a polished and cohesive interface. It’s simple to get to whatever race or mode you’re after, and – most importantly – it keeps out of your way.

Graphically, Shift is a winner. Both the cars and the environments look great, but as I mentioned before, it’s the additional effects that make the race track come alive. A big standout is the in-car view – I’ve seen good cockpits before, but this one surely takes the cake. Coupled with some excellent camera work (gear changing, for instance, causes slight shudders), I recommend trying this view out before switching to a standard third-person mode.

Just as good as are the audio effects. You know you’re onto something when your flatmates start complaining about all the screeching tires. It’s a layered symphonic suite of gear changes, revs, gravel crunching, tires squealing and – in my case at least – cars crashing into each other. Combined with the graphical effects, it brings you right into the game.

And that’s just it: Shift is at its best when it not only impresses with its semi-realistic driving, but also gives you a buzz from its immersive effects. Impressively, it’s actually fun to take part in races whether you’re a driving fan or not – something I can’t say about every ‘realistic’ racer out there. This is a game that a lot of people can potentially enjoy; it’s a welcome return to form for Need for Speed, and worth checking out.

"An impressive suite of features; well worth checking out."
- Need for Speed: Shift
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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Comments Comments (18)

Posted by djkicks
On Wednesday 16 Sep 2009 10:41 AM
Awesome! Sounds like it's back to the old NFS before they started that boy racer crap.
Posted by Genocide
On Wednesday 16 Sep 2009 10:51 AM
Im dubious but maybe it is worth checking out. ProStreet was a big ole' sack o crap.
Posted by bradleycampbell
On Wednesday 16 Sep 2009 10:52 AM
16 September 2009, 10:41 AM Reply to djkicks
Awesome! Sounds like it's back to the old NFS before they started that boy racer crap.
Knowing how often they change the theme of NFS, I wouldn't count on it staying in Circuit racing style.

Good review. Planning on picking it up this weekend
Posted by Rapidity
On Wednesday 16 Sep 2009 11:56 AM
NFS has been going downhill recently, sounds like this could be the saving grace?
Posted by Nefarious
On Wednesday 16 Sep 2009 1:05 PM
i think i'll just wait fo GT5, forza looks wicked, have to wait till i get a 360 though
Posted by Oliver
On Wednesday 16 Sep 2009 1:42 PM
Picking this up Friday evening (working all day Friday) and I can't wait. This wasn't even on my radar til a week ago, and now it's one of my most anticipated of this year.
Posted by onehitter09
On Wednesday 16 Sep 2009 6:16 PM
Will be picking up in my lunch break but no play till evening :(
Posted by Gazza22
On Thursday 17 Sep 2009 11:43 AM
Bound to be a comp here for this. Especially because EA love to promote this game hard here in NZ. (and because NZG is awesome n all)

And with a bit of luck (or skill) I'll have won myself another NFS game of here.
Posted by tim705
On Thursday 17 Sep 2009 4:47 PM
I liked the boy racer "crap"...
Posted by Oliver
On Saturday 19 Sep 2009 9:25 AM
Got this yesterday and I have to say I completely agree with this review. I might add the game is difficult even from the beginning (but then what did you expect?). But it looks and plays great.
Posted by Ese-Boii
On Saturday 19 Sep 2009 12:27 PM
Might Hire It Out 2dae Hahahaha
Posted by Dowse
On Sunday 20 Sep 2009 5:46 PM
fun fun fun
Posted by Oliver
On Sunday 20 Sep 2009 9:39 PM
19 September 2009, 12:27 PM Reply to Ese-Boii
Might Hire It Out 2dae Hahahaha
Yeah, hilarious.
Posted by brettz0r
On Sunday 27 Sep 2009 10:57 PM
The trophys are sooo lame. Its just play the game and get them. All games i have played before this have fun little trophies to get that are kinda like side missions.

I am SOO glad i decided to hire this game instead of just buying it like i usally do with games, just sad i have it for another 2 nights...

ok wtf, this game gets really good reviews everywhere and I hire it out tonight and omg, this game sux.

apart from the general racing, this game feels slow and chunky, ALLWAYS waiting for something to load - looking at blank loading screens is a bore.

The cars themselves handle very arcady and are actually quite hard to get used to, even when you do get used to them... its still no fun.

drifting is pathetic. i downloaded a vid on this game that explained how a drifter helped create the drifting in this game.. i think that is bs as the cars do not handle right at all!

Fully custimizable controlls any1? i hate preset controlls with a passion! surely its not too hard to programe it so you can the buttons to what each person wants? Its like N4S says you can play this game either 1 of 3 ways or dont play because thats how we think you should play.

damage is noo good at all. doesnt feel like you ever do any damage?

the screen shutter is just anoying when you crash, if your gona crash in a big way - you atleast want to be able to see it!

If you are looking for a good racing game, go buy Race Driver: Grid. It beats this game in every way (except the good ol N4S car customization)
That and Dirt 2. Codemasters seem to know there stuff when it comes to racing games.
Posted by brettz0r
On Sunday 27 Sep 2009 10:59 PM
19 September 2009, 09:25 AM Reply to Oliver
Got this yesterday and I have to say I completely agree with this review. I might add the game is difficult even from the beginning (but then what did you expect?). But it looks and plays great.
This game is not difficult from the start - jumped into hard with no assists. won every race first or 2nd time. the drifting however is way to retarded to get right the 1st time.
Maybee this game would be better with a steering wheel but if your stuck with a normal DS3 like me - dont bother with this game
Posted by axis
On Monday 12 Oct 2009 7:30 PM
Sounds mean az
Posted by Moneyshot
On Thursday 15 Oct 2009 12:25 PM
The drifting is hard but after a while it get easier, the key is to build speed into the corners and then throttle back, not try to put the foot down at the start of the cornering.
Posted by ryanrayx2
On Friday 27 Nov 2009 12:01 AM
This has got to be the best need for speed yet