I’d like to start off by saying that EA could not have picked a more appropriate name for their latest title in the long running Need For Speed series. Not only is the game about racing really fast in really fast cars, but the game is also quite a “shift” from what people have known Need For Speed for. There are no bones about it, Need For Speed Shift is a simulation style racing game. This could be all well and good in theory, but in execution the whole thing doesn’t play out as well as it should.
Need For Speed Shift starts out by pitting you in a race to determine what difficulty is recommended for you to play on. That seems to be something that should come off as a helpful feature, but really ends up doing nothing because most players won’t be any good on their first race, but rather after multiple races have happened. I say this because the game initially put me on “Easy” and, after a few races, I never even came close to finishing in any place except first. The difficulty options the game presents are pretty expansive, from handling, braking, AI, and damage control. It’s all really up to you to choose what works best for you and it may take quite a bit of time to figure out what works best with your play style. Turning off all the assists the game offers does make the game feel almostas good as the top tier sim racing games, but still falls short.
Shift falls short mainly due to its reward system. At the start of the game, it talks a lot about precision and aggression being two different play styles. What those systems boil down to is this: To earn aggression, hit your opponents as much as possible to win; To earn precision points, avoid hitting your opponents and get to the finish as clean as possible. I guess it’s nice that either of them have any kind of real advantage except that it does become difficult to earn aggression points once in the lead.
There are a few different kinds of events in Shift, namely standard lap races, timed events, car battles and drift races. Each event completed earns you stars that allow you to make it to the next tier of races that are more difficult than the last. Along with the more difficult events, this also unlocks more cars available for purchase. Once you’ve accumulated enough stars, the final event called NFS Live World Tour becomes available. This works all just fine, but the previous Need for Speed games had some kind of story to at least break up the constant racing. None of that is present here and it kind of leaves me with a bland taste in my mouth.
Probably the toughest thing to explain is why the game is slightly better than average. In theory, everything sounds fine. There’s plenty of cars, tracks and events for players to feast on. The graphics look just fine and are detailed as one would expect from a modern racing game. It does have an online mode that you can spend extra time in the game There’s even some online championships you can win if you’re good enough. I also enjoyed the cockpit view, as it doesn’t distort the view of the road or make it difficult to play. I guess the problem with Need for Speed Shift is that there’s nothing to really keep coming back for. All the parts and pieces are there for a good sim racing game, but it’s missing the special parts that make the other sim racers work so well. I can see how someone can really enjoy this game for a while, but after Gran Turismo 5 or Forza Motorsport 3 release, I don’t see why someone would stick with Shift.
On the flip side, if you enjoy Need for Speed games in the traditional sense, you are not going to like Shift much at all. As much as the game allows you to adjust the difficulty, there’s no option to make it feel like a Need for Speed game. At the most, you can make it an easy game but without challenge, the game isn’t any more fun. It’s clear that Shift is in the middle ground somewhere and doesn’t execute either style particularly well. I would say that Shift should only be bought by hardcore sim racing fans and only as a placeholder for the next big sim racer.