Historically, unless I have a physical steering wheel atteched to the game, I do NOT like cockpit views in my racing games. could never get into the game when I’m in the car. I know, that sounds weird, but I really much prefer the out of car, behind view.
That all changes with this game.
Let’s get some clarity on the Need for Speed franchise. For starters, it’s been around a long time, and is one of the oldest franchises that has continual releases. Introduced on the 3DO in 1994, it quickly gained a following for it’s serious attempt at realism of control, physics and speed. This was almost immediately thrown out the window with every proceeding version (except Porsche Unleashed, which was pretty realistic as well.)
The 2nd NFS allowed the player to race some of the rarest cars and kicked the realism to the curb, and becoming more of the Need for Speed racing series we know today.
Over the years, the NFS series has fallen to the mediocre “Ho-hum, it’s another one” yawn inducing bargain bin games as the yearly installment of Madden gives me. NFS: Underground = Fantastic!, Underground 2 = Amazing!, Most Wanted = Great, Carbon = Meh, Not bad. ProStreet = OK, I guess.. and Undercover caused me to tilt my head like a confused puppy dog and eyeball my old copy of Most Wanted as if I got the 2 mixed up… Guess what?. I didn’t, But I think the guys at EA did. it was nearly identical.
EA decided to pull the stalled and stale series from once phenomenal developer Black Box, and gave it to a new team that EA had acquired named Slightly Mad. Who was once named BLIMEY!. Who created a couple of Fan favorite racers called GTR and GT Legends. did the switch pay off?
In aces did it pay off.
The story, thankfully, is nearly non-existent and is the same ol’ cliche of “young pup wnts 2 meik it BIGZ!” and really is only a setup to make you start from the ground up, which nearly all racing games do. Because having the best car from the very 1st race…just… well, it’s dumb. I won’t get into it, but it’s dumb.
So, thin story aside.. the game play is intense. Simply intense. You can play from the typical “behind the car” view. But in all honesty, that should have been disabled to force people to play from the cockpit perspective. Every racing game before this one has never quite gotten it right. stiff head movement, no logical head movement. Like if you’re about to take a corner, are you going to keep look straight?. No. What NFS:S does is create a realistic, visually aggressive, and inexplicably detailed First person experience from the car. While approaching a corner, you’re view will slightly turn to the direction that you are going to WANT to be going, and once you’re taking that turn, the you’re view will move even more to follow the track accordingly. The First person view is never stiff, and is constantly bobbing and twitching around, just as you would expect in a car that is moving 150mph. All of this style would be for not if the physics and game play didn’t stack up. and thankfully it does. Shift returns to the realistic roots of it’s original and does away with most of the arcadey control style. each car feels realistic, heavier than past games, and braking and technique is again required to get far!. YAY! I’m not saying it’s a Gran Turismo Sim here. But it finds it’s balance beautifully. More in the sim area, and less arcade feel. Requiring you to feather the throttle, take good driving lines, and brake into corners. playing proactively gets you much farther than playing reactively.
The progression of the game is all based upon Stars. gaining stars is set up in different ways. Placing in the Top 3 will net you 3 stars for 1st, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd. after that, you can also earn a star if you’ve gained 500-800 points, gain another for getting 1000-1500. and yet another if you’ve cleared a pre-determined objective for that race. such as “Sping out 10 opponents” or “Own 75% of the race” and so on. Gaining Stars will unlock more course, Tiers and challenges, while gaining experience points (XP) will net you more money, cars, garage slots, and pretty much all the goodies. You gain experience by playing by the rules… or basically, being a jackass. You gain more XP by driving clean lines, clean laps, not hitting other drivers as you pass them, etc. But you can also get points by slamming into your opponent, drafting behind them, knocking them off course, or power sliding around corners.
In theory, this sounds like a great way to personalize your driving style as the game likes to put it. In practice though, it’s hard to get ranked as Aggressive for being a jerk, because once you’re in the lead, what else is there to do but drive good? so, those points rack up way faster. In all, you get points for pretty much whatever you do. it’s not bad, but the system could be tweaked to create a better balance and make driving like an asshole more rewarding. Right now, you have to WORK at being a jerk, while getting “Precision” points is always going to be cake.
While the driving part is fast, intense, and always rewarding. The Drifting.. *sigh*.. God, EA.. what the hell guys? Did you play the Underground Series amazing drifting courses and decide (No, fuck that.. make it retarded from now on.) Ever since Underground 1 and 2. the drifting either doesn’t exist (Most Wanted.).. isn’t fun (Carbon.) or flat out retarded. (ProStreet and Shift.) I… I really can’t get past, how annoying the drifting was at first. Codemasters got it perfect with GRiD, the drifting was easy to pick up and hard to master, it was rewarding, fun, and addicting!. Shift’s version almost feels broken! and the worst part is the complete LACK of customization that can go into the vehicle to make it feel better. Note how I say to “Feel better”. you can customize the hell out of your cars. but you won’t get it feeling good to drift in.
In GRiD. it took effort to oversteer, and than it was a fight to keep that line and dancing on that edge of falling out of the drift, or spinning the car. In Shift, simply turning the wheel a little bit throws you’re car sideways, and from there, it’s a fight to stay out of the wall AND from spinning out. there is almost no fight to keep your drifting, just keep from hitting the wall and spinning out. This ability to instantly throw your car sideways without even trying isn’t fun at first, and becomes frustrating. On top of that, you’ve got the WORST… music.. blaring!. seriously, NFS has had some bad music.. but, this is the pinnacle of ear rape. sure, there is one or 2 tracks that don’t penetrate, but the rest don’t even buy you a dinner. they just show up with there pants around there ankles with chloroform.
But, stick with it.. turn off the shit music. and keep practicing. it gets easier, and after awhile… it’s not so bad. the biggest drawing factor is the Computer AI sucks at drifting too! and you can easily triple it’s score and get, basically, free stars and XP points.
Breathtaking. This is one of the best looking racers. At least it is from the inside of the cockpit. From the outside, it still looks pretty good. But the visual flare and attention given to everything when you’re in that first person view is stellar.
As you’re driving near you’re cars top speed. the view will stretch slightly and pull back, while blurring the interior of the car and making the view in front of you sharper. this gives a great sense of not only speed, but focus. as you go faster, it blurs out the un important stuff and forces you to keep track of the corner that is coming. While at your cars top speed, applying NOS to go faster will cause colors to fade, and brings in a red tint. as if the blood is rushing to your head. It’s pretty intense. Crashing depending upon the severity, will either cause the screen to echo and warp very slightly for spare scrapes with the wall, or full on black out, lose complete focus of everything for a couple seconds as you regain composure. all the while hearing yourself breathe heavily and your heart beating in your ears. Car models are perfect and follow suit with EA’s track record for there visual presentation of cars in NFS. there highly detailed in both model and texture department. Courses are highly detailed as well, but spots of low texture ground pop up on most courses. it can pull you out of the game a little bit to spin into the sand, and see that it’s about as detailed as a PS2 port of Bratz Racing.
Framerates stay solid and, that I have noticed, haven’t fluxed into a drop at all. it’s quite a feet to have so much going on, on screen at once and have the FPS stay at 60. Car damage looks great too, but never gets to the point of being realistic. even though it looks good, it just doesn’t feel right. if I slam into a wall going 100mph I want to taste the front damned bumper. but that never happens. even bigger of a let down, is you’re car never breaks, at least, not that I have been able to accomplish. sure, steering gets a little wonky, but you can’t destroy the car. if you’re going to have this intense feeling about the game, this, I believe, was a big mistake to leave out full damage.
Outside of the car, the camera can feel too lose, and gets disorienting, but since this game should REALLY be played from within the car, this issue doesn’t come up. Lighting and reflections are the best I can remember in a game, rivalling that of Crysis on the PC and even that of DiRT 2. although Shift has a more subtle approach, the detail is still there.
Again… EA.. you’re doing it right. nearly every NFS game has had amazing sound effects that rival real life. Engines are spot on, subtle tweaks to upgrades or final gears effect the sound. This is basically the quality that every NFS game has had, just turned up to 11.
Slightly Mad got this perfectly. (aside from the god damned music in drifting…) there is NO music, which is great, because there are way too many sounds going on, and there best to be heard.
The engines in Shift are almost deafening, and realistically, they would be, when you’re behind the wheel of a car with 600hp. it’s not going to sound like a a bulimic kid walking on pillows. it’s going to sound like God himself is screaming in the left hemisphere of your brain! Going 160mph feels and sounds like your going that speed. the engine is blaring, you can here the turbo spinning and unsettling speeds like it’s going to fly off the car. As if a tornado is your co-pilot!.
Really, the only thing about the game that doesn’t quite sound right, and this is pretty much in every racing game. is the tire squeal. I dunno, I’ve spun tires before, and it doesn’t quite sound like that. but again, no racing game gets this right, so I’m not knocking this one. it also doesn’t sound bad or unreal, just not quite in line with my experiences.
In the past. When a publisher moved a franchise from one studio to another, it was a bad sign. Most the time it meant the game was gonna get crappy. (I’m talking NES days.) Like when Disney moved from Capcom, who made endless amounts of great Disney games.. to.. whoever shit on the rest of Disney’s games leading up to the awesome Kingdom Hearts.
But recently, Moving studios is a sign that the publisher is worried about the quality and wants fresh blood. Like Tomb Raider and it’s rebirth with Tomb Raider: Legend. EA saw NFS was going downhill fast and moved it. This isn’t a slap in the face to previous developers, Black Box is still a great group. But new ideas and directions are what keep things from getting stale. Slightly Mad took NFS, striped away all of the glitz, crazy styles, over the top presentations that have been applied over the years. and boiled it all back down to the basics in a fresh and new way.
Shift is a pure, straight forward racer without an “in yo face” theme. Slightly Mad carefully crafted, finally, an amazing Need for Speed game that will hopefully bring people back to the once tarnished franchise.
Here’s looking forward to Nitro for the Wii and “Online” coming in the near future.
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