In under a month, EA will release the latest iteration of its long-running Need for Speed racing franchise, this time subtitled Shift. For fans of the series, the newest version will bring with it some changes to the standard Need for Speed formula. The biggest change for the series is the push towards a more simulation feel for the game -- the majority of the previous games have been known for their arcade-like and unrealistic driving style. So with the release date inching closer, let's see what's looking good and not so good at this juncture.
A lot of aspects in Shift look promising, starting with the new development team, Slightly Mad Studios, who was previously responsible for the acclaimed GTR racing series on the PC. From there the presentation looks to be excellent, and the career mode appears likely to suck gamers in -- whether they are novices or experts.
Diagnostic Two-Lap Race
One of the more interesting details about Need for Speed: Shift is its way of making new players go through two laps with a standard car upon starting the game for the first time. After completing the required laps, the game will then recommend a difficulty level and different driving assists for the player. These can obviously be adjusted in the future to make the experience more or less difficult, but it’s a nice touch to have the game automatically recommend settings for new users. In most racing games I have played, I find myself wondering which assists I should have off or on, so this makes my decision much easier, and will consequently allow me to dive into the racing itself more quickly.
Bringing Graphical Realism To Your Favorite Console
While Gran Turismo 5 and Forza 3 are arguably the front runners in terms of graphical prowess, Need for Speed: Shift is quickly making a name for itself in the visuals department. Not only are the interiors and exteriors of the cars exquisitely detailed, Slightly Mad Studios is also opting for a more immersive driving experience, complete with the added touch of your driver’s vision becoming blurry for a few seconds after getting into a crash. All told, it looks like the developers of Shift are taking the project very seriously and are looking to persuade people interested in Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5 to take another look at the aging series.
In an attempt to make it as immersive as possible, Slightly Mad Studios is focusing on the in-car camera view.
A Career Mode for Everyone
Unlike other racing games, Need for Speed: Shift is attempting to make its career mode more accessible for all racing enthusiasts. Instead of requiring drivers to place first in each race in order to get access to other events, Shift is utilizing a unique progression system in the form of driver profile levels, badges and stars. The stars system will allow consumers to increase their driver level and be able to participate in more races as they progress through the career mode, regardless of whether or not they are at the front of the pack after the race. It is a system that appears to be more forgiving than most simulation-racing career modes, and should allow drivers of all skill levels to find enjoyment in it.
While what I’ve seen and read of Need for Speed: Shift looks promising, there are still some unknowns. The biggest unknown is the fact that EA is expanding into relatively unknown territory by creating a simulation-style NFS game. The release of the game is also a bit sketchy since it's just a few weeks before Forza 3 and, shortly thereafter, Gran Turismo 5 will also be arriving. In other words it remains to be seen if Shift will be tempting enough to fans of simulation-racing games.
A Crowded Time for Simulation Racers
EA is taking quite a risk releasing Need for Speed: Shift in September. While it is due to be released before the other two major racing games are released, namely Forza 3 in October and Gran Turismo 5 shortly after that, the question is whether or not consumers will decide to take a chance on Shift instead of waiting for one of the other well-known games. While Shift looks to be a good entry in the Need for Speed catalog of games, it is unproven in the world of simulation racing, and only time will tell if it looks good enough to draw people away from other racing titles.
Will the Career Mode Feature Enough Variety To Keep Players Interested?
Another unknown with Shift is whether or not the career mode will remain engaging throughout its entirety, or if it will boil down to a few different races or drifting contests which begin to grind on the player after a while. Unfortunately, this will likely only be realized after the game has been released, as one person may find the drifting contests incredibly fun whereas another may be frustrated by them and decide to not continue playing the game. The key will be if Slightly Mad Studios allows consumers to pick and choose which events to partake in, thereby giving them the opportunity to skip events they have no interest in. If consumers are given the ability to customize their experience in this way, the career mode could be engaging to all players.
Shift's career mode will likely be a success or failure based on how customizable it is.
Can a Balance Be Struck Between Simulation and Arcade?
Judging by the success of GTR, Slightly Mad Studios' previous racing title, it is apparent that the studio can create a good simulation experience. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the company can strike a balance between casual and hardcore racing fans, something which they are attempting to do in Shift. If a good balance isn’t found, the game could end up being too realistic for racing novices and too forgiving for hardcore fans. In the end it all comes down to how much each consumer will be able to customize the experience. With the diagnostic two-lap race required for each player, I have hopes that the game will cater to both types of racers, but only time will tell if it successfully does so.
Can Shift Stand Up To Forza and GT?
Need for Speed: Shift is shaping up nicely, and it could be one of the best entries in the long-running franchise when it is released next month. While there are still some unknown aspects of the game, what has been shown so far has been impressive. With a crowded few months of racing approaching, it appears as though Shift may become a major player in the racing genre, and could potentially steal sales away from Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5.