Review by BloodGod65

"If you can't get it right after three tries, maybe you should just quit"

Another year, another Need for Speed. Only this year, Shift 2 is actually the second release bearing the name – the first being Criterion's Hot Pursuit. Coming off that stellar title (at least compared to the crap that preceded it) you might be expecting another great racer to come out of EA. Well, guess again. As the name would indicate, Shift 2 is yet another foray into territory where the company just hasn't had any luck. While things are improving, slowly but surely, Shift 2 still won't be a destination for simulation fans.

The people who played Shift all have their own terrible memories and horror stories about the game; schizophrenic car handling, homicidal driver AI, and a veritable cornucopia of glitches that ranged from merely annoying to literally game breaking. No wonder it sold poorly. Say what you will about EA, but the company is run by stalwart souls and they've decided to brave the roiling waters of sim-racing territory again. Given all that was wrong with the previous game, the best thing to do with the sequel was just to focus on making the game playable, and for the most part, that's exactly what EA has done.

So the biggest question that needs to be answered is how the car handling has been altered. While I can't deny the cars feel and act totally different, they're still pretty unpredictable. Tires lose grip spontaneously and inexplicably, minor steering adjustments often result in massive oversteer, and everything generally feels too light and unattached. So, just like its predecessor, Shift 2 is a far cry from being a true sim-racer.

That having been said, the game does include an interesting option called elite mode, which is supposed to provide "ultimate handling" …whatever the hell that means. However, switching it on is a bit like hitting the sport button in a modern Ferrari. The difference is night and day; cars suddenly feel as though they are attached to the pavement and seem to have real weight, the steering is more responsive and less wonky. In short, the game instantly becomes easier to contend with. But, this is more of a band-aid than a cure-all. You'll still notice the game's handling issues – they're just a little less apparent.

Beyond that, the career structure has also received a makeover and it's not for the better. There are different racing classes that you'll open up as you gain experience. In each class there are a handful of tournaments with a few events to beat. Not only is the career short and unexciting, it is also extremely limiting because of the way cars are divided up into tiers.

While Shift 2 uses an alpha-numeric system akin to the one in Forza to indicate a car's abilities, it makes absolutely no sense. Most of the cars in the game fall into the C class, with a numeric performance rating that falls anywhere between 300 and 1500. Then there are B class cars that have a lower rating than C class cars… what's all this supposed to mean, anyway?

The bigger issue, and the one that directly relates to the spectacularly awful career mode, is the way cars are tagged. Each car basically has a designation, such as modern road, retro road, and muscle. Most events in the career mode limit what cars can enter according to these tags. That's all well and good until you realize how ridiculous these tags are in practice. So, you've just picked up a sweet Toyota Supra and want to go racing? Too bad. It's a retro road car and can only be used in a handful of events. That brand spanking new muscle car you just bought? Same deal. And don't even think about bringing that 1970's hot rod to any non-specific event.

It's ridiculous enough that the game classifies the likes of the Supra and the RX-7 as retro – these cars are just as relevant today as they were when they came out - and won't let them mix it up with newer cars, but the fact that the special events for these cars are so few is downright sickening. The fact of the matter is you'll hardly get to drive the more desirable cars in the game. Not that there are many…

Gamers have come to expect titles marketed as simulations to have hundreds of cars to choose from, with every memorable manufacturer and their most beloved cars present and accounted for. The car list in Shift 2 is extremely limited by any measure, and it's made worse by the fact that half of it is populated by cars nobody wants to drive (neither in reality nor its digital approximation). The list also consists of several repeats, further marring an already lamentable lineup. And why would a game that wants the player to buy a stock car and then turn it into a track-ready monster allow you to go into the car lot to buy pre-tuned race versions? It just doesn't make any sense in terms of the game's own design.

And the complaints don't end there. As before, driving will earn you experience that goes towards a cumulative driver level. Instead of unlocking stupid artwork for a stupid onscreen symbol, this time you unlock parts for cars. Like pretty much everything else about this game it sounds good in theory, but it doesn't make a lick of sense in practice. Really, what's the purpose of allowing a player to access metallic paint early on but make them wait for matte? And what idiot thought it would be a good idea to unlock the rim selection by alphabetical order?

Believe it or not, there are good things to say about Shift 2. The track selection is very nice, and I would personally choose the majority of these tracks over what's featured in Forza. The idea and implementation of race goals is also just as cool as it was in the first Shift. Showing me when I have perfected a corner and rewarding me for making a clean lap or leading all push me to become a better driver.

But like the first game, the actual focus in Shift 2 is not on the racing; it's on the driver's experience of racing. Like most racing games these days, Shift 2 uses a helmet camera. Unlike most racing games, this is very realistic. EA has even upgraded it to the driver cam which puts you inside the helmet. The view is a little further back, allowing you to see more of the cockpit. The biggest difference is that the driver actually moves his head to look at the apex of the corner. While the reasoning behind this decision was sound, the effect is a little disorienting and led to me crashing more often than not.

Speaking of crashes, Shift 2 has some of the most intense you'll find outside of Burnout. While they are undoubtedly exaggerated, they are immensely exhilarating. When in the driver camera, your vision will go fuzzy or black out during a major impact. During one memorable episode, I swept around a turn in a Lotus Elise at 110mph, lost traction, overcorrected, slid and barreled into a wall then went airborne for a spinning triple flip that would have made an Olympic gymnast jealous. The resulting carnage saw body panels and my front right wheel coming loose from the car and continuing their airborne journey down the track.

But as far as the visual style as a whole goes, Shift 2 is as anonymous as it gets. While one of the goals was to craft a distinct look for the game, EA has failed quite spectacularly. The only way in which the game sets itself apart is through some interesting locations, such as the Tokyo docks. Beyond those few instances, there's not much to set Shift apart from the pack. So somebody put in a giant green glowing Ferris wheel behind the grandstands of the Suzuka Circuit. Big whoop.

Though I've been unrelentingly critical of Shift 2, it is better than its predecessor. However, it is better in only the most marginal of ways. And while one could argue that the series is at least getting better, it's hard to see the positive when so much about the game is so lousy. Shift 2 isn't a simulation, it isn't a good racer, and just like all the rest of the wannabe sims of late, I can't see how this fits into the Need for Speed franchise. Shift 2, just like Shift and Prostreet, should be avoided like an eBay listing for "genuine" carbon fiber parts at discount prices.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 01/11/12

Game Release: Shift 2: Unleashed (US, 03/29/11)

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