|System: X360, PS3, PC, PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Slightly Mad||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 15, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1 (8 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
June 10, 2009 - Need for Speed isn't a series, it's a brand. Since its debut on the 3DO in 1994, they've been re-imagined as arcade races, cops and robbers chase games, and open-world underground racing tournaments. Now it seems Need for Speed has come full circle, returning to the realism that was its original focus. This isn't a retread, though, as quite a lot has changed in the driving sim world in the last 15 years, and Need for Speed: Shift hopes to advance the ball even further.
The most instantly noticeable difference is the return of the in-car view. This was a major feature of the original 3DO game, but now the concept has become more than just a dashboard and wheel at the bottom of the screen. The interior of the car is incredibly detailed, and the camera has been rethought to exploit this a rarity in the racing genre. There's a lot of subtlety to the view, which shakes and moves as you drive, and you can actually look around the car while you're driving. A subtle, cinematic motion blur smoothes out the movements, and a bigger blur obscures your vision when you crash. It all looks eerily realistic, though I personally prefer third-person views because it gives me a better sense of the physical dimensions of my car and where it can fit.
Developed by London-based Slightly Mad Studios, Shift appears to be a hardcore simulation with an extreme attention to detail, in the vein of Codemasters games like TOCA or GRID. Everything has realistic physics simulation, from the grip of the tires to the wind resistance. The young developer really seems to understand things from a simulation perspective, but this is a game that will seriously alienate the series' more casual fans. EA seems to be going after Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport more than they are Project Gotham Racing or Midnight Club.
There are some elements of the more challenge-oriented approach of games like PGR and GRID, though. Each race has different goals you can achieve, which reward you with Stars and Badges. Each of these can be anything from a very specific challenge to just meeting a certain time or point quota. The career mode also has a few twists of its own. You progress through the game by earning Precisions and Aggression points. You can get Precision points for making it through clean turning smoothly and passing without hitting an opponent. You'll be rewarded with Aggression points for taking the opposite approach trading paint with rival cars or cutting them off. These points can be used to upgrade your car, but the upgrades are tailored to whichever kinds of points you're racking up. This forces players to think about how they're driving and balance their approach. It's a thoughtful angle that plays to the game's incredible depth.
EA is going to have a lot of competition in the racing market this fall, but the Need for Speed franchise has weathered worse and survived. It seems like they're targeting a narrower, more hardcore market during a time when the rest of the industry is scrambling for the casual gamer's dollar. It could work for them hardcore gamers didn't just go away the day the Wii launched. We have little doubt that this game will do great with race fans in Europe, but in the US, it might be a little hard to convert gamers to the pure simulation approach.
CCC Freelance Writer