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Shift 2 shines with detailed models of 60's legends, but in pure racing terms comes in second best to the stiff competition.
Traditionally I'd never had too much time for the Need for Speed series, preferring Sims or racers that followed a specific Motorsport discipline, such as rallying. Still, with this latest incarnation of Shift aiming to give Forza and Gran Turismo a bloody nose I decided to look again at EA's serious racer.
The game follows a strict career structure that reminds me of Codemasters' legendary TOCA Race Driver Game (the first game with its near full roster of British Touring Cars still gets played regularly in my house) in its linear feel; with a clearly mapped route through the games various events.
The game's also similar to another Codemasters title, DiRT, in so much as there's plenty of yammering from some no-name (as far as I'm concerned) American racing driver, offering you advice and tips on how to progress through the game. You can't skip these videos either, and they can be frustrating when they're explaining simple aspects of the game, especially when you just want to get out there and race!
Once you're past the menus and cut-scenes and on to the racing proper, Shift 2 is something of a disappointment. The handling is, in a word, odd. I initially opted for a SEAT Leon, it's prettier than its VW Golf sibling and a genuine hoot to drive, but here the car felt strange, as if the front end had been pinned to the track, almost as if I were driving a video-game version of Scalextric. I've driven more than my fair share of front-wheel drive cars from little 38bhp Minis through to 345bhp Ford Focus RS 500s and none have ever felt like this. As a game with Gran Turismo in its sights, the handling of the cars is a big disappointment.
Legends from the 1960s like the Mini Cooper S, Ford Escort and Lotus Cortina are brilliantly modelled.
Still, once you accustom yourself to its slightly unusual physics model, there's some good racing to be had here. The game is certainly challenging and with a variety of environmental changes, such as wet weather and night racing adding more variety to the mix.
Shift 2 does offer a wide range of cars, with something for everyone from modern European hatches to drifters, to muscle cars. This range of cars can broadened even further if you're willing to part with a bit more cash to get the extra car packs. Legends from the 1960s like the Mini Cooper S, Ford Escort and Lotus Cortina are brilliantly modelled, but that odd handling sensation is unfortunately still present. Too often cars like these are ignored by developers (are you listening Polyphony and Turn 10?) so its great to see these great cars accurately recreated.
Graphically, Shift 2 looks a little odd, brake lights shine down on the road surface regardless of light level or shadow and some of the models have a distinct PS2 feel to them. Compare it with Gran Turismo 5 and Shift 2 looks like it's in need of a trip to the body shop, with jagged edges and flat colours meaning the cars lack the ‘wow' factor you get from the big two franchises. Even the most mundane motor looks lustrous in those games, here they just fall flat.
Criminally, there's no two-player mode, at least not on one console. I spent a good three or four minutes scouring the (not always clear) menus looking for two player mode before checking the box to find it's a single player game. The last time that happened to me was in 1996 and I was playing Daytona USA on the Sega Saturn. As good as online racing is, to me there's little to beat the experience of sharing a race with a friend right next to you and it's a big miss in my opinion.
Shift 2 is an impressive almost game.
So Shift 2 is an impressive almost game. There's a good variety of cars here, some of which are rarely seen in other games. Graphically it lacks the shine of the two big franchises it aims to take on and doesn't offer the same variety of cars or tracks found elsewhere. Add in the odd handling, the lack of single-console multiplayer and Shift 2 starts to feel like more of a back-marker than a race winner. Maybe by the time Shift 3 rolls around it might be more of a competitor, but for now, Shift 2 will have to settle with the bottom rung of the podium.
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