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Need For Speed Shift Review

Style.  The all time most over used word in the hip-hop language.  It’s also my favorite word and I don’t really even like hip-hop.  Need For Speed Shift is all about Style.  Your style.  Leaving behind the concepts found in the last several iterations of the Need For Speed franchise, Shift comes away as a much more focused and exciting racing game.

Anyone familiar with the series will no doubt be impressed with what has been done with Shift and happily accept the new direction the game has taken.  Gone are the open world Midnight Club style races in favor of a good old fashioned racing game with some modern flair to boot.

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Plot/Story/Set-up

Reminding me a lot of CodeMaster’s Toca RaceDriver 3 for the original Xbox, the story is your basic rise to the top of the heap scenario with an unseen coach/manager guy chatting in your ear about different race events and such.  In a meat and potatoes sort of way I really liked the non-existent story approach by Slightly Mad Studios, as it allowed me to imagine my racing destiny and stay concentrated on my cars and the upcoming events.

That’s not to say that the unimaginative will have nothing to think about.  There are plenty of cut scenes to help you feel engaged and the sense of achievement can often be staggering.  Checklist and complete-ist freaks will have a ton to do and even novice and beginner players new to the series will find it easy to pick up an play.

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Graphics:

Everything about Shift visually is very competent.  While not as pretty as other high profile racers such as Forza 3 or GT5, it does look nice at all times and runs smoothly race after race.  Car models and damaging are accurate and all the tracks look believable.  Nothing about the graphics ever really pop on screen but it really doesn’t take anything away from the experience.

Car customization is moderately deep, letting you apply your favorite colors and styles to the cars in your garage.  I felt like a lot of the menus and icons looked stock and Slightly Mad could have taken some more time with the presentation.  One could also apply that last statement to the fact that perhaps they weren’t going for a super polished presentation so they could deliver a solid and robust racing experience.  I agree.  My qualms with the presentation, while they could have been nicer on the eyes, have no bearing on the gameplay whatsoever.

The physics felt wonky when it came to high speed collision as cars would just pop up in the air like they weighed nothing.  Other than that, the weight distribution was accurate but not precise.

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Sound

Loud and blaring. In a good way.  You get a great deal of immersion with the sound design and it pays to crank the volume.  Screeching tires, colliding bumpers, and the overall sound of speed are captured to the extreme in Shift.

On the flip side the music supervisor on Shift must have had IBS when choosing the tracks.  A bunch of them are really annoying and what makes it worse is the start/stop nature in which they are presented.  It makes it feel like a game from generations past in the way it will play a song for one screen and then abruptly change so it can play different music for a loading screen only to change again when it reaches the next screen.

I can deal with bad music in a video game and have been doing so for a long time, but the inconsistent switching back and forth drove me (pun intended) crazy.  Sort of like a baby crying on an airplane.  I could deal with it better if I was prepared for it.  Overall, the sound design is quality with the music being not so much.

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Gameplay:

Back to what I was talking so adamantly about at the beginning of the review. Styles.  The whole point to Need For Speed Shift is about what style of driver you are.  Are you and aggressive or precision driver?  Most of the time you end up being both.  At the end of each race the game judges you on the tactics you deployed on the race track.  Clean laps with earn you precision points while banging into another car will earn you aggression points and so forth.

I really liked this aspect about Shift as it really allowed the game to progress and keep you interested.  During each race there is a bar at the top of the screen that tallies your points as you earn them and they help you earn stars.

Stars is another novel thing about Shift that is a basic idea but it works well given the scenario.  Each race has a certain amount of stars that you can earn through points and the more stars you achieve the farther you progress in the game.  There are four tiers in the game that each represent car and event classes.  The goal is to gain enough stars to qualify in the final event and win the championship.

Easier said than done.  The difficulty in Shift is actually quite hard.  Veteran racers may have no problem completing all the events but casual players such as myself will find the curve quite steep.  I could hardly control any car in the tier 3 category.

What almost made it harder for me was the sense of speed achieved in Shift.  Once you get past 100mph you literally start to get scared as one false move will totally wreck you car.  The in-car view which I’m normally not a fan of, is done here with absolute detail and gloss.  The sense of space and depth is widely developed and I recommend anybody who normally likes the behind-the-car view to give it a try.

I will say this.  Just when you think you have learned how to control your car, enter a drifting event.  The drifting events are so hard and the physics feel so lopsided that I could not bare to play them at all.  Screw that.  It is so frustratingly difficult, it made me want to pass a stone in a way that’s not paying it forward.  Ugh!

Car handling is highly customizable and Shift explains everything via the voice of your manager to help out those who don’t know about gear ratios and downforce and other aspects of car tuning.

To round up this section, the gameplay sans the drifting fiasco, is the most compelling part to Shift.  Once you start roaring around the track everything else falls to the wayside and your attention will be undivided.

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Multiplayer:

The Multiplayer portion of Need for Speed is pretty basic in its offerings, but there’s always someone to race against.  I usually got tooled on pretty hard. There aren’t many modes to choose from but with rank races you get awarded points that are applied to your single player campaign.

While it’s always fun to play online, the only games that seemed to be available were the ones hosted by the die-hard gamers that had maxed out to level 50 and using only tier 4 cars.  I never found a race that took it down a couple notches to say tier 2.

Furthermore, it was too easy for online opponents to smash you off the road to the point of spinning out, thus making it impossible for you to catch up.  The only way I ended up winning anything was when I came in last place but there were only 3 racers in the event so I was awarded 3rd place cash bonuses.

The multiplayer could have been given some different modes like league play or tournaments, or even borrowed some modes from the single player game such as eliminator.

Replay Value:

There is a ton to do here.  Those who love to complete everything will vastly enjoy the sheer amount of content available in this game.  Events galore, you could really spend a lot of time getting all the stars.

You never really have a problem buying the cars you want due to the fact that you can keep racing easy events to stock up on cash which is cool and it allows you to try out a bunch of cars.  All the tuning an customization options available in Shift, you can really get deep with it and fully pimp out a car in each class.

Final Endings:

Though it would have been nicer to see more cars and more tracks, one can’t deny the progress the franchise has made.  The music is whack and the multiplayer could have been more fun, but the single player campaign is compelling enough to warrant a purchase from race fans of novice and veteran skill level alike.

Those looking for a very accessible racer “need” to look no further.  Shift, while not perfect, fires on enough cylinders to keep it in race next to high profile racers this fall and should not be overlooked.

Pros:

  • Easy to pick up and play
  • Robust single player campaign
  • Fun and exciting

Cons:

  • Drifting events are lame
  • Music doesn’t work well with loading screens
  • Multiplayer lacking in modes

Buy Need for Speed Shift here for $57!



Jeff B