Xbox 360 Review

Shift 2 Unleashed

Working the late shift

The Need for Speed series is a giant, bloated monster. A massive commercial hit, spanning ninety squillion sequels and spin-offs, it has splintered to such a degree as to be almost meaningless. Around seventeen years after the first game was released, it's now difficult to know exactly what a Need for Speed game is.

That's part of the reason why this latest release relegates the Need for Speed name to the margins. The logo can barely be seen on the box. Instead this is Shift 2 Unleashed, an altogether more sim-oriented racing sequel.

By playing down both the name and the series' arcade leanings, EA look to be gunning for a chunk of the market currently dominated by Forza and Gran Turismo. It's a sub-genre that's crying out for new blood. For all the depth of GT5, its presentation and online suite are a relic of a bygone era. And while Forza may shine with a showroom sheen, we havent seen one since 2009.

So is Shift 2 Unleashed a breath of fresh air, or a face full of exhaust fumes?

Well, neither really. It's a good, solid racer - one that could act as a gentle introduction to the slightly more hardcore experiences offered by Turn 10 and Polyphony Digital. It has few obvious faults. Yet it also treads much familiar ground. Still, not every game can be a revolution.

The lure for racing fans is the opportunity to rise through the ranks and enter the GT-1 racing series, the real-life championship featuring ultra-modded production cars. Taking you through your career is Formula D driver and Drift Alliance member Vaughn Gittin Jr. He handles most of the tutorials, speaking straight-to-camera in an awkward, vaguely Dudebro manner. Thankfully, these sections are brief as they are uncomfortable.

The bulk of the game is spent participating in races, earning XP and cash, unlocking cars and getting a bit stressed out that you havent spent your money on the right part of your suspension - all while making your way through the games plethora of tracks and events.

Handling fits the Sim-ish bill well, by being responsive enough to convey the physicality of the cars, without being all twitchy and annoying. The results reflect the friendly level of accessibility found throughout.

There's an unsurprisingly huge amount of cars on offer here; a mix of European sophistication, American muscle and Japanese wizardry. You will unlock ever-improved cars as you progress, of course. But as a sweetener for those who'd perhaps get bored grinding their way up from a humble Ford Focus, you're given a taster of faster, flashier cars at set intervals.

All of this this has been done before, of course. But it's done well. Shift 2 makes up for its lack of ambition with a sense of supreme competence. Ironically, it's only when it attempts something new that things go wonky.

One of Shift 2's headline features is Helmet Cam, a first-person view designed to immerse you in the role of the driver. And it does exactly that, to a degree. Watch a video of Helmet Cam in action and you cant fail to be impressed by the way the camera realistically recreates the jostling, adrenaline-fuelled perspective of a race driver.

But it's utterly unplayable.

I just couldn't see anything. Being low to the ground, with track grit kicking up onto a windscreen framed by a lovingly detailed cabin is brilliantly immersive. But flying into a wall at 150 MPH because you couldn't see a corner coming just isnt fun.

Its almost certainly a failing of mine. Plenty of others have lauded Helmet Cam as the best cockpit view ever. Maybe theyre right. But I simply couldnt get used to it. Maybe you wont either.

All of this is largely irrelevant, however. A click of a button takes you to good old behind-the-car-boring-cam. Oddly, track dirt still kicks up and sticks to your windscreen here, even though you are hovering celestially above everything. It's a clear indication of how this game is intended to be played.

Still, at least you can get a nice view of the incidental details from that vantage point. Like much of the rest of the game, the visuals may not be groundbreaking, but they do their job nicely. While Forza makes a point of hitting that 60 fps mark, it does tend to be a little sterile as a result. Coming in at 30 fps allows Shift 2 a little more warmth and character. It comes into its own in the dark too, with some terrifyingly staged night races.

All things considered Shift 2 is a decent package, only let down a little by its lack of ambition. It's like a 1.4 litre Polo, created because the manufacturers needed to bridge the gap between the 1.2 and 1.6 litre models. It isn't the very best it can be, it's just here to plug a gap in the market. Even the inclusion of EA's frankly brilliant leaderboard-based Autolog features fail to lift the experience. A great little game for newcomers, old hands may want to be a little wary.

E3 Trailer