Need for Speed: Shift Review

By Brian Leahy - Posted Sep 15, 2009

EA has a tough sell with Need for Speed: Shift as franchise fans could be turned off by its simulation approach and sim fans might not trust the series' long history of arcade-style gameplay. It would be tragic if both groups overlooked this game. Gamers that do give Shift a chance, however, will find a polished, rewarding racing experience both offline and online. It's undoubtedly one of the year's best racing titles.

The Pros
  • Best Racing Cockpit View To Date
  • Driver Profile & Points System Highly Rewarding
  • Varied Gameplay Modes
  • All Playstyles & Skill Levels Welcome
The Cons
  • Simulation Purists Might Be Disappointed
  • Lower Number of Cars & Tracks Compared To Other Games
  • Drifting Is Tough & Introduced With Little Tutorial

EA has a tough sell with Need for Speed: Shift as franchise fans could be turned off by its simulation approach and sim fans might not trust the series’ long history of arcade-style gameplay. It would be tragic if both groups overlooked this game. Gamers that do give Shift a chance, however, will find a polished, rewarding racing experience both offline and online. It’s undoubtedly one of the year’s best racing titles.

Need for Speed: Shift

Wait, This Doesn’t Feel Like Need for Speed!

Need for Speed: Shift brings the franchise back to the track. The guys at Slightly Mad Studios have taken Need For Speed into the simulation realm, but they aren’t taking it all the way. Shift toes the line between arcade and sim perfectly, presenting as realistic experience as the player desires with crisp arcade controls. It’s this type of dual functionality that sums up Shift. It won’t approach the realism of Forza or Gran Turismo, but it doesn’t have to because the game is just so much fun.

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The Incredible Cockpit Camera Of Awesome

Shift’s cockpit camera presents, hands-down, the most immersive racing experience in a videogame without having to purchase three HDTV’s and a racing chair. The innovation is in mounting the camera to the virtual drivers head instead of a fixed position inside the car. It allows the camera to move realistically as you speed down the track. When speeding up, the camera is pushed back into the seat to simulate the momentum of acceleration. Hit the brakes and the camera rushes toward the front of the car, as you would expect. Hit a wall and the camera shakes independently of the car. Shift also plays with vision in this view, blurring everything outside a focal point on the track ahead when going fast and going gray and red when a nasty collision occurs. Tired of crashes not feeling visceral in racing games? Try hitting a wall at 200 miles per hour in Shift.

It actually makes you feel like you’re going fast. Need for Speed: Shift needs to be played using the cockpit camera. It’s not just meant to show off how meticulously detailed a car’s interior has been modeled by the developers. It functionally changes the game and the genre.

Bipolar Racing Has Its Benefits

For far too long, racing games have been about one thing: finishing first. There wasn’t much else to do beyond taking that top spot on the podium in each race. In Need for Speed: Shift, you’ll always be working toward bigger objectives. As you drive, you’ll earn points to your driver profile, which goes up to level 50, bringing unlocks at each level. These unlocks could be big cash payouts, new livery to decorate your ride, or a spot in a special invitational event.

Players will gain points along two pathways: Precision and Aggression and neither is favored over the other in the game. You’ll be rewarded for being aggressive just as much as someone who follows the racing line and takes corners perfectly.

Beyond the driver profile, each race has a lot to do beyond going for that first place finish. Each corner of every track can be “mastered” by following the racing line as cleanly as possible through a turn. Career events have additional objectives to be completed for more stars, which are used to unlock higher tiered events. These could be things like completing a lap without hitting any walls or opponents or hitting a certain point threshold.

It feels a lot like Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer progression. Even if you aren’t at the top of the scoreboard, you’re gaining points to unlock new content in the game. It’s this added layer of meta-gaming on top of an already solid experience that really separates Shift from its competitors.

Need for Speed: Shift

How Many Different Ways Can I Race The Same Track?

There are several different racing modes in Shift that you’ll run into during the career, which includes standard lap-based races, hot-laps, drift challenges, eliminator events, same-car manufacturer races, endurance races, and something called “Driver Duel”. The ultimate goal of the game being a podium finish in the NFS World Tour.

They are all pretty self-explanatory, but Driver Duel brings the Need for Speed attitude to track racing. This mode is a one-on-one race between two “rival” cars in a best of three laps on a particular track and is an intense mode that gets the adrenaline pumping. Drifting is one of the game’s lesser strengths, but luckily there are enough stars to be gained in the other events to avoid drifting until absolutely necessary.

Let’s Talk Numbers!

Need for Speed: Shift doesn’t boast the car counts of some other racing games, hitting just over 70 cars on the disc. There’s less emphasis put on car collection here. Most events will provide the car you’ll need to compete instead of forcing the player to buy a specific ride before being able to progress. It’s a nice change of pace and I never ran into an instance where I didn’t have the right car to continue the career.

There are a good amount of real-world tracks in Shift including Laguna Seca and Nurburgring, but the developers have also created some original tracks in real world locales like London and Tokyo. The real and fictional tracks mesh well and there are enough that I didn’t ever feel like I was continually racing on the same course over and over again.

Need for Speed: Shift

Racing Against People Is More Fun!

Shift’s multiplayer supports up to 8 cars on a track for regular multiplayer races and winners will earn cash just like in the career mode. Driver Duel Championship is the other mode and it plays out a lot like Street Fighter IV’s Championship Mode. Players begin at the lowest tier with the winner advancing to the next level. There, the player will face an opponent that also won their first tier duel. As you climb up the ladder, the cars will get more powerful. This system uses the best two-out-of-three duel rules from the career mode. The online experience is smooth and the netcode provides lag-free races.

Making Racing Fun Again

Need for Speed: Shift is easily the best Need for Speed game in recent memory and is one of the year’s best racing games. As mentioned, even if it’s deeper than an arcade racer, it’s not a details-obsessed sim like Forza or Gran Turismo. However, it’s more fun and approachable for a larger number of people. There’s always something to strive toward in Shift beyond finishing first, and the actual driving is rewarding thanks to the amazing cockpit camera (the best I’ve ever experienced in a racing game) and spectacular controls.  If you’re a racing game fan, go ahead and pick up Need for Speed: Shift. It brings back a lot of the fun that has been missing from sim-oriented racers for a while.