Need for Speed Shift is the latest entry into the NFS franchise and fans of the racing genre will be happy to hear that this game does not disappoint. Gone are the old attempts at cheesy stories of you rising up on the streets to become the king of the racers. This game is about you, your car, and the track.
Racing games are typically either arcade like, meaning any attempt to feel and race like a real car has been thrown out the window, or realistic, where cutting a corner too quickly will have you rolling your car in an attempt to exemplify real world physics. NFS Shift is somewhere in the middle, and depending on which settings you choose, can skew to more of an arcade like game, or more of a realistic driving experience. Gamers looking for an authentic driving simulate will be disappointed though, as even turning off all of the handling and braking assist and turning on damage detection will still leave this game feeling a bit too arcade like for the die hard sim fans.
Through the game you'll be given the opportunity to race on a variety of tracks ranging in locations, as well as the chance to purchase a decent sized collection of cars ranging from somewhat common cars to high end supercars that will set you back over a million dollars. Compared to other racing games, the vehicle selection may be somewhat modest, but the type of cars varies enough that you won't get bored. Interestingly, if you're too lazy to accumulate cash in game, you can use Microsoft Points to go towards the purchase of any locked car. Clearly this is an interesting attempt to get some users to spend more money after the initial purchase. Making money in this game is relatively easy though, so if you really want a high end car, it's as simple as winning a few more races.
The objective of the career mode is to unlock, and eventually win the Need for Speed Live World Championship (what an original name, right?). Before getting there though you'll have to work your way up through the first four tiers. You unlock each tier by accumulating stars which you receive for winning races, or accumulating a set amount of points during a specific race. These points can be gained by sliding around corners, completing clean sections, trading paint with opponents, as well as some other creative ways. Also, each race will give you a bonus star if you accomplish a track specific achievement such as a clean lap, master all the corners, or flip out a certain number of opponents. This mechanic will make players drive more cautiously or aggressively to achieve the star, causing some to use a style they may otherwise neglect.
Each tier will have a variety of different race events. Some are simple 3-5 lap races, whereas others will see you compete in drift events, or take part in a manufacture race, wherein everyone participating has the same vehicle with the same specifications, meaning the race's outcome is decided upon skill and not who has the fastest car. There are endurance races, where you'll have to completely a gruelling 30 lap race or driver duals, which you'll go one on one against a 'famous' racer. To give you some incentive to widen your car assortment there are also events such as European vs. American, or European vs. Japanese made cars, so that you don't solely buy the best car available for each tier and race all the events with that. For the most part each event is what you would expect and works relatively well. Time attack, where you race to get the best time on a lap does get rather boring, as you'll likely set the best time within the first few laps and spend the following few minutes aimlessly driving around. The drift events also don't work very well as the drifting is overly difficult and not all that rewarding. If there is an event type you strongly dislike you'll be able to skip it, as gaining the necessary 280 stars to compete in the NFS Live World Championship is rather easy and can be achieved by neglecting several different events throughout the 4 tiers. Suffice to say you'll never be forced to play an event type you do not like unless you're gunning to unlock the level 50 driving profile.
It's hard to play NFS Shift without comparing it to other games in the genre. Playing this game will likely bring back memories of Project Gotham Racing 4. That in itself is not a bad thing because PGR 4 is a very well done racing game, but it also goes to show that NFS Shift really hasn't done anything new. There wouldn't be great difficult in convincing someone playing NFS Shift that they were playing PGR 4, and vice versa. This being said, it's difficult to introduce new elements to a racing game, but it seems like a lot of the race events and ideas were just copied. The unlocking of the upper tiers, the collection of money, the earning of stars by accumulating specific amount of points; it's all been seen before in other racing games.
NFS Shift does not attempt anything new, but what it does do, it succeeds in. The visuals are crisp, and roaring engines sound great. The presentation of the game is top notch and technically everything works perfectly. The game does include some multiplayer, allowing you to race against friends or random people online, as well as a leaderboard to see how you rank up against your friends. There is no soundtrack playing while you race, so you get to enjoy the ambience of 16 roaring engines as you drive around the track. Oddly, you do have a narrator of sorts who will introduce each new tier and event to you, but when it comes to racing, he'll solely speak at the beginning to tell you when to go, or when the light turns green. It makes you wonder what they were attempting to do, make it seem like you had a realistic pit crew, which if that were the case, you'd think he would speak more throughout the race, or, if they simple thought people needed someone's voice telling them when to start hitting the gas.
The AI in this game can be somewhat flaky. Depending on whether they're leading or trailing they will act differently. This is nowhere more apparent then the head on head duals. If the AI is ahead of you, it's almost as if it relaxes and doesn't try as hard. Inversely, if the AI is trailing it will do everything in its power to get ahead of you. In a normal race, if you and an opponent are about to lap someone, the AI for some reason will try and draft behind the opponent that's about to be lapped, giving you a chance to pass by with ease and take first place. Other times the AI is flat our evil, and will cut you off, or race up beside you and knock you off the track. This may well be on purpose or simply the AI's attempt at path finding, it's hard to tell.
Overall, NFS Shift provides an entertaining experience with a decent variety of tracks, locations, and vehicles. NFS Shift doesn't do anything wrong, but it also doesn't do anything new. It takes previous ideas from other racing games and melds them into its own well presented package. If racing around famous tracks in high priced cars going at ridiculously fast speeds, all in the comfort of your own home sounds like fun, this game's for you. If you're a hardcore fan of racing games, this game should not be mistaken as a racing sim, it's closer to an arcade racer with aspiration of attempting to be a racing sim. All that being said, even the most hardcore won't be disappointed with this package and any gamer fond of the genre will do well to pick up this game and give it a try.