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Submitted by Kiran Earwaker on November 30 2010 - 17:56

Slightly Mad Studios takes on night racing in its second instalment of the Shift series...

It's hard for driving sim publishers. Good simulations are by their very nature iterative, slowly-evolving exercises in gameplay progression. The road to a sequel is built on hours of subtle handling refinement and careful re-balancing; how do you communicate such painstaking advancement in a couple of easily marketable bullet points without underwhelming consumers, appearing staid next to other games in the racing genre? Naturally, Shift 2 features a host of carefully tweaked cars, dramatically refined physics, AI, and a new rendering engine, but the new points EA stressed at its recent Winter Showcase were:

  • A subtly improved first-person view,


                  and:

  • Night-time racing.


Don't be too underwhelmed. If you, like me, wrote off the Need for Speed games in the PS2 era as slightly dodgy imitations of the mediocre racing sections in GTA, you're in for a surprise with Shift 2. The Shift series has more in common with Forza or Gran Turismo than the arcadey police chases Need for Speed is known for, eschewing the EMP attacks and road spikes of Criterion's recently released NFS: Hot Pursuit in favour of realistic handling and obsessive physics simulation. It's no-doubt part of the reason why EA has decided to drop the Need For Speed brand altogether with this second instalment in the series, simply calling it Shift 2: Unleashed instead, and much of the tech underpinning the game has been overhauled for this sequel with the aim of producing a driving sim that can compete with the front-runners of the genre.

"We're very actively going after the sim racing genre to be out there and compete with GT5 and Forza," Executive Producer, Marcus Nilsson said at EA's recent event.

Battlefield creator, DICE is overseeing production of the game, which is being developed by Slightly Mad Studios. The London-based (Slightly Mad) team cut their teeth on the first Shift game, having previously earned their stripes working on SimBin's respected GTR series of PC racing simulations in a former life as Blimey! Games.

The conceptual conceit behind this latest title is the 'driver's battle': with the road, with the car, and against opponents. The aim is to replicate the tension of screaming into a hairpin turn at night-time, and communicate that sense of speed and terror to the player. Central to this is the evocatively titled 'helmet cam', which builds on the lauded 'cockpit view' of the first game in an attempt to mimic the real view a driver would experience during a race.

"If cockpit view was analogous to an FPS in the last game - it had disorientation effects, the g-forces, things like that - helmet cam is analogous to a flight sim; so you'll see that your head kind of turns into the corner, looks into the corner, and there's depth of field there to make sure that you focus on the apex all the time," Nilsson explained.

Racing through the dusky streets of a Shanghai cityscape demonstrated the subtle immersion offered by the improved 'helmet cam'; corners are naturally anticipated by the view, while little bumps and scrapes nudge the screen, and more serious collisions are rendered genuinely unpleasant by a jarring, blurry, black and white 'whiplash' effect. Crashing through corners results in abrupt deceleration in addition to the caustic visual penalty, discouraging the cheap racing tactics which occasionally blight some of Shift's more established competitors.

Somewhat twitchy steering enhances the sense of 'battle' with your vehicle, although the game's simulation credentials felt a tad compromised by the array of assisted driving options enabled by default in the demo; including a particularly irksome assisted braking system that overrode even my most vigorous attempts to accelerate into a 90 degree turn and total my car. The 'traffic light' racing line - which changes from red to yellow to green to indicate whether you need to brake or accelerate - felt more forgiving than the equivalent binary red/blue system in Gran Turismo 5, and more useful for judging corners as a result, especially in combination with the improved helmet cam. Purists can of course turn off the assisted driving features for a more challenging racing experience, but they might want to reinstate them when attempting a race in night-time conditions.

"We're not putting floodlights on the corners, we're not putting giant chevrons telling you which way to go - I mean this is proper scary night racing just like it should be," an EA rep demoing the night courses explained. "Obviously if your headlights then go out as well, then you're absolutely screwed."

The danger and excitement inherent in the night-time tracks is complemented by the full-throated roar of the engine sound effects which deserve special praise for their brutal, abrasive timbre. It certainly looked harder than the daytime racing I had experienced, with the rep on hand struggling to complete the course without crashing repeatedly.

"Other games may have 'night racing' but I really think that is night lighting - it's just the same environment but darker." he continued,

"This gives you a whole new reason to play it; you may think you know a course inside and out, but when you turn the lights out you probably don't know it as well as you think."

Hot Pursuit's popular Autolog feature returns in Shift 2, allowing you to engage with a pseudo social network at any time with the press of a button, viewing your friends' achievements and comparing them to your own. According to Nilsson, Autolog updates "down to the second you do something", posting new accolades to your wall and encouraging comment and competition from your online acquaintances.

"Throughout the game you can break down everything you do in your whole career into events; there's a meta-game of 'How many do you own; how many do your friends own?' and that's a big competition" he said.

"I fundamentally think that most people will play the game through that. You can earn XP from beating your friends in Autolog, so it ties straight into the concept of how you're progressing in the game as well."

Fans of the racing genre will be content with knowing that Shift 2: Unleashed is shaping up to be a thoroughly competent simulation with some smart progressive ideas at its core. Unfortunately, the smartest idea - a realistic first-person racing view - can't hope to feel as revolutionary the second time around. Nevertheless, a raft of upgrades to the underlying engine and a lean focus on core driving mechanics rather than flabby extras mark Shift 2 out as one to watch for its spring 2011 release window. EA wasn't revealing any of DICE's multiplayer at its Winter Showcase, but hopefully the offline split-screen option that was so missed in the original will be implemented in this sequel.

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By: freeradical

Added:Wed 13th Apr 2011 10:31, Post No: 50

Okay, forget the XP thing for a moment. That can be put down to a difference in opinion. After all, you can still ram opponents to get ahead in Shift 2, it just doesn't brand you for doing so. If Slightly Mad had kept in the 'Aggressive' stuff but penalised players for doing it, then I'd have been just as in favour of that to be honest as I was always a fan of the 'Precision' route anyway.

Nonetheless, apart from that whole issue, what other ways is Shift 2 an improvement over its predecessor apart from the few things I mentioned in the review already?

For me, Shift 2 is too similar to its predecessor to warrant a £40 spend on the new game when you can pick up the original for under £10 now.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Wed 13th Apr 2011 05:20, Post No: 49

Did you even play this game for more than a few minutes?

Didn't notice the pitch in helmet cam?  That's probably because you weren't using helmet cam.

The elimination of the Aggressive XP system is exactly what the game needed.  If you want to crash into something, go and play Burnout Paradise (which is a great game).  It's about racing, not ramming.  And even on a more relaxed basis ie: trading paint, it's still there.

You're rwarded for racing, not ramming.  If you can't win cleanly you haven't won at all.

I agree with your comments on the handling though as this has been well documented even in the original Shift.  What you fail to mention is the importance of tuning your owned vehicles so that when you get one dialed in, not only does it make the game so much better to play, it also makes you fight that little bit harder in the loaner cars that can't be tuned at all...  But then again you only played Shift 2 for a few minutes so you wouldn't have even looked at tuning for your vehicles right?

Visually the game is fine.  Maybe not the best particularly on console but the game looks good most of the time.

I suggest you play the game a bit more before you write it off as a close second to Shift.  Shift did plenty of things really well but Shift 2 is far better in so many significant ways that I fear you hardly played either game for more than half an hour.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 07th Apr 2011 20:38, Post No: 48

fair enough.  i was bored of the first one after a couple of weeks personally.


By: freeradical

Added:Thu 07th Apr 2011 01:42, Post No: 47

The consistency is that we gave the first game a 9/10 and now this sequel is an 8. As the summary says, it's still a thoroughly decent and innovative racer, just disappointing in parts - hence the one point drop.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Wed 06th Apr 2011 11:55, Post No: 46

"Shift 2 is one of the very few driving games where we'd actually prefer to boot-up its predecessor rather than this new iteration. It's still a thoroughly decent and innovative racer but fans of the original may be justifiably disappointed by the many missed opportunities here."  ..... and then you give it a 8 out of 10.  where's the consitency?  


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Mon 25th Oct 2010 10:00, Post No: 45

very good go on with dis games ok.


By: freeradical

Added:Sat 09th Oct 2010 11:39, Post No: 44

Yeah, but there's an inherent difference here between 'racing sims' and 'driving sims'. Both have their equally hardcore crowds and amongst a range of games that put a lot of effort into realistic details.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Fri 08th Oct 2010 15:03, Post No: 43

lol guys need for speed shift is NOT a sim and neither is GT5 or Forza


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By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 07th Oct 2010 07:51, Post No: 42

NEW! Call of Duty Nazi Zombie


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By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 30th Sep 2010 22:25, Post No: 41

Ive never played Nfs for relistic gameplay or tracks, i couldnt care less infact. its nice to have them and we can use them in the future bcuz they have designed a a unique driving style in shift. but they need to use it and get back to roots.  if you want to buy a ferrereriiari or a lambospeedy then buy forza or shell out on a ps3 for gt5. i want racing illigal and gritty and unqiue.

i want and hopefully others want hatchbacks to imports to muscle cars. 4x4s at best a novalty and a laugh. i wanna race a 306 gti agensted a mustang. or the classic R33 VS R34 race. nfs your a let down. ive still bought all your games inhope you turn it around but youve done nothing but ruin your own unique take on the racing world. hope your proud


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