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This year Need for Speed is different. Need for Speed Shift is the serious racersí game on Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP while Need for Speed Nitro is aimed at casual players on the Nintendo DS and Wii. This means that Need for Speed Shift, coming from the people that brought you GT Legends and GTR 2, can now focus on being a top drawer simulation racing experience. Add in a strong career mode and online play and you have a solid first outing for the newly rebooted series.
Real-world physics, pixel-perfect cars and a wide range of race tracks combine with stomach churning blur effects to create a racing game that is full of energy, impact and excitement.
Spending some quality time with Need for Speed Shift for the first time you can't help but be impressed with the visual and audio quality. The first thing that hits you is the sheer feeling of speed and impact when you crash - and you will crash. This not only comes from the nippy frame rate and high numbers of vehicles, but from a range of visual tricks. Although not immediately noticeable, these work together to create the illusion of velocity and g-force.
The dashboard, for instance, blurs as you put your foot down - something that focuses your attention on the road ahead. This same effect is applied to your main view if you clatter the scenery or other cars, meaning that it takes a while to recover from the carnage. It's the sort of trick that made Burnout Paradise so graphically impressive and it is great to see EA bringing their other successes to bear in Need for Speed Shift.
Then there are the camcorder-like shakes and rolls when you accelerate, corner or impact with other cars. This comes from the decision to attach the cockpit camera to the driver's helmet rather than the car. You really feel the g-force on your head as it dips under breaking or struggles to keep upright on tight corners.
It's a simple but a very effective move. You see the surrounding vehicle pitch and roll around as you accelerate through the gears and throw yourself into corners. It works much the same way as Skate's low slung shaky cam, adding the same sense of connection here as it did in EA's skateboard title.
Although I like the idea of the quick jump-in play of Need for Speed Nitro, and I know it may suite my family better, there is no comparison to the level of game play and visuals of Need for Speed Shift. It's a game that reminds me of magical moments spent with my PS3 playing first Motorstorm then Motorstorm Pacific Rift. That game, like Need for Speed Shift, pulls out all the stops to create a romp of a driving experience. The feeling of speed here is palpable, as testified by the smile on the face of both the player and those watching.
Need for Speed Shift may still have some maturing to do in the hardcore driving stakes, but as a first effort it certainly impresses. The decision to split the games between the casual Nintendo and more serious Xbox 360 and PlayStation players means they can focus on one audience rather than failing to please both.
The overall package takes in a strong career progression mode as well as quick one off races and serves up a competitive product. But more than any of this, here is a game that obviously focuses on the driving experience - something thatís right up our street.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: