Shift 2 Unleashed Review

By Brian Leahy - Posted Apr 11, 2011

Shift 2: Unleashed is the follow-up to Electronic Arts' answer to the simulation-racing genre, without getting too caught up in actually simulating all the gory details. Is this sequel ready to play in the post-Gran Turismo 5, pre-Forza Motorsport 4 world or will it be lapped?

The Pros
  • Great sense of speed
  • Night races are fun
The Cons
  • Not a lot of new content
  • Terrible UI
  • New helmet camera is very disorienting

Shift 2: Unleashed

I was a big fan of the original Need for Speed: Shift and so I was looking forward to some more driver-centric racing with Shift 2: Unleashed. In the first game, I loved the cockpit camera, which added a sense of inertia and the feeling that the camera was actually the driver’s head. It would move back into the seat as you sped up and propel forward as you slammed on the breaks. When going top-speed, everything but the road ahead would blur away as your driver focused on the track. Hitting a wall would result in a bone-jarring collision that would impair vision and leave you confused about where you were. You know, just like a real car crash.

Nothing Says Immersion Like a Lack of Control

Now, in the sequel, this idea has been supercharged with the new “Helmet Cam” which places the camera in the driver’s virtual helmet. You’ll see the edges of the headgear and the driver’s head will even turn to look into corners, which was supposed to add a whole new level of immersion. Unfortunately, I found this new camera, which is literally the first bullet-pointed feature on the box, to be completely disorienting and unusable for my style of play. Now, I will happily admit that the effect is extremely cool and it makes me want to use the camera, but sadly leads to me careening off the track nine times out of ten.

It isn’t as bad when I turn off the racing line since I am forced to drive based on my own judgment, but when the driver turns his head into a turn independently of the direction the car is going, it becomes extremely difficult to focus on the racing line and properly navigate the turn. In the end, I just dropped back to the cockpit camera that was in the original Shift and got all the same feelings of speed and intensity without the unwanted head movements. You may have a different experience with the helmet cam, but for me, it might as well not even be in the game.

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Okay, but the driving is still good, right?

Every once and a while, I’ll complete a race that just feels perfect. I clinch first place, hit all the corners, and maintain control of my vehicle for the entire race. Most races, however, tend to be a desperate struggle to keep my car on the track at any difficulty setting. The game includes a new “elite” driving model that is supposed to satiate fans of true simulation racers like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, but it doesn’t come close to the competitors.

It is not uncommon for cars to become un-driveable without a lengthy tuning process after some upgrades, but more worrying is that some cars that are provided for some events aren’t tuned properly. Now, some players are going to tune their cars and that’s fine for them, but I would have liked a bit more automation on the upgrades and tuning to match the game’s arcade feel.

There are a few different types of events ranging from regular races to the eliminator mode, but there doesn’t feel like there’s anything new here worth talking about. Drifting is still lost on me, but the mode includes a much better tutorial for those of you that want to get into some controlled chaos.

What’s So Important About UI?

The user-interface in Shift 2: Unleashed is not suited for the task of organizing the data for over 100 cars, 36 tracks, and a garage full of tuning and upgrade options. Everything just feels disconnected from everything else. For example, while in career mode, there is no way to upgrade or tune your car from the main career menu without first dropping back to the game’s main menu or going into an event and trying to change your car, which will let you tune and upgrade.

However, if your current car is too high in class and performance for the current event, you won’t even see it in that change car list to downgrade. You have to go to the main menu. Data isn’t displayed in a clear and concise way. A simple footer showing your current car and its performance rating is sorely needed across all screens.

Autolog makes its way over from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and it’s mostly vestigial. I can’t tell if it is because no one on my friend list is actually playing the game or if it just doesn’t fit as nicely with Shift as it did with Hot Pursuit, but I found myself ignoring it entirely.

What, Exactly, is Being Unleashed?

When you take a step back, there’s almost nothing new of note in Shift 2: Unleashed. In fact, the “What’s New” menu option only lists a few things and only the helmet cam is a truly “new” feature fo the genre.  Racers are generally dominated by car and track list numbers, physics technology, and a passion for cars. While Shift tries to focus the passion on the driver, it doesn’t come across for me in this iteration. There’s no carrot dangling to entice me to unlock that next driver level or buy that new car. Before I finished the first set of events in the lowest car class, I had already made it to level 10 and unlocked events in the next three performance classes. This left me with a single low-end car and over 25 events that I could not enter without buying a new ride.

It’s only been around 18 months since the original Shift, but the sequel is a definite step back in the new sub-franchise for me. The confusing, muddled UI makes it tough to get invested and build out that garage of cars. Autolog is a weird fit and I would have much preferred more social features like car trading and auctioning. If an expansive car list isn’t the focus, I feel like the developers should have unlocked everything from the start. Well, you can always buy individual cars with MS Points or PSN bucks if you’re too lazy to earn the money in-game, which sort of sums up my experience and EA’s apparent focus with this game. Do yourself a favor and pick up the original. It’s cheaper.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?