Undoubtedly, one of the most reinvented franchises within the gaming industry must be the Need for Speed series. The title’s 1994 commencement utilized the power of the 3DO to create a graphically impressive, realistic driving simulation. Subsequent sequels over the next nine years offered a more arcade-like experience, which evaded the austere mechanics of the fashionable Gran Turismo series. These perennial disks incorporated a cat-and-mouse mechanic that challenged players to evade, and later, to take the role of police. 2003’s Need for Speed: Underground drew inspiration from the Fast and Furious films, which were instrumental in popularizing the tuner culture and street racing scene.
As the thirteenth installment of the series, Need for Speed: Shift takes a radical departure from the bulk of the franchise’s legacy, by returning to the game’s simulation roots. Electronic Arts astutely gave development duties to Slightly Mad, a studio comprised of the famed GTR production team. Gone are the awkward Maggie Q cinematics of NFS: Undercover, which were used to propel the previous game’s narrative. Shift shrewdly forgoes any contrived plotline to make both racing and player development the foci of the game.
Similar to the IQ assessment built into the last few Madden titles, a player’s skill will be measured the first time Shift is booted up. After a few laps around the test track, the game will recommend a difficulty level, as well as a setting for Shift’s vehicular damage model. Once players determine these options, a driver profile is created, which tracks how skillfully and perilous your racing behavior is. Each subsequent race rewards players with points for both skill and aggression, both of which are combined to create a player’s driving rank. During competitions, everything from maintaining a textbook racing line to bumping rivals, helps player not only accumulate points but also promotes proper racing form. Even the game’s on-screen track map has a visual indicator that indicates if you’ve successful maneuvered through each challenging corner. Whereas Gran Turismo is overt and demanding with its tutelage, Shift gently fosters gamers to become better drivers. Slightly Mad Very Studios are a shrewd bunch, indeed.
With four tiers of racing proficiency, nine types of competitions, eighteen tracks, and 70 cars, Shift’s single player campaign contains enough content to keeps drivers industrious for at least twenty-five hours. Additionally, there’s a wealth of tinkering, and upgrading that should keep virtual gearheads suitably engaged. The title’s multiplayer component offers ranking and unranked eight player races, drift challenges, and time attacks. Online competitions are effortlessly created through the title’s matchmaking system and performed nearly flawlessly with very little lag.
Shift’s third-person perspective flaunts the title’s incredibly detailed car models and stunning track design, giving players a good sense of speed. However, the title’s ground-breaking cockpit view is so convincing that gamers are bound to see a horde of imitators. Not only is each vehicle’s dash and gauges impeccably rendered, but the player’s view dynamically changes as the car whips around the track. The effect is subtle, greatly adds the game’s already powerful level of immersion. The game’s engine noises sound fittingly formidable, while the series musical soundtrack is appreciatively (by default) limited to replays.
Despite a 3GB install on the Playstation 3, Need for Speed: Shift loses momentum during its leisurely load times. Once the title is launched, gamers can expect a ninety second wait before the title’s main menu is displayed. Individual races make a half-minute to load, allowing energy to dip between matches. While it’s certainly not a deal killer, the development team could have taken a cue from the DiRT series, and presented players with statistics to read during their interim.
Faithful followers of the franchise may be initially perplexed by Need for Speed’s Shift’s radical change in direction. However, once a few races have been completed, it become exceedingly evident that Shift is the rightful rejuvenation the series has been seeking. With a handful of truly revolutionary elements, hardcore racing aficionados as well as more casual fans will appreciate Shift’s skillful package. With Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5 just around the corner, the battle for racing supremacy should be exceedingly interesting.
Need for Speed: Shift was reviewed on retail Playstation 3 code.