All things come to those who wait, unfortunately though our review for NFS Shift has come later than hoped it gave us the time to thoroughly test it out and have our usual rummage beneath the bonnet.
As we already discovered in our feature Needing More Speed, this represents 15 years of an ever growing franchise but its certainly been a bumpy journey. 2009 has unveiled yet another sea change in the direction of this series, with plans now to split the franchise it would be interesting to see what course EA would be willing to take. Of course since its origins on the 3DO system the emphasis has moved very much away from a realistic driving sensation to visceral cop chases with the last 5 years of the series almost entirely inspired by the Fast & Furious movies. This year the console version of NFS Shift would see a step towards that of old, following some excellent early previews we couldn’t wait to get our hands on this exciting new title.
On entering the disc you’ll be presented with the challenge to work your way up to being one of the world’s top drivers. Its action, noise and a rather angry sounding narrator, well he scarred me but it does give an aggressive racing feel, it works, it makes you want to win and get the job done. This is followed by a trial race at Brands Hatch in a BMW where you begin your journey to become crowned champion of the NFS World Tour, and its here something didn’t feel right? Ignoring those “feelings” I dive deeper into the NFS experience, earning money, buying cars and working my way through the extensive track selection.
But that nagging feeling just wouldn't go away, the game didn't feel right, the handling physics we previewed earlier in the year was all but gone, the graphical shell was there, all be it with added over the top NFS styling but the core gameplay had completely changed. I can't help at this stage to feel anything but huge disappointment, its a real back-track on everything we had looked forward to, the longevity of that real racing experience gone and replaced with a (for want of a better word) shifty arcade model. This changes the entire approach of the experience and hence it destabalises how I approach this review. On the one hand it’s not doing what it said it would do, on the other Shift a decent arcade racer but apart from the graphics it begins to dissolve into the myriad of titles already on the market, loosing those defining elements.
Controlling with the pad is dire, especially on the PS3 version, attach a wheel and the game becomes more fun but no more playable. Testing the G25 on the PS3 version and I was unable to keep the car straight at any time, weaving down every straight. Swiveling into every corner, there was no intuitive feel. Another irritating aspect was on replays, when using the G25, the wheel would turn to the left every time the car hit a rumble strip, hence the player would either have to constantly straighten the wheel or suffer the noise of the options rotating as the left turned wheel continues to cycle. The question remains, was this even tested? It would usually be clarified as a class B bug (doesn't affect gameplay but does affect user experience) but this doesn't appear to have been addressed. So an unsatisfactory performance by any stretch and very disappointing overall.
But enough of my initial grumbles, lets take a closer look at the game structure and NFS Shift certainly has enough to keep you going. Featuring over 200 events spread around 50 track layouts in the career modes besides bonus objectives meanwhile your driver profile develops as you drive, noting your precise or aggressive approach and this will affect the invitational events, though AI can be very aggressive indeed and unfortunately that can often have a negative affect on your profile which is unavoidable. Clean racing is virtually impossible according to the in-game meter; this considers slipstreaming (drafting) to be aggressive? Strange considering that this the only way in achieving a clean and fair overtake; hence unfortunately the entire driver profile system is flawed. This is backed up with the usual array of tuning options, though I was often unable to find a balance as the dire handling was more suiting to stock arcade settings, that's not to say tuning can't improve lap times, more that I was unable to dial myself into the car with any notable effect. Besides tuning there are a range of basic body-kit and car finishes to select from besides a decal editor, though again this is aimed at beginners.
The game supports 8 players online and continues progress on your driver profile, racing is close and competitive, there's also 1 on 1 driver duals but these tend to be more about who can bash each other off on the first corner, suffice to say online racing is often dirty and aggressive so its usually better played or experienced with friends
Graphically the game is very impressive, detailed cars and scenery, wonderful lens flare and focus effects on the scenery and then there's that amazing dashboard view. Indeed this being the highlight of the title with your driver suffering a range of racing sensations all executed in excellent fashion. But 30fps lets the experience down, it feels rough around the edges, even in the options select screen the car constantly jerks as it rotates, lacking polish and again it feels like Shift has been somewhat rushed to meet 3rd quarter deadlines. Sound meanwhile is fantastic, big loud engine sounds roaring as you storm round the circuits and this is definitely one of the strongest aspects.
Overall Shift a big game but it doesn’t have an identity, it’s not a simulator but it’s been marketed as a real driving experience. It’s a crying shame that this isn’t the game we previewed and I simply can’t hide my disappointment, where did it all go wrong? Taking this into account I’ve taken my time in considering a score for this game and what aspects to base that score on? Yes the graphics are superbly detailed and there’s a great range of cars and environments but it all comes down to the gameplay. This is where it fails, the handling just doesn’t make sense, it’s not the game we were promised, it doesn’t replicate a driving experience and in effect there was little point in splitting the franchise at all. This is an arcade no brainer racer, it’s great for beginners but for anyone wanting a bit more depth and expecting EA to unveil a new experience, you’ll be sorely disappointed. A game filled with early promise, unfortunately fails to do what it says on the box.
7 out of 10
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