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Need for Speed: Shift attempts to balance arcade racing with simulation, but ultimately fails to reconcile the differences. A decent selection of cars, great graphics and a real sense of speed while driving are undone by fidgety steering and a selection of game types that just get in the way of racing.
The first race in Need for Speed: Shift is immensely promising. You're given a BMW M3 GT and must complete a timed lap in order to gauge your ability. The graphics are gorgeous, and the racing line hints at the simulation elements of the game. The car is fun to drive, too: it's easy to stylishly skid around corners while staying in control. I was impressed.
I've never quite found a racing game that really suits me as a player. I never really settled into Forza Motorsport 2, as straying the set path just a little could result in a race-ending crash. Towards the end of the game, when races were up to 40 minutes long, I just didn't have the patience.
Conversely, I've never really found an arcade racer that I liked. I prefer licensed cars, ideally a mix of lower end road cars and their racing variants (super cars have never really done anything for me.) Simply, I've never found an arcade racer that offers the cars I want to drive, despite playing some fun offerings.
Need for Speed: Shift should, then, be perfect for me. The roster of cars is smaller than it's simulation peers, Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5, but there's still a good mixture. Even better, cars can be upgraded and tuned, and every car has extensive bodywork upgrades. They can even be done up in racing colours.
The first race in Need for Speed: Shift is immensely promising.
My first few races were promising. I found the Ford Escort RS Cosworth amongst the Tier 1 cars and bought it instantly: the car was a favourite of mine growing up, and they are a fairly rare sight in racing games. The car was pretty easy to drive, and with some upgrades was incredibly formidable on the track. I was pretty sure by this point that Shift was my perfect racer.
That was until I finished the Tier 1 races. Now I was introduced to the faster cars, and more event types. Almost giddy from the range of cars, I chose an Audi RS4. I started my first race, and struggled to finish the first lap. As it turns out, many of the cars are far harder to drive than others. By bad luck, I chose one of the hardest to drive. And was stuck with it until I saved up enough for an alternative.
To make matters worse, there were an increasing number of specialist events in Tier 2. Challenges such as drifting, one-on-ones and race series (mini championships) required my participation. In theory, these events break up the monotony of racing. For me, they represent the part of racing games I have utterly no interest in, and I was disappointed to find they're not optional.
When I did get to race in Need for Speed: Shift, I was struck by the sense of speed. Through neat little camera tricks, such as blurring and shaking, I was fooled into feeling a sensation of speed. The Forza Motorsport series has always suffered from this lack of sensation, and the clever implementation in Shift is very welcome.
By trying to appeal to both arcade and simulation fans, it runs the risk of appealing to neither.
I also appreciated the clever collection of driver information. By carefully monitoring the way you drive, Shift keeps you up to date on what kind of driver you are: aggressive or precise. Aggressive drivers do what they like, and aren't afraid of a little contact. Precise drivers follow the racing line carefully, always making sure to avoid their opponents.
I was definitely an aggressive driver. I took plenty of opponents off the track, accidentally more often than not. However, because I got points for so many different kinds of moves on the track, it started to feel like I was getting given points for everything. I also felt like I should have been penalised on many occasions where I was actually rewarded.
Need for Speed: Shift is a strong game with high production values. There's a wide range of cars with great customisation options. However, by trying to appeal to both arcade and simulation fans, it runs the risk of appealing to neither. Overall, I would have far preferred the entire game to be like the first Tier, which I found more rewarding, but I'm sure there are far more players who would prefer the opposite.
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