REVIEW: Shift 2 Unleashed for PC

Posted: July 13, 2011 in PC, Reviews

Shift 2: Unleashed
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Released:  03/29/2011

EA’s Need for Speed series can be likened to a confused adolescent, constantly changing his or her image in a desperate attempt to fit in and be liked. We’ve seen sports car racing, underground street racing, legal street racing, undercover cop work, and even arcade madness akin to kart racers. But with Need for Speed: Shift back in 2009 EA decided to take on the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo with an approachable simulation title.  The attempt was moderately successful and Slightly Mad Studios is bringing the sequel Shift 2: Unleashed.

I started playing Shift 2 with hopes that it would be more of the same, but the game doesn’t start off on the right foot. You still have your lengthy Career mode where you partake in a multitude of different racing disciplines, and the starter time attack/follow-up race to dial in your settings. The most notable change is a man named Vaughn Gittin Jr. In Shift, we had a svelte euro accented driving school instructor who sounded like he could be a professional race team manager, or perhaps a vet himself. This clown, he doesn’t sit right with me, not with his “street” style attitude towards racing (or drifting as he calls it) and trying to play cool in his Monster Energy/Falken attire. He reminds me of Jeff Gordon’s in-game persona from NASCAR 09, also from EA. Except, Jeff Gordon actually races in NASCAR. Vaughn Gittin seems out of place in everything but the drift competitions he apparently is known for. Maybe I’m nitpicking early, but it irks me that EA secured the FIA GT1 license to include one of the most prestigious racing series in the world, but couldn’t get Andrea Bertolini, Michael Bartels or Darren Turner. The reason they didn’t, as I’m sure you can guess, is that nobody except a racing enthusiast would know those three over Gittin. Carry on broseph.

After thrashing the Suzuka East course in a heavily modified Nissan GT-R you dial in your settings and participate in an inaugural 2-lap race just like the first Shift. Progression in the game involves the usual fare: buy car, win races, upgrade car, win more races, win invitational, get new car, repeat. This formula works incredibly well and just when you think the game is getting old, you unlock a new discipline, challenge, or preview invitational event to suck you right back in. You can expect to run the gamut of races from circuit laps, time attacks, drifting, and lots of fun variations. Along the way you’ll encounter several masters of the sport such as Gittin (guess what he does) and if you have the skills to challenge them you can eventually win their cars…which is pointless because you just beat them in yours.

During the career you’ll be treated to a boatload of incredible looking tracks, including 40 real world locals and plenty of beautiful fictional courses. Purists will love the return of classics like Laguna Seca and the mighty Nürburgring Nordschleife as well as some newcomers like Suzuka and the oft requested Bathurst. Each track has multiple layouts for diverse gameplay and all the corners you could ever want to master. The game also tracks your best line obedience, giving you a percentage based on how close you ride to the courses smooth spot. If that wasn’t enough replay for you, tracks are all available in daylight, sunset, or night time flavors. Car lovers will have 140+ immaculately rendered machines to tune, upgrade, paint and then smash on the Andretti Hairpin. Plenty of notable marques show up including BMW, Mercedes Benz, McLaren, Lamborghini, as well as the brand spanking new Pagani Huayra (or as Jeremy Clarkson calls it, the “Huuaaaah”). Cars are divided into several types based on race category and classes from D to A. In addition, the Works tuning option returns from Shift one, except it is now an option for every car. Buying 75% or more of the cars available upgrades and paying an exorbitant fee will get you the Works conversion, which is essentially “Your Car…to 11”.

The gameplay of Shift 2: Unleashed is identical to its predecessor. Cars still steer wildly and it often feels like you have very little control over what your machine actually will do. This will turn off hardcore sim fans, but it provides the high intensity racing Shift brought us before. You see, Slightly Mad hasn’t gone to unheard of lengths to achieve the most realistic driving engine the world has seen. They have, instead, recreated the feeling of sheer terror felt by racers the world over. Playing this game will make you fear speed as you fly around these courses. The walls always seem inches away, the cars begin to shake and rumble when pushed into 150mph+ speeds and the entire sensation is just incredible. A few rounds of Gran Turismo won’t leave you with a cold sweat and racing heartbeat, that’s for sure. The drifting has also been improved for the second iteration, transforming a near impossible system into something much more manageable. It’s not easy, definitely not, but you can actually drift cars in Shift 2: Unleashed without spending a lifetime perfecting broken physics.

Shift 2: Unleashed also includes some new gameplay features that you may miss. The game totes a new camera view based on their claim of the “Ultimate Driving Experience.” A step up from cockpit view, helmet view actually gives you a visible helmet and the additional blurriness and bobble that comes with it. Also, your camera will automatically pan to the apex of the upcoming corner, “just like in real life!” Honestly I found this distracting because, as a racing gamer for many years, my real life head automatically pans to the apex. When the camera does it too, you may find yourself struggling to determine how much steering and pedal control to apply to get your car through the corner safely. It’s a cool feature that some will enjoy, but it’s not for everyone. You also get a modified points system from Shift 1. Instead of getting precision or aggression points, the whole thing is consolidated into a single XP system that awards you for a mixture of both maneuvers. You’ll rack up points for overtaking, corner sliding, staying in the lead, etc. All of these points accumulate to a Driver Level and there are hefty bonuses awaiting those who level up such as unlockable rims, paint finishes, higher career events and fat cash bonuses. It’s a great new system that helps secure that “just one more race” type gameplay.

As a whole, Shift 2: Unleashed presents a $60 package that is more of the same for players of Shift 1, but with more tracks, more cars, more detail, more, more, more! That’s the big selling point of Shift 2: Unleashed, it doesn’t try to change itself too much, just enough to warrant another purchase and many hours of dedication to become the FIA GT1 champion. It’s relatively easy to stomach the generic personality of Vaughn Gittin Jr. and after a while he doesn’t even appear anymore, leaving you to race in peace. The only other criticisms I have is the lack of license use with the FIA GT1 series. Only a few of the actual tracks are included, leaving out notable selections like Curitiba. If you’re a die-hard grand tourer fan who wants to play the FIA championship in Shift 2: Unleashed, you’ll have to find some replacement tracks for this season. For Shift 3, EA should make better use of their licenses, as well as look to acquire more like F1 or WTCC. In the end, Shift 2: Unleashed is well worth the asking price and if you want a high intensity racer with replay through the roof, pick it up.

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