Another Solid NFS Surfaces
Criterion Games got it right with the release of the new Hot Pursuit, and it seems that Slightly Mad Studios has also managed to zap a little more life into an exhausted franchise. Need For Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed is the continuation of 2009's NFS: Shift. The game is an arcade-style racer that tailors to the simulation audience, and offers players the chance to drive some high-performance race cars on some of the world's most challenging circuits. There is a modest level of car customization and tuning options, and like the first game Shift 2 still offers its players an intimate level of personalization options such as custom paint schemes and vinyls designs.
The original Shift was noted as being somewhat flawed by "floaty" car physics and some other awkward driving mechanics. Unfortunately, the new game retains a bit of that awkwardness and can be frustrating to play at times. However, the game is a little more forgiving and is a lot more encouraging of good driving skills--as opposed to the mild driver vs. aggressive driver player orientation in the original. You will NOT be rewarded so much for driving aggressively in Shift 2, and for the most part that's a good thing. There are also no more badges that reflect your driving style, only those that are earned through racing and winning events. The XP/objectives system works the same way, with points being earned during races and like Hot Pursuit, Shift 2 is tied to the "Autolog," an online service that keeps track of player stats and records.
The first noticeable improvements in Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed is the visual style, graphics and selection of cars and tracks. The graphics are nicer and the car models are significantly cleaner with interiors being modeled with more polygons and texture detail. The environments feature more realistic lighting and also benefit from higher resolution textures and a higher level of detail. The selection of vehicles covers a wide variety of performance tiers and disciplines. This ranges from retro/classics to full blown super cars and prototypes. Of course, the option to works-convert your rides is also included and the events will basically guide you through the process of tuning and modifying your vehicles. The event layout in the career mode is similar to that in Shift 1, but this time the events are more organized. You will be rewarded with credits and XP for completing events and their bonus objectives and unlock more customization options as you climb the ranks, both online and off.
Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed may improve upon the formula slightly, but at the end of the day it's not so different from its predecessor. It certainly looks better and has more to offer, but still drags along the same half-broken car physics and handling model. For example, a lot of cars seem to loose grip completely at relatively low speeds, and even with driving aids set to modest values the game can be difficult to get used to. Having said that, Unleashed supports many racing wheel setups so I would highly recommend them for use if you want the full experience. It may not be in the same league as Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo, but if you're into cars as much as I am then it's possible that you will learn to like Shift 2.