Shift 2 stalls at the start but finishes strong
Need For Speed Shift 2 Unleashed’s attempt at being a quality racing sim falls short but is still fun to play. A lot of the famous tracks of motorsport are in the game like Suzuka Circuit and Mazda Speedway. The problem is that the game doesn’t go far enough to give you the motorsport feel. There are only eight races that are longer than six laps. At no point in the game do you need to worry about tyre condition and pit stops aren’t even an option. The races are short enough that one crash or slowing down to go around a crash would put you back far enough that there isn’t enough road left to catch up to the leaders.
It also has many of the same problems that other racing sims fall victim to. The opponent AI is not great. They don’t react to crashes very well. Slow moving or stationary vehicles will get slammed by the cars behind them even though there is a lot of space and time to react to the obstacle. The AI isn’t very aggressive either. On hard difficulty if you try to pass on the inside of a corner the opponent will move over to give you space to pass. You can even exploit this to push them off the track without touching them.
Another sim racing trap that Shift 2 falls into is starting the game with low end cars that aren’t fun to race with, like a Volkswagen Beetle or a Ford Escort. You have to grind through slow events with these low performance cars to get to the real meat of the game.
There are some minor issues and some good design choices.
- The lighting and blurring effect that happens when you crash is really well done and looks great, as does the vehicle damage. It really adds to the sim experience.
- The anti aliasing results in jagged lighting and shadows that make an otherwise gorgeous game occasionally look bad.
- The game keeps track of every corner that you’ve hit perfectly and rewards you for completing all the corners at a track.
- Rolling starts are sometimes broken. Occasionally the race will begin with some racers ahead of the start/finish line and others behind and the game recognizes the racers behind as having completed a lap when they pass the line for the first time. This leads to a lot of frustration in online matches as racers finish a lap early.
- The game crashed while saving twice in the 60 hours that I played but it saves after every race so the progress lost is insignificant.
- The load times and save times are excruciatingly long.
- The horizontal camera controls for the in cockpit view are the opposite of the controls for the external camera view so switching between them can be disorienting.
- There are unskippable cutscenes. These scenes all feature some driver saying how great they are and how they have the best custom made car ever and if you can beat them they’ll give it to you. These scenes all talk to the audience like they are pre-adolescent boys.
- The countdown timer in knockout mode audibly ticks every second instead of just in the final seconds before an elimination. The result is that there is no aural warning for an elimination so the player needs to look at the timer. I found this choice to be strange as the result is a constant ticking sound that serves no purpose.
These minor issues aside, the game is really fun especially when you reach the GT3 and GT1 events with a full grid of 16 drivers. These later events give the feeling of being in a tight pack and battling for position in these profesional level races is what racing sim fans want. It's just too bad it takes a while to get to that point in this game and other games do a better job at it.