Shift 2 Unleashed aims to assault the player’s senses with visceral visuals and screaming audio. This game is an asphalt thrill ride disguised as a racing simulator. The cars will hurl the player around the course in a cacophony of howling horsepower and screeching tires pushed to their traction limits.
The wild handling of the first Shift game has been toned down a bit. The player will find the cars a bit easier to control when pulling lateral G’s through the corners but they will still feel the frustration of a car that is a little too squirrelly. Drivers will get the sensation of hanging on for dear life as their metal beast barrels down the track and dives in hard on an apex. Players will learn quickly to use finesse to keep the correct racing line. Throwing the steering around like an arcade racer is the fastest way to end up sliding off the track and kissing the concrete barrier hard.
The AI drivers do a decent job of putting pressure on the driver. They will smartly defend against the player trying to pass when they are in the lead which is downright fun. However, when in the lead and fighting off cars nipping at the heels the AI cars disregard the player’s line and often drive right into his or her car. Combine this with the feathery handling and the player’s car is frequently sent off the track or even worse into the wall. This can up the frustration level when it happens on the final laps of a race. Shift 2 would have curbed this frustrating aspect by including a rewind feature that so many current racing games have.
Shift 2 features real life racing personalities that take the player under their wing. They narrate the features of the game and how to navigate through the menus. They also speak to the driver during the race at the start and finish which is a bit extraneous. Shift 2 should have capitalized on the racing personalities’ voices by having them recommend racing lines and inform the player on attempts to pass from the AI racers in the middle of the race. This would mitigate the annoyance of getting sent into the wall by stubborn AI cars attacking from behind.
Shift 2 features 140 cars which is a far sight compared to the 400 cars of Forza 3 and over 1000 in Gran Turismo 5. Shift 2 makes up for the slim stable of cars by offering a plethora of tuning options. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had by upgrading a bone-stock street car into an aggressive asphalt eating machine.
The one feature that sets Shift 2 apart from the rest of the racing game pack is the attention to detail paid to the driver’s eye view. Most racers place the camera behind the car or on the hood. Shift 2 puts the player’s view into that of the actual driver. The screen is lined by the edges of the driver’s helmet. The viewpoint pans into the direction of an oncoming turn, accurately replicating the driver looking into and anticipating the apex. High lateral G’s in a turn push the player’s helmet away from the turn and bone crunching impacts jerk the helmet forwards and down. Higher velocities cause the periphery of vision to blur, giving the lifelike feel of increased tunnel vision for the driver. This alone is worth the price of admission and is the most immersive cockpit view in any current racing game.
Shift 2 comes with an impressive 36 racing locations including beautifully rendered reproductions of real world locations such as Laguna Seca, Nurburgring, Road America and Suzuka Circuit. Any hardcore racing fan will champ at the bit when they see the renowned Circuit Dijon-Prenois track on the list. This track was site of the iconic duel between Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve in the last two laps of the 1979 French F1 Grand Prix.
The sound in Shift 2 compliments the fantastic sensation of speed the graphics bring in driver’s eye view. The guttural rumbling engine of Detroit muscle and the banshee-like whine of precision engineered European and Japanese thoroughbreds combine with the sharp visuals to produce an adrenaline pumping, seat of your pants ride.
The Autolog feature from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit returns in Shift 2 Unleashed. Autolog is the thread that sews together offline and online play. Race times are recorded in the player’s Autolog profile for people on the friends list to see and compare. This provides replay value and a great platform for social gaming. Autolog adds a fun meta-game for Shift 2 friends to try to one up each other in competition and post faster times on the Autolog leaderboard.
Shift 2 includes an addictive level up mechanic. The driver levels up in both online and offline events. The wide variety of actions that earn experience points keep the player motivated and susceptible to many sessions of “just one more race”. Points are given for maintaining the best racing line, drafting other cars, mastering corners, and being the lap leader. The player is rewarded with newly unlocked events and better cars for purchase.
Shift 2 Unleashed ups the racing game stakes with the most intense first person racing experience. Generous driving aids make this game accessible to beginners and the Elite racing mode can challenge the most jaded racing fan. Loose handling and balky AI drivers keep Shift 2 from passing the Forza and Gran Turismo franchises but it is in their slipstream and has potential to catch them on the next lap. The overall ride in Shift 2 Unleashed is violent, visceral, extremely immersive, a visual and audio treat for any racing fan.