One and a half years ago, Need For Speed: Shift gave that series some much-needed variety with a sim-styled take on racing. It was a pretty good racer that took a little bit of something from every major racing series, in a good way, and rewarded players in pretty much countless ways to constantly give you an incentive to play the game. However, it was hurt by a very cumbersome , monstrous load times, and control issues that never really quite allowed you to have the control over your car one was used to in a sim. This follow-up sets out to remedy the problems of the original while adding things like exciting night driving, more intense crashes, a revamped career mode with real-life racers acting as advisors and an all-new helmet cam. The end result is a game that fixes some of its predecessor’s issues while also adding some of its own to the mix.
The team at Slightly Mad Studios has done a pretty good job of addressing some of the first game’s problems - but not a perfect one. The massive pre-race load times have been reduced to about 20-30 seconds on the 360 version, and thankfully, unlike the PS3 version, there is no mandatory data install. However, cars still take at least a second to lead, which makes cycling through them to buy new vehicles a time-consuming chore. The option to either buy cars with in-game money or use real-life money to either unlock them one by one for 160 MS points or buy them for all for 1200 MS points is at least a nice, if a bit costly, time-saver. The HUD issue has been resolved wonderfully - you can choose to have a big HUD if you’d like, or none at all, or my personal favorite, a bare-minimum HUD that only displays crucial info like position, lap count, etc.
However, Shift 1’s biggest problem, its slightly inaccurate controls, remains one now. Even with the addition of a very thorough slider, racing never quite feels as accurate as it should. Slight taps in one direction don’t result in as minor a movement as sim purists have come to expect. No matter how much tinkering I did with the handling sliders, even if I got a setup that worked pretty well, I was never able to find a setup that gave me the accurate response I was used to from even the default setup for other racing games. Here, simply moving your car exactly where you want it to go can be a challenge and that’s definitely a problem in a racing game.
That issue is compounded after crashes, where it can take quite a while to get back on track. I think that rewind features can be far too easily abused in racing games, but I’m willing to make an exception here given how cheap the game can be. You’re taught to not hit your rivals during a race, but they sure don’t mind ramming you. And once you’re hit, no matter how light the hit is, you’re probably going to spin out, go to last place, and if you’re lucky, get a fourth place finish. Sometimes, the cars will become tangled together - guaranteeing a restart. Most of the time, you’ll just wind up restarting the entire race, which gets pretty old quickly, especially if you’re taken out on the last lap. I loved the first game’s aggressive AI because it added a genuine challenge and they would realistically go after anyone - not just you. Here, they all just go after you. A rewind feature wouldn’t have done anything to address the AI, but it would’ve made the game as a whole less frustrating.
Shift 2’s quick race mode allows you to have any kind of race you want with nothing at stake, while the Autolog is back from NFS: Hot Pursuit, but is nowhere near as prominent here as it was there. It still has the same basic functionality and allows for the same bragging rights, but simply isn’t in as high-profile a position here as it was there. Now, it’s basically an optional thing that you can make use of, but using it isn’t as outright encouraged as it was in NFS: HP. Taking part in online challenges is just as easy here as was there, and in general, online play is great. While there are definitely players out to just run people off the road, which is even more annoying now since you can also suffer a speed reduction if you veer too far off the track, many are just out to have a good race, and the experience is lag-free.
The career mode gives you the usual array of racing styles to try out, although if you can’t get the hang of something like drifting, you can always just take whatever you get there and focus on something you’re good at, like hot laps, traditional races, or time trials. Shift 1 rewarded you with XP for pretty much everything you did during a race, while Shift 2 is more stingy with rewards. It makes earning them more meaningful, but also means there’s more grinding to be done to increase your level and gain access to new races and tracks. The new FMV tutorials with real-life racers are a nice idea in theory and do something to increase the credibility of the game in some ways, and are somewhat useful, but also long-winded and can‘t be skipped. Having the same racers loudly shout advice at you during the actual game itself is also pretty annoying.
However, while Shift 2 has its faults, most of its presentation is incredible. The original’s graphics were the best I’d seen for a sim racer, and the sequel tops it. Car models look tremendous inside and out, with visible change in every kind of interior meter during either the first-person or all-new helmet cam, which is a more claustrophobic version of that classic viewpoint and really bring out the impact in crashes. The shaky screen, instant black and white effect, and massive controller rumble during one help. The use of rumble is actually noteworthy in Shift 2 because it’s so well-done - during a slow part in the race, you won’t feel it, but when things amp up or if you’re racing on a rougher surface, you’ll feel it. Get into some back and forth nudging with rivals, and you’ll feel it more. Not since the PGR series has there been a racing game that really made use of rumble to actually enhance the experience.
Shift 2 also features an incredible soundtrack with remixes of some popular songs, and even if I’m not a particular fan of the original version of the song, like Hollywood Undead’s “Levitate”. I adore the slowed-down version featured here because it’s so creepy-sounding and has an epic feel to it as well. EA’s had some questionable soundtracks in racing games before, but this is probably their best one to date. They really went all-out with the remixes, and I’d honestly buy an album of the game’s music if it was made available - it’s really that good. Beyond the music, the aural bliss continues with some incredible sound effects. The roar of engines has never been as loud, or as satisfying as it is here. Crashes also sound more violent than I recall in a game. You’ll hear metal crunch, glass break, and generally lose your bearings just like you would in a real-life accident. While you definitely want to avoid them in real-life, it’s actually fun to just cruise around in a quick race with nothing on the line and crash your car as many times as you can just to experience the crashes - especially from the helmet cam, which adds to their intensity a lot.
Like the original, Shift 2 is a flawed sim but still manages to become greater than the sum of its parts. The wonky handling and annoying load times haven‘t been completely eliminated, while the new reduced methods of earning XP make getting through career mode more time-consuming than it should be. However, despite its flaws, the overall game is definitely worth a purchase. Not at $60 though - given the flaws and its nickel and diming of players through DLC, I’d say that it’s worth paying $40 for if you enjoyed the first. Since there’s no demo available, if you didn’t play that one, then either download Shift 1’s demo or just go ahead and buy it for the $10 or so it goes for now. Then, you’ll have an idea of what to expect from this game, and if its problems don’t really bother you there, they won’t bother you much here. Multi-platform owners should go with the 360 version, as its controller is better-suited for racing games and it lacks the mandatory HDD install.