Cian Hassett
08 Apr, 2011

Shift 2: Unleashed Review

360 Review | The art of simulation lies elsewhere.
Two Need For Speed games in the past six months? What's happening here? A cash-cow, surely. Let's not jump to those conclusions just yet, because even though the franchise is notorious for average annual updates (2010 aside), Shift 2: Unleashed deserves more respect. In an effort to grab the arcade and simulation audiences, EA made the decision to split Need For Speed in half. Criterion was in control of Hot Pursuit and made an instant impression, whereas Slightly Mad Studios tries to beat Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5 to the finish line. Obviously, that hasn't happened and Shift 2: Unleashed is left behind, but still does enough to snatch a bronze medal. The biggest worry is that we've already seen most of what Shift 2 has to offer; so read on to discover the good, the bad, and the missing pieces.

Anyone who followed the pre-release media for Shift 2 will be prepared for the most terrifying racer ever with a unique camera angle, unrivaled and genuinely innovative. At least that's what EA wants you to believe. The truth is that Shift 2 doesn't deliver with either of those promises, and that was the bulk of what it had against the established simulators. Don't forget, this is still part of the Need For Speed franchise, and with all that money under the hood, certain aspects are predictably excellent. Presentation, sound, graphics - they're all second to none. Forza 3 move over, Shift 2 brushes it aside and is a visual bombshell. All of the tracks are beautiful, so too are the cars, especially when the sunlight is gleaming over the horizon. The lighting is outstanding and there's a lot of detail track-side; gravel and dirt can often be seen hurtling through the air, the surroundings are vibrant, and that makes Shift 2 an awfully difficult racer to judge. So much has been done so well, yet the passion for racing is difficult to find.

Ooooohhhhh, doesn't she look lovely?

Ooooohhhhh, doesn't she look lovely?
If you played the recent Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, the 'Autolog' should be familiar and to its credit, Shift 2 is miles ahead when it comes to leaderboards and competing against friends. It's deeper this time around, and not so in-your-face about every best lap that has been posted. Players are free to ignore Autolog, but if anything, that's the future of racing online. It is a truly brilliant system that compiles data from you, your friends and drivers across the globe, giving you extra motivation to try and improve your skills. More than any other racer available, Shift 2 knows how to instill competition, making it a lengthy and enjoyable journey for those willing to ignore the faults. Originally in 2009, Shift screwed around with simulation mechanics to make it more accessible, and the sequel follows on from that. The realism fits somewhere between Project Gotham Racing 4 and Forza 3, so with the right settings, anyone can pick it up. The normal assists can be found here (racing lines, braking assists etc.), and these help massively when you first start up the game.

With that in mind, excluding a rewind function is ludicrous. The hardcore will claim that it makes the racing too easy, and that's a fair argument, but the ability to rewind is comforting. The frustration caused without it has nothing to do with poor mechanics, on the contrary, it's because of the challenging AI. Opponents will stay close and are a tough bunch even on the normal difficulty level. They're also more than capable of playing dirty, and have no qualms about shunting you off the track and into a wall. At times, the AI is ruthless and unforgiving, so if you crash (even on the first lap) it's nigh on impossible to win the race. This is even more annoying on the final bend of the final lap after leading off the grid. A simple rewind option would have solved this problem. You can't ease casual racing fans into the intimidating world of real racing without being able to rewind, and this forgetfulness has gone against Slightly Mad Studios. The 'elites' will respect the decision, and that's fine; just wait until you slide into a gravel pit, you'll be praying to rewind and avoid the hassle of restarting.

This is what you wanted to hear about.

This is what you wanted to hear about.
You must be wondering by now, what about the special camera angle? The main selling point of Shift 2 is an immersive viewpoint, dropping you straight into the driver's helmet, peering out of a visor and racing through their eyes. It's very unique in that respect, though unfortunately, the uniqueness of it all doesn't sit well beside the gameplay. Frankly, we only lasted for an hour with the camera angle which will spark flames in the eyes of many, but it's just too difficult to play with. Turning isn't a problem and looking into each chicane is really cool... until you get hit. There isn't enough time to glance in the mirror, so using the camera angle is like playing on the hardest difficulty; you can't see properly around you and it doesn't compensate for sense. What do we mean by that? Professional drivers have the advantage of being able to feel the presence of the other cars, by sound and also by awareness. That feeling can't be replicated on a television screen. Bits and pieces of Shift 2 are undeniably clever: subtle screen effects, black and white filters when you crash, the shaky camera and so on. It really is the pinnacle of immersion without actually sitting in the car yourself, although if you're only playing Shift 2 as a casual or intermediate racer, it's not enticing enough and you'll end up reverting back to a traditional view.

Another missed opportunity can be found in the lack of weather, a feature that F1 2010 set the benchmark for. Dynamic weather would have given Shift 2 some more spice, the engine is good enough to provide stunning graphics, so why not exploit that with buckets or rain? Fortunately, Shift 2 does have the best night races in the genre. Once again, they're not fear inducing, but they are fun. There's always a great impression of speed no matter what class of vehicle you're driving, and the exhilaration of racing is increased by playing under moonlight. Tracks are made visible by your headlights so you'll need to be cautious when entering any form of crest. Handling in Shift 2 is generally quite good too, although some cars are too floaty. We used the standard control pad, and there's nothing out of the ordinary in terms of layout, but a steering wheel would almost certainly give you more of an incentive to purchase Shift 2. While the racing is competent enough, it never reaches the quality of Forza 3 - a title which defined racing for the current generation. However, Shift 2 does match it from an audio perspective, bringing some very authentic sounds to the track. Cars breathe energy and you'll dread hearing an engine roar from outside the back window, you might end up peering over your shoulder, it really is that good. The soundtrack doesn't play during events, which is ok, because it's small and not very memorable. Shift 2 is prone to flaunting an overly dramatic tone, although when it concentrates on delivering the sensation of physically being in the race, the atmosphere is spot on.

Darkness = Thumbs up.

Darkness = Thumbs up.
Obligatory online modes are included to beef up the package, the most relevant of which is the Duel Driver Championship. You start off in the qualifying rounds before progressing up the ladder. Winning nets you more experience points to boost the rank of your driver and it's usually a fun ride. Experience can also be earned by mastering every bend of every track - an enormous grinding session - but the basic rules still apply. Surprisingly for an EA title, online isn't very active. You've got the usual suspects who will be in it for the long term, but it's already faltering against Hot Pursuit. Thankfully, the deep offline career has enough to keep drivers logged in. Race types are constantly changing and you'll always have the opportunity to customise your garage. Seemingly minor tweaks can elevate your car into a beast, and there's even a vinyl editor for the creative artists. Shift 2 isn't short on content, Autolog alone gives you another reason to stick around. Everything is delivered with EA's trademark flair, highlighting the ambition of a company willing to challenge the best. Another box ticked, but many have remained empty.

We could ramble on about the features in Shift 2: Unleashed, but it's only a stop-gap until Forza 4 arrives. Don't misinterpret this review, because Shift 2 is a very good racer, albeit one lacking soul. You need to think of it in terms of driving the genre forward and incorporating mechanics that improve the experience. Releasing a solid racer is fine, and Shift 2 becomes a great one with Autolog and impeccable presentation, but its potential hasn't been realised. Forza 3 became the king of the road in 2009 and that remains unchanged. If you want something to keep you entertained until later in the year, you could do much worse that Shift 2, just don't buy it expecting a revolution. We'll have to rely on Turn 10 Studios for that.
The Score
Shift 2: Unleashed doesn't offer the experience that so much of the preview footage was based on. That being said, it's still a great racing game.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 years ago
After playing this i won't be buying Shift 3.

Poor AI - being rammed off the road then being penalised for corner cutting when i have actually been shunted to the outside of the corner not the inside.
Being towed thru a paddock by a CPU car and then not being able to extract myself from it regardless how i turn.
After being rammed by the poor AI going from 1st to last many times and then not being able to have any chance of getting back into the race or top 3.
Screen failing to load on numerous times (360 version) or sound but no video.
Absolutely not a GT5 beater in any way,shape or form.
3 years ago
This is a terrible game. I bought it, played it for 2 hours and returned it.
3 years ago
the drift aspect seems brocken too, which is a shame coz theres sum cool events, and i think it was nfs underground 2 that had the greatest drift mode of any game.... regardless its like theyve got it arse about, the car gets more stable/controlled the faster u go, i had a helluva time doing a dunut round a lamp post, and after about 45 mins gave up without one decent drift, but sumhow weaving through poles at 150+kph is a breeze...
its almost a great game... its just the handling thats broken for me (steering wheel didnt help either) anyway ill stop bitching, i did think it was nice that they included bathurst/mt panarama though...
3 years ago
barrett wrote
Screen failing to load on numerous times (360 version) or sound but no video.
This never happened to me, have you tried installing it to the hard drive? That can't do any harm. I didn't encounter any glitches at all, maybe you're just unlucky.

Oh and I agree with your comment on being penalised because of the AI's agression, total pain in the arse.
3 years ago
I quite like it, agree about the aggressive AI, (I spent a good 20 seconds somehow ON TOP of an AI car, being dragged through the track) but the adrenaline feel of the game plus the helmet-cam make it a keeper for me. icon_biggrin.gif
3 years ago
i keep going back and playing this even though i hate the way the cars feel soft and squishy, i havnt had any probs with the ai though ive found them quite polite on easy and medium, ofcourse on hard they will kill u and ur whole family for scratching thier paint...
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    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  31/03/2011 (Confirmed)
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