Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed Review

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In the beginning of time, Gran Turismo ruled the console sim-racer space, and all was well. Then one day, Forza Motorsport to create one of the biggest franchise rivalries of our generation.

The NFS: Shift series arrived to challenge the other sims with a more intense experience – but should you be ready to put your money down on the sequel? Full review after the jump.

The Need for Speed franchise was always there, except that it was catering more to crowds that enjoyed the idea of burning rubber in high speed police chases or duking it out on public roads as opposed to nailing the perfect line through turn 6 on Suzuka.

The idea behind the Shift series though, hasn’t been to simply just make another sim-racer and hope it does well. The Shift 2 developers Slightly Mad Studios even called out studios like Polyphony and Turn 10 for making boring sim games that don’t capture the real intense feelings that you get when powering a four-wheel monster around a circuit alongside rivals at insane speeds.

So that’s the basic idea with Shift 2 Unleashed, take a sim game and make it exciting.

Deer in the headlights

To begin with, Shift 2 is a marvelously good looking game overall with a wonderful sense of presentation. I’m not just talking straight up graphics, car models and so on, I mean the whole package. The menus are atmospheric, pretty and well designed; the music works really well, the engines sound meaty, the cars (and their cockpit interiors) look great, the tracks look great and effects such as lighting, motion blurs and camera focus are sublime in their beauty.

In a nutshell, when you are blasting around a city or country track in a night race with your headlights as well as the headlights of other cars affecting your vision as well as lighting up the interior of your own car, all the while seeing everything from an in-the-helmet perspective, it can have some real “holy-cow-that-looks-amazing” moments.

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Sim-ilarity?

This isn’t a racing movie though, it’s a game; so how does it do when it comes to taking on the behemoths like Forza and Gran Turismo that both boast super realistic tyre dynamics, car physics and more?

Well, this is the part of the review where I tell you that I ultimately ended up being incredibly disappointed with Shift 2. Are the cars the same as their real-life counterparts? Do they simulate the experience of driving around a real track? The truth is that I just really don’t know.

The reason is that sadly, whoever was in charge of tuning the game’s steering sensitivity settings did one of the worst jobs in the history of racing games – as far as my own experiences have taken me at any rate.

I quite literally spent almost as much time in Shift 2 trying to tweak the sensitivity settings as I did actually playing the first part of my career. The major issue is just quite simply that pretty much no matter what you do, your car spends the first 85% of your thumbstick’s movement fine tuning the direction, and then the last 15% makes your car steer really harshly. Twitchy is the word of the day.

What this essentially does is make the game feel like a constant bout of Scandinavian flicks into every single corner, unless you dedicate 150% of your mind, body and soul into being very, very sensitive with your thumbstick. The car feels like it constantly wants to either do nothing, or swerve and anyone who has ever been to instructional track days will tell you that keeping the shift of your car’s weight smooth into a corner is crucial, and this allows you to do everything but.

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Now those of you who have wheels will want to call me out and say “… but sims are made for wheels, Nick” but the truth is that most people will be playing normal controllers. That aside, even though I didn’t have access to my own wheel setup, I spoke with a few people that did and it seems that the issue doesn’t get any better when using a racing wheel either.

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