The PSP version of Need for Speed: Shift does not have very much in common with its big brother on the consoles. It’s normal for portable versions of multiplatform games to take a different approach from the main version, but Shift’s PSP version doesn’t even share similar ideals or design. Despite being hugely different, Shift PSP is still absolutely fantastic, and it is one of the very best racers found on any portable system.
While the console version was seen as a “shift” from the earlier mainstays of the series (i.e. fast, arcade racing) and a move towards a more simulation-styled racing experience. Shift PSP retains trace amounts of that focus, but is mostly a very arcade-styled racer. So much so that you even get a nitrous boost! If that isn’t the calling card of the arcade racer, I just don’t know what is.
Nitrous boosting aside, the game still plays out in an arcade style that will see you drifting around corners at absurd speeds and aggressively smashing into other cars. Everything in this game is expertly executed and perfectly suited to the PSP’s needs. Races are short but satisfying, and yet they are long enough for the drama of a race to play out. A crash in the middle of the race won’t doom you to hit the reset button, as there’s still plenty of time to catch up.
Graphically, Shift features a fantastic visual aesthetic in the menu screens that really serves to liven up the game and give it a more energetic and fun feel. It’s obvious that everything – even down to the loading screens – has been carefully crafted to fit the continuity of the visuals. On the track, however, things aren’t as great. Some tracks are beautiful representations of cities across the globe, but others are just kind of boring and bland. Cars look good for the most part, but they are pretty average for the PSP.
What makes up for the cars’ somewhat uninspired looks is the inclusion of a paint shop. It allows you to modify cars you win to look however you want. It’s a nice addition that’s easy to use, but it’s a little bit limited in its current state, and the most you’ll really be able to do is to change a car’s colors and add designs and patterns. It’s quite a bit for a portable racer, but don’t expect the power or versatility of something like Forza 2.
As such, the game is not a graphical powerhouse that will compete with Gran Turismo PSP, but in the audio department it could stand up to any other racer on the PSP. Sound effects are spot on and perfectly implemented, but they’re not the real story here. Shift features a fantastic soundtrack with a huge variety of songs that play during menu screens and races. They’re really fast-paced beats that pump you up to race at the breakneck speeds that Shift demands. Most portable games with a soundtrack skimp on the song variety and end up blaring the same four songs in your ear for ten hours, but Shift’s soundtrack has a big track list, and the songs never seem to get old or stale.
The best reason to fall in love with Shift PSP, though, is the truly incredible variety of races available to you. The number of race types dwarfs most console versions despite the limited capacity of the UMD. These race types aren’t necessarily innovative, but they go a long way towards keeping the game fresh and entertaining after dozens of races.
Aside from the normal race types you’d expect in a racing game, Shift also features showdown races. As you move up in the rankings, you’ll have real-life race car drivers who you’re competing against. Beat them enough times and they’ll challenge you to a one-on-one showdown. Shift does a great job of making you actually care that there are race pros you’re competing against. Once in a while, during a race, if there’s an especially tense moment, the action will pause and the camera will zoom ahead to focus on the racer in front of you and remind you of whom you’re racing against. For example, this might happen if you finally overtake the 2nd place racer with half a lap left to go, the camera will flash forward to put a name and a face to the car that will be trying desperately to keep you from winning. It’s a great effect.
Above all else, driving competitively in Shift is just plain fun. Races are fast and visceral, and you really feel a sense of accomplishment when winning a race. Because the races get tough, with some taking multiple tries to get through, by only the second or third stage of difficulty, you’ll find yourself having to challenge the way you race and adapt to new styles in order to achieve victory.
Given that Shift ups the difficulty in the later levels, you’ll definitely get a good amount of racing for your dollar with this game. If you play every race to completion, you’ll get hours upon hours of racing for your portable needs, and if you play until you get first in every event, you’ll have plenty to do in this game for at least 15-20 hours.
Despite a few missteps, Shift PSP impressed me on just about every level. It may not have much in common with the console version, but it serves as a great complement. It’s a great game in its own right – independent of the console version – and designed under its own rules.
Though most PSP owners will pass this game up, as this holiday it will be hidden in the shadow of that other PSP racer Gran Turismo, Shift is different enough and good enough to warrant a purchase right alongside that PSP classic.
If it’s fast-paced racing you crave, and you don’t care about adjusting every nut and bolt on your car, then Shift is an excellent game that exceeds expectations in all areas. It would have been easy for EA to work up a slapdash product, put the Shift logo on it, and use the quality of the console version to sell it. But instead they’ve released a product that warrants a place in every PSP owners collection right next to the system’s classics like Burnout Legends and Gran Turismo.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Shift has a great visual style complemented by a unique aesthetic. Some levels can be a bit plain and drab, but all other aspects look fantastic. 3.7 Control
Controls are suitable for the subject matter, and the decision to put the accelerator and break controls on the face buttons rather than the triggers helps alleviate PSP hand aches. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Sound effects are all spot-on, but the real story here is the great in-game soundtrack that really helps liven things up and give the game a more energetic and arcade feeling. 4.3 Play Value
If you’re looking for a racer on the PSP, you’ll find very few better values. Shift features tons of races, a huge variety of race styles, and even a car painter/customization mode to spruce up cars to your liking. This is a very good value, and a high quality game. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.