Shift 2: Unleashed is the latest step in developer Slightly Mad Studios’ grand plan to deliver the ultimate driving simulator for console and PC. With Gran Turismo 5 firmly in its sights there’s a lot riding on Shift 2: Unleashed to deliver on its promises to be the best in class. Could it really snatch a podium position off the very best? Read our Shift 2: Unleashed review to find out.
The predecessor to Shift 2 – Need For Speed: Shift was an aptly titled game to mark the *ahem* shift in delivering a more simulator style of driving experience than than the arcadey one that Need For Speed games have been known for.
Shift 2: Unleashed refines on what Need For Speed: Shift did, to deliver an even better, more authentic and involving driving experience. It does so by putting all the emphasis on, would you believe, driving, and rewarding you for doing so.
One of the keys to this, publisher EA has been keen to talk up, is the new Helmet Cam. Rather than being a static cockpit camera it finds its home on the helmet of the driver.
The result is an in-car camera angle that bobs and weaves all over the place, notably during corners. Drive into a sharp chicane and the view peers into the apex of the corner.
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The execution of Helmet Cam is superb, succeeding in displacing the outer camera view as our favourite viewing angle of choice. Rarely have we felt as part of the race as we do in Shift 2: Unleashed.
Helmet Cam’s biggest success lies in forcing you to concentrate on the road ahead, guaranteeing that, for the majority of racers, no two corners are never 100 per cent the same.
Mistakes are punished, severely. It’s quite possible to be leading the pack and then find yourself struggling not to finish last after spinning off the track. Discipline is key. Shift 2: Unleashed isn’t for what some might term ‘casual’ race fans.
If you’re hoping to blister around corners keeping hold of that accelerate button, Shift 2 isn’t for you. This is a proper racer, in the same way that the excellent F1 2010 is a proper racer. The brake button is your best friend. You’ll need to take corners like a pro to have any chance of landing pole position. Racing fans will also be pleased to know that AI cars don’t race in a straight line – one of the biggest criticisms of the Gran Turismo series. Each AI driver appears to have a mind of their own.
The skill level required is steep, but perseverance pays off. We fired up the Career Mode expecting to be battered at every opportunity. Thankfully the good folks at developer Slightly Mad Studios had us in mind. Before starting your first race a time trial race determines the difficulty setting for races ahead. We were placed on medium, whereas more racer-honed gamers will be placed at a higher difficulty to offer them a challenge worthy of their skill level.
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You start off with a mid-range car before being able to afford the good stuff. After purchasing a Volkswagen Golf GTi we headed into the race events. New race events are unlocked by notching podium finishes on the previous events. There’s little by way of story, but voiceovers are always there to explain why and how you’ve moved on to the next set of events, where you get to drive bigger and better cars as you progress.
They’re all a challenge, but upgrade your motor and they get easier. The other, arguably bigger success of Shift 2: Unleashed is its skill of rewarding you for playing.
It does so via XP points you get for taking part in any of the available modes. Whatever you do, you earn XP. In races XP is earned for acts such as maintaining a clean line, blocking other cars, drafting behind other cars and clean overtaking.
Even finishing nowhere near the podium nets you bonus points and cash for new parts and vehicles. Shift 2: Unleashed rewards you for driving. You can come last and still tot up XP and cash rewards to help you clear that ‘impossible’ race – a nice touch sure to encourage gamers to play on where they may otherwise quit.
Eventually you’ll come across night races, which Slightly Mad Studios has been touting as a new feature for racing games. Back in March Andy Tudor, Lead Designer at the studio told us that other games don’t do night racing. They do “night lighting.”
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There are no flashing signs and big yellow chevrons telling you where to go. Night Racing is about how well you know the track. You can just about see the road ahead of you. You’ve only your headlights to illuminate the way, making for an increasingly measured experience.
Fans of realism will be pleased to see that all cars in Shift 2: Unleashed are able to be turned into crumpled tin heaps. Damage isn’t just aesthetic. It affects performance to the point at which your car can no longer function. We tested this by deliberately hand-braking our way into a crash barrier at high speed, resulting in losing two of the wheels on a Porsche 911.
Aesthetically your car will get caked in mud, the windscreen will shatter to the extent that your view will be severely impaired (especially during night races) and bits of broken car will bounce along the track.
Shift 2: Unleashed isn’t quite perfect in all areas. Drift racing remains more of a battle against your car’s handling than we’d have liked. Rather than having to put in the effort to get the car to drift using the handbrake, it already does so with reckless abandon. To describe it as driving on ice would be easy, but not too far off the mark.
We’d go as far to that Shift 2: Unleashed is as close as you’ll come to a true driving experience as any, but you’ll find nowhere near the amount of cars stocked in Gran Turismo 5. The major race manufacturers are there, but expect around less than a handful of cars from each. Not that there isn’t plenty to play around with – 145 to be exact.
Another new feature is Autolog. It’s a social space accessible by pressing select that lets you share photos, video and new records set with your friends. Just like Facebook it has a wall for messages, a friends tab and a news feed. Unless you’ve got mates with the game you wouldn’t use the feature, though we do like the option to upload 10 seconds of your races to YouTube which it does so successfully within just a few minutes.
Shift 2: Unleashed clearly hasn’t had any of the hype Gran Turismo 5, or even to a lesser degree, Forza Motorsport 3 had. Don’t let that fool you. Shift 2: Unleashed delivers one of the best racing experiences around. By constantly rewarding players for playing it’s also one of the most satisfying.
It might lack the finesse of presentation and enormous car collection enjoyed by Polyphony Digital’s pacesetter, but Shift 2: Unleashed delivers where it matters.
Note: Unfortunately our advance copy of the game meant we couldn’t find any players to race against in online multiplayer. We will update the review once we’ve tested this section of the game.