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Need For Speed: SHIFT [PC]

With each year comes a new Need for Speed. With each Need for Speed comes the promise of a fresh, new gameplay experience that will attract long-time fans and newcomers alike. Things are a little more different than usual this year though; the franchise has been split into three games, each aimed at a different segment of the potential audience. The expectation then is that whether you enjoy the simulation approach or prefer something a little more ‘arcadey’, there should a Need for Speed aimed squarely at fulfilling that preference.Enter Need for Speed: SHIFT, the simulation arm of the three-pronged attack that – according to the blurb on the back of the box – delivers an “unrivalled in-car experience”. While it might seem strange to focus your promotional efforts on highlighting the quality of your in-car viewpoint, the reasoning for doing so soon becomes obvious once you get to sit in the seat yourself. To put it bluntly, the first-person/in-car view is, without question, SHIFT’s most impressive feature and pretty much the only thing that stands out against the competition.Rather than seeing the action through a static camera hovering somewhere over the driver’s seat, you’re actually in first-person mode looking through the eyes of the driver, which has allowed the dev team to implement a whole host of effects that raise it above what we’ve seen in other games. It’s the attention to detail that makes using the viewpoint so appealing; crash into a barrier and your vision blurs as your brains rocks around inside your skull, break heavily and your head lurches forward, struggling to resist the pull of the g-force, or change your angle to the sun and watch as the shadows on your dashboard stretch and rotate in response. It’s all very impressive stuff and provides a strong sense of immersion that is often vacant from over racers that provide an in-car option. However, a jazzed-up viewpoint is not enough of an enticement to warrant a full-price purchase, which is why it’s more than a little unfortunate that SHIFT doesn’t quite manage to uphold the same levels of quality and flare throughout the rest of its potential pleasures.With no poorly acted, lazily written cut-scenes to bog it down, SHIFT, unlike the bulk of recent NFS titles, is focused on getting you on the track and racing right from the off. Before you have a chance to even browse the menu screens you find yourself behind the wheel of a BMW driving a single lap of Brands Hatch, after which the game recommends what it thinks are the optimal settings (A.I. difficulty, traction control, handling model etc) based on your lap performance; these can be altered later if you find the going a little tough, or improve to the point where you need to raise the difficulty.The issue is that it’s unlikely that many people will play through enough of the single player to think about altering any settings. While the initial going is fun (thanks in most part to the first-person viewpoint), the career mode quickly becomes a matter of grinding through races, which bear only the slightest differences from one another, in a bid to level up through the various tiers, culminating in the all-singing, all-dancing Need For Need World Tour. Levelling up through the event tiers is a fairly swift process, so you’re never left re-racing the same events in an effort to build your funds or attain enough experience to progress, but after you’ve driven all the tracks there’s little incentive to continue playing.{PAGE TITLE=Need For Speed: SHIFT PC Review page 2}If the gameplay itself was good enough you wouldn’t need any extra incentive but, despite being a perfectly playable track-based racer, it doesn’t excel enough in any specific area to provide a memorable experience. The handling of the cars is certainly more simulation than not, but it doesn’t shun its arcade roots entirely. SHIFT doesn’t feel as realistic or serious as a thoroughbred sim (Gran Turismo, Forza and the like), providing a handling model that plays with a slight twitchiness, placing it somewhere between a true simulation and something like GRID. It’s this straddling of the middle ground that leads to the game’s downfall, never quite fulfilling the lofty demands of a racing purist while at the same time not pandering enough to those who enjoy a more laid-back experience – especially when it comes the learning curve, which is very unforgiving.In all honesty though, this is pretty much what was to be expected. To completely change the course of the franchise from a city-based, street racing game complete with cops, civilian road users and extended bursts of NOS to hardcore racer simulator over the course of just one game was probably too big of a leap; if only to give the public a chance to digest the new tri-game approach.On the plus side, the A.I. does a good job of making it feel as though you’re competing against real-life opponents. They’ll block the line when you try to overtake, attempt to drive within your slipstream and, if you happen to accidentally knock them off the track, they’ll hunt you down and return the favour. At times it feels a little too much, the other racers a little more aggressive then you’d expect for a professional, but otherwise it’s a job well done.As far as the vehicles go there’s a decent range of the usual suspects on show, from the Nissan Skylines and Volkswagen Golfs of this world to the high-powered, lightweight race cars, the likes of which you’d see during a Le Mans race. In terms of numbers you’re looking at a significantly smaller figure than we’ve seen in other games, meaning that those out there who have become accustomed to stocking the electronic garage with every kind of weird and wonderful car, from east and west, will invariably be left wanting. Combine that with a rather lacklustre upgrading and body modification system and what your left with is a racing game that fails to tap into, or cultivate, the fascination that many people have with cars. A petrol-head’s racer this is not.SHIFT’s undoing is its lack of focus. It’s clear that the goal was to create a simulation that somehow appealed to all racing game fans, but the resulting mish-mash of ideas have only led to a final product with few defining characteristics. Aside from the in-car view, you get the feeling that you’ve seen it all before, and seen it done better. As it stands SHIFT is an averagely decent racer, with a very impressive first-person camera view. Whether or not that’s incentive enough to make you go out and buy it will depend on how much you enjoy racing games, but for the most people the advice would be to wait a year and see what happens with the sequel; on the off chance that there is one, of course. 

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