2009′s original Need For Speed: Shift was a bit of an off-radar gamble on EA’s part, pitched directly at the untrodden middle ground between the arcade-style thrills of its top-tier Need For Speed series, and sim-like racers such as the perpetually revered Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport titles. The venture clearly paid off, with Shift‘s slick and involving package earning itself some extremely healthy sales figures and a considerable assortment of brand new NFS fans into the bargain. A sequel was demanded – with devotees being especially vocal during Hot Pursuit‘s release period – and after well over a year under hush-hush development, here it is.
And probably its biggest single accomplishment is that during its later stages, it will manage to turn your nerves into absolute mincemeat. Despite the fact that things begin very slowly indeed – an utterly essential if overly familiar trait of the racing game genre – once you gather enough XP and progress far enough through the main Career mode, you’ll not only have a faster car, but you’ll begin to see a heavy prevalence of night-time races; all of which put your skills to a procession of extremely formidable tests. And if you’re an adrenaline junkie who only has time for racing games that make your heart beat like an unruly jackhammer? Try driving by night whilst utilising the brand new Elite handling mode. Just avoid caffeine beforehand.
After a successful trial run in the original Shift, the game’s newly varnished helmet-cam perspective puts you right back into the thick of the madness to a degree that quite honestly hasn’t been seen before. With a subtle array of small, context sensitive head-tilts and jolts, the system is so thoroughly immersive that you might find all other racing games distant and considerably less involving in its wake; but don’t be in the slightest bit surprised if Shift 2‘s contemporaries feel the need to ‘pay homage’ to it in the very near future. Shift 2 is also a fabulous looking game throughout, regardless of whether you’re zooming around a meticulously re-created Brands Hatch, or one of the game’s handful of impeccable original creations. Full damage modelling for all cars is the icing on the cake.
Hot Pursuit‘s revolutionary Autolog system returns here, and in-line with the more restrained nature of this project in comparison, it’s nowhere near as in-your-face as it was previously. It’s still essentially the same marvellous beast, and it still logs everything important about your and your friend’s performances in detail, but you’re not constantly bombarded with real-time updates in the same way as you were in Hot Pursuit. The online multiplayer options are pretty much as you’d expect, but you’re able to customise some entertainingly peculiar aspects of each race if you’re in control of a lobby; dictating things like the time of day, and even allowing you to strong-arm opponents into using one particular driving viewpoint.
The now-traditional shifting advisory track line is also far more effective in keeping you abreast of when you need to administer the brakes. Whilst the track lines in many contemporary racing games either change shade far too late or only host a colour shift that’s dependant on where each light sits on each track, Shift 2‘s system is far more pedantically fine-tuned, and feels like a beneficial tool rather than simply a me-too box that needed to be ticked by its creators. It’s a very small, almost unnoticeable little innovation, but in the grand scheme of nurturing your interest, it feels downright invaluable.
Shift 2 is just generally a much more authentic and polished experience overall. EA’s recent promotional video series in which professional drift drivers like Darren McNamara and Tommy Milner did battle online via Autolog and were extremely generous (convincingly so) about almost every aspect of the game, should help to convince hardcore racing aficionados that this isn’t some unnecessary and half-baked compromise. Shift 2 is, like its predecessor, a distinctive and rather unusual proposition. And a surprisingly gripping (and complimentary) yin to Hot Pursuit‘s rambunctious yang.
Watch the Shift 2: Unleashed trailer here: