Can the development team Slightly Mad Studios (who gave us Need For Speed Shift) and publishers EA’s latest offering into the somewhat overcrowded game world of racing? They’re aiming to give us (the consumers of their virtual wonderland) a racing game that at last tempts both arcade and simulation fans alike to not only splash the cash but to also embrace Shift 2 Unleashed on level paring with Forza Motorsport, Grand Turismo, TOCA and Grid Racer.
At first glance the answer’s yes (once you’ve overcome the lengthy wait for the game to install onto your PS3); from the look of the opening screen, you feel as though you’re in for something rather special. Your mentor who’ll support and guide you through this motoring extravaganza is the Formula D Champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. You start out by having access only to the career mode and upon completion of a few races the full option menu will open up giving you access to quick play races, garage, online mode, car lot, extras and store.
The racing is what you have come to expect from the Shift series. The intensity has been ramped up to the up-close bumper action of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, but the handling of Shift 2 Unleashed is extreme. Its over-steering it may leave you frustrated and will take some getting used to.
On the rare occasions when I was lucky enough to clinch first place, hit all the corners or maintain control of my vehicle for the entire race, the game felt flawless. Most races, however, tend to be a desperate struggle to keep the car on the track in any difficulty setting and this can be ever so slightly off putting.
Die-hard fans of the Need For Speed universe will thrive on this and tweak Shift 2 Unleashed tune up options to death until they have the their ultimate dream machine, drifting, screeching and bumper nudging their way to glory (I wish I had the patience to do that). The online mode is insanely fun, but you will need to put in a more than a few hours on the circuit before heading online (as I found out to my cost).
Once you’ve had a race online you’ll then be kept updated by one of the best features of Shift 2 Unleashed: the Autolog. This was first introduced in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Autolog is a kind of social network that allows gamers to see who in the Shift 2 universe on the PlayStation network has driving dominance. This will let you know of any upcoming events and will also track the top times of all of your friends. If a friend tops one of your times, Autolog will let you know, giving you a reason to replay that event.
You get the familiar layout like the car lot where you can purchase vehicles, a garage to upgrade and tune your cars, and races that slowly ramp up in difficulty as you advance. Shift 2 Unleashed boasts a whopping 33 locations and 93 layouts in total (from Donington Park to Willow Springs Raceway in the United States), and 131 cars from 37 manufacturers.
Virtually everything you do in Shift 2 Unleashed, from staying on the racing line to finishing the race, lap times and podium places, all earn you experience points which advance your driver’s XP levels and earn you bonuses to spend on new cars and parts from the car lot.
The use of the new view from the driver’s helmet works well. It adds an extra dimension to the gameplay and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The graphics are awesome; the use of sun glare is expertly captured and the look and feel of night racing is top notch. But it’s not game-changing and that’s the problem.
Shift 2 Unleashed is a good game and there’s plenty here to keep you joypad jockeys occupied; having said that, there’s nothing much in the locker that sets it apart from the competition. It tries to appeal to both arcade and sim fans and in doing so never quite steps up to the plate – it remains a sim.
Handling issues aside, Shift 2 Unleashed is both an exciting and enjoyable racing experience. It might not be as realistic or polished as Forza Motorsport or Grand Turismo but you can be assured that the high-octane presentation coupled with a rich and deep career mode will undoubtedly offer players unprecedented spills and thrills.