Good luck, have fun, race for the podium.
I want to start this off by saying I'm no gear head. I don't go around looking at cars, asking about gearing ratios or turbos, "what kind of shoes does your car have on" or even "what kind of engine you got in there?" Instead, I enjoy racing games because the let me pretend to drive cars I would never get a chance to own, really fast and occasionally say "vroom vroom" to myself. So, going into Need for Speed: SHIFT, I knew I was going to generally be out of my element. The most fun I've had with a sim-like game in the past has been playing Bizarre Creations' Project Gotham Racing series... which bordered on the sim line, but still kept just a bit of an arcade feel to things. You'd have to race really cleanly to get the best times but it never became ultra frustrating to do so.
Luckily with Need for Speed: SHIFT, they help you out quite a bit and it can be made to feel like PGR. You first start of the game by driving a fast car as kind of a qualifier race. What you're really doing is having the game determine what difficulty setting you'll be racing at and which automatic assists you'll have enabled. There are three levels of AI to race against, and four car assist categories. Having everything turned to the easiest settings engages things like automatic braking... Yes, your car will actually hit its own brakes when it thinks you're going to fast. Taking all the assists off, and you're closer to the type of sim racing you'd expect out of Forza and Gran Turismo. They also provide the ever-so-popular adaptive racing line which will be green when you should accelerate, yellow when you should take your foot off the gas, and red when you should be braking. All of this stuff is customizable, so you can tune the experience however you see fit. Finally figure out that you need to brake while going into turns? Maybe kick it up to medium handling.
Throughout the game, you are constantly reminded by a disembodied British or Australian sounding man that the final goal for your driving career is to take part in, and win the Need for Speed World Championship... and that's about all the personality you'll get from this drab game. He talks to you before the race starts and tries to amp you up, often repeating what he says from race to race. The loading screens, which you'll see plenty of because it has terrible load times, are flat black backgrounds with white text giving you tips about things that happen in the game. Want to find out about the Drift events? You should read the loading screens. Aggression and Precision style driving actions? Load screens. It was basically as if Slightly Mad Studios knew they were going to have to do a lot of loading and figured it would be the best time to teach you stuff, instead of letting you learn on the road or test tracks. Hey, at least every car seems to have flames shoot out of the tail pipe at some point. Fire is cool.
Visually, you've got nice looking places to race and real cars that are well detailed. One of the hallmark features of the game, the car interiors, was not very useful to someone like myself, simply because using the cockpit camera resulted in too much of the road being obscured. The whine of the engines sounded fine and the crunches and scrapes from trading paint and bumpers came across well. They also do some cool motion blurring at high speeds, as well as a very effective black-and-white + Gaussian-style blur effect when you crash into other cars, simulating the fact that your brain just smacked against the sides of your skull.
To progress through the game's career mode, you have to go through four tiers of racing each requiring you to earn a certain number of stars to get to the next level. Completing races will earn you cash which you can then spend on cars and upgrades for your cars. Each of the tiers has different types of events to take place in. Some require cars that are created in a certain part of the world (ie: European Series), some have you face off against one other driver and swap cars after each round to see which car is "better" (Head to Head), and some even have you drifting along the track as much as possible. The drifting mechanic was one that I never quite grasped
In addition to all these race types, you're eventually supposed to start looking like a "precision" or "aggression" driver due to your style. Things like ramming your opponents to get them out of the way will earn aggression points, while passing cleanly will reward you with precision points. For whatever reason, drafting is considering an aggressive move. The problem with this system is that once you bash your way to the front of the pack, there's no one left to be aggressive to, and then you just earn precision points... which offset the aggression points. I tried quite hard to become labeled as an aggressive driver and actually couldn't do it.
I found myself purchasing a BMW at the very beginning and upgrading it as much as possible, as opposed to selling it and buying new cars, until I broke into the third tier when that car wasn't going to stand up to the big boys. The EA Sports sensibility shows itself wonderfully when going to buy a car and be given the option to purchase one with earned game money, or Microsoft Points. Even giving that option has rubbed me the wrong way from the time it was included in The Godfather: The Game, to now.
Along with purchasing upgrades for your car, you can add vinyls in preset patterns or custom ways, give yourself new rims, and even enter some performance tuning settings. Basically, all the features you'd expect out of your racing sim game are here, including online racing and rankings, plenty of cars, plenty of tracks.
My biggest problem with Need for Speed: SHIFT isn't that it's a bad game... it's just an average one. There's really nothing here to make it stand out. With other racing titles in a similar vein right around the corner, EA seems to have really played it safe and didn't want to shake the trees. They've done what they tried to do, create a competent, but not particularly outstanding or interesting, racing game.
- Well detailed cars, inside and out.
- Lovely looking vistas, tracks, and effects.
- All the features you'd expect out of a sim-style racing title.
- A bit glitchy and weird in multiple places, with cars being able to drive under one another.
- 30+ second load times, even when installed to the Xbox 360 hard drive.
- Nothing makes it stand out as anything more than a generic car racing game.
- Seriously, where's the personality? What a boring presentation.