When I first booted up Shift 2: Unleashed I thought I had walked into a Call of Duty-esque racing game, it was full of loud music, XP and friend tracking systems. I persevered with it, and after tweaking some options I uncovered a really enjoyable racing game. I delved deeper into the options and found I had unleashed a beast.
Don’t be fooled by that cushty opening race, this is a game which has some serious horsepower under the bonnet. It may not reach the levels of realism found in the RACE series, but Shift 2 has unlocked the potential that was lying around in the original and unleashed it to finally provide us with a game which can beat GRID at its’ own game.
It is a shame you have to strip away all the kiddie toppings to get to the real game, but lets take a look at those Call of Duty-esque stylings. I’ll be honest, they aren’t as awful as I thought on my first time with the game, once you spend some time with them you will get used to there background impact. Indeed if you are going to venture online, and you have some racer buddies there are some very good systems at your fingertips. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s redeeming feature, Autolog, makes an appearence, and for those who are keen on multiplayer and sharing your car settings and screenshots it is a great feature. (An aside, the sooner EA get a universal profile system the better, having such a variety of ‘personas’ in different EA games they really could do with bringing them all together.)
The experience system also works out well once you get used to it. After your initial blast around a track in a meaty supercar, you a thrown back to the beginnings of a racing career with some bog-standard races with cars like the Ford Focus and Audi S3 to start play around with. Gain enough XP and raise your level and you will unlock new events to take part in: drifting, time attack, retro racing and a host of others are unlocked as you rise through the levels. In a nice touch at the start of your career and at various points as you progress, you get videos of various racing drivers talking to you and going through the basics of drifting and outlining your ultimate goal of getting to GT1 tier.
Seeing the faces behind some of the voices is a welcome change of pace from the usual voice-of-the-game telling you that you can now go drifting, not that I want to. Thank god you aren’t required to drift to progress in your career is all I can say.
Moving on from my fear of drifting, XP can be earned through the usual method of winning a race, if that doesn’t do the job for you, there are several other ways of gaining these precious points as you race. Keeping to the racing line, ‘mastering’ a corner and beating lap time goals all give you more points. The trouble is that if you race with the HUD on the default setting your screen is covered with an experience meter, a list of actions that have earned you points and a map showing you what corners you are yet to ‘master’. It is all superficial crap which is better being hidden away til the end of a race.
The experience fluff is especially jarring when you are using helmet-cam, a lovely feature which sets you in the eyes of the driver which gives you a sense of leaning into corners with a focus on the apex. I’m not normally a fan of motion blur in racing games being used to artificially increase the sense of speed, but when in helmet-cam it works a treat. Fortunately you can turn down the HUD to get rid of the experience tracking crap as well as turning off the racing line. These small tweaks make Shift 2 feel that much more of a racer than an arcade, CoD-esque title.
Despite these changes you may still find yourself wondering where the challenge is, if so I suggest your turn the handling up to Pro and jump in a monster Corvette or Chevrolet, combined with helmet-cam you have a real racer. It may not be much to fans of full-on sims like RACE, but to get the most out of Shift 2 it is a must. It is also worth cranking up the graphics as far as you can go, this game looks absolutely stunning when you catch it at the right moments, sometimes the car interiors are a bit rough, but everything else is simply sublime.
I often find AI to be lacking in racing games, pleasingly it is quite robust in Shift 2, while at times you might drive away from them a bit too easily, when you are racing close up with them you can expect taps and nudges as they try to get past. This doesn’t happen just to you, look in your mirrors and you will see the AI jostling and punting each other off track.
Shift 2 comes across as having a bit of a split personality, you have the nice and attention holding XP system combined with a bit of a monster racing game hidden away under the options. As such it doesn’t quite realise its’ potential, but it is still thoroughly enjoyable.
Verdict – On Target