Digital Driven: Need For Speed Shift 2 Unleashed

The Need For Speed franchise stretches back a decade and a half and includes almost 17 different titles, but the latest installment — Need For Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed — is perhaps the most realistic, entertaining release to date.

What Can I Do?

As was the case with 2009’s Need For Speed: Shift, Shift 2 focuses not on street racing but actually putting the user in actual motorsport events. In career mode, you start off as a rookie and work your way through a handful of different races with the goal of ultimately racing (and dominating) in the FIA GT1 series.

By our count, the game offers 36 different tracks, blending both original courses with real-world prototypes. Events include road races, time attacks, vintage races, drift events, and endurance competitions.

What Can I Drive?

Quite a few cars, although unlike Gran Turismo 5‘s 1000-plus list of available vehicles, Shift 2 tends to focus on only the most desirable performance models in each automaker’s lineup. Initially, players are restricted to more modest options (i.e. Audi S3, BMW 135i coupe, Ford Focus ST, etc), but are eventually given the opportunity to test drive exotics for a little extra prize money and points. Higher-caliber machinery, like the Koenigsegg CCX, Radical SR3 RS, Porsche 918 Spyder concept, and even the brand-spankin’ new (and NFS-exclusive) Pagani Huayra can be unlocked as you advance your way through the game.

But don’t think you’re done with a vehicle once you’ve unlocked and purchased it. Like other similar titles, Shift 2 allows players to upgrade their rides with all sorts of aftermarket and performance machinery, allowing them to tune their vehicles to suit both taste and specific events. Interestingly, users will see how each individual modification will affect performance metrics like 0-60 times, top speeds, braking performance, cornering grip, and so on.

What’s Unique About It?

In a world that’s chock full of racing titles, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd — yet Shift 2 does have its advantages, especially when it comes to providing a realistic in-game experience.

The graphics, for starters, are nothing short of impeccable — the vehicle models themselves are out of this world, and typically show signs of dirt and debris following a race, just as they would in real life. We’re particularly blown away with the camera angles provided, especially those located within the car. In-car vantage points aren’t anything new in racing games, but a so-called Helmet-Cam function almost makes it feel as if you’re actually behind the wheel. The motions closely mimic those of a race driver — approach or exit a corner, and the camera shifts to look through the corner, much as you’d actually do in real life. Perform a drift, and the view shifts to look out the side windows at the road ahead, not straight through the windshield. Fore-and-aft movement is also incited during hard acceleration and braking. This takes some getting used to, but for those who’ve actually raced, the realism — to say nothing of the additional visibility — proves quite novel.

Shift 2 also prides itself for having one of the best physics engine and damage modeling in the industry, and we’re inclined to agree. Unlike some competitors (we’re looking at you, GT5), nudging a car or clipping a wall in this game will frequently result in a spin or extensive vehicle damage, just as it would in real life. Damage can range from mere cosmetic imperfections to extensive mechanical abnormalities, depending on the impact and object struck. You’ll likely not only see the damage, but feel it, too — the vehicle’s alignment can be thrown off, wheels bent out of shape, or — in the worst-case scenario — a the engine suffers a fatal catastrophe.

Why should I buy?

Gran Turismo 5 and Forza 3 are typically referred to as the benchmarks of the racing sim category, but Shift 2 isn’t exactly a clone of either game — we’d argue it perhaps falls neatly into the gap between the two. The racing itself closely follows those offered by its competitors, but the process of climbing through the ranks, earning rewards, and securing sponsorship makes the path towards unlocking exotic cars (and beating the game) much less tedious.