Need For Speed: The Run
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hardly not even just six months after EA got together with Criterion to give us Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, the unceasingly generous scoundrels in their department of brumbrum have now joined forces with Slightly Mad to give us all Shift 2: Unleashed.
the Need For Speed moniker has an odd history. first it was the name of a specific game. then that game became a series. Then, over more time, it slowly became a sort of all-purpose string of (three) words to put in the title of any driving game that EA made. now, however, it seems that perhaps they are rueing their choice of splashing it around everywhere.
apparently EA have found out (probably through highly complex market research) that, in the average gamer's imagination, the words Need For Speed conjure up a particular series of arcade-esque games (the ones that used to be called Need For Speed). the problem is that EA want the Shift series - which was kicked off by Need For Speed: Shift - to have a more serious, racing sim pedigree; like Forza and Gran Turismo (I guess they saw gap in the market).
as such, Shift 2 has overseen the shifting of the words Need For Speed from out of the title and to near the bottom of the front of the box. it's like the type almost made it all the way off the box, but briefly stopped for a coffee and then the wind changed.
anyway, here we have it, Shift 2: Unleashed - not quite, but not quite not a Need For Speed game. "so, what's it like?" i can't quite hear you ask. well, it's alright.
generally Shift 2 puts everything - as Radiohead told us through the medium of drone - in its right place. it looks pretty. the cars, the course details and the backdrops are all fairly comely, and the animation is smooth enough not to spoil the effect. the sound is fair too, although fairly clearly failing to keep up with Forza 3 and GT5's sonic chops.
EA in their department of brumbrum have now joined forces with Slightly Mad.
speaking, as i was a few lines ago, of the cars, there apparently aren't that many of them (at least not compared to Shift 2's main rivals), but that's supposedly a matter of increased focus rather than decreased content.
that having been said, there's still something like one hundred and forty five ‘rides' to choose from, which seems like probably enough to me. i'm not sure i would have perceived that as a potential weakness if the designer hadn't been so keen in his press work to assure everyone that it was definitely wasn't.
as with so many racing games, the handling is where things go a bit off course for Shift 2. the cars just don't drive very pleasingly. driving in Shift 2 is largely about twitching and grappling - with harsh responses and oversteer coming very much as standard.
the ride of any vehicle can be improved by means of mods purchased with credits earned in the game, but i found it difficult to choose which cars i wanted to stick with, given that they were all unswervingly unpleasant to drive at first.
why on earth it has taken this long for someone to do it.
the credit system itself is slightly strange. while its fairly well thought out and consistently implemented, it somehow doesn't really feel like it's at home in a racing sim. it's as if it has been swiped from Grand Theft Auto, or Zelda even.
one thing Shift 2 does offer that's genuinely impressive is its Helmet Cam. so impressive in fact that within moments it has you wondering why on earth it has taken this long for someone to do it. there have been clunky hands on the steering wheel and gear stick type visual tropes before, but as far as I know, Shift 2 is the first game to properly offer you the perspective of the driver rather than essentially that of the car. step aside KIT, it's time to play as Michael.
however, despite how effective the new perspective is - and the ability to generate a near-immediate sense its ubiquity is long overdue is pretty effective - it can't really save Shift 2 from being only just above mediocre. the fact is, regardless of how immersed you feel be being able to turn your head to look through the side windows, if the act of driving feels like trying to ride a Greek bull through a pottery then that sense of realism is rapidly going to slip away.
you don't stumble into that sort of league by making a new racing game every six months.
frankly, though, if we're honest, did anyone really expect me to say that this game is better than Forza 3, or the equal of GT5? you don't stumble into that sort of league by making a new racing game with a new style/format/gameplay gimmick every six months and hoping that at some point one of them will be a classic, even if you do have pots of cash to spend. (ed: sounds like you're going to love Need For Speed: The Run, I'll put one by for you to review in November.)
unfortunately for EA, when it comes down to it, my need for speed is just nowhere near as bad as their need to make up their minds just what kind of racing game it is that they want to make, and then to make it. properly. like players trying to get to grips with the unwieldy handling of all the cars in Shift 2, they need to choose a vehicle and then put in the time necessary to perfect it.
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.
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