Need for Speed Shift Hands-on
EA races back to the starting line with a suped-up and ultra-tuned ride.
March 4, 2009 - EA's Need for Speed franchise has been a little, shall we say, "lackluster" as of late. The series has had trouble finding its footing, and short development times have kept it from being the engaging thrill rides of years past.
Thankfully, that looks to be completely changing with Need for Speed Shift. As someone who has reviewed the past couple NFS releases and who is also a big fan of everything from Burnout to Gran Turismo, I can say that I was not only pleasantly surprised by what I saw of Shift, but I'm also now very excited to get my hands on the full release later this year.
One of the biggest reasons that I'm sold on this year's game is that it doesn't focus on some crazy storyline or the latest in open world technology, but rather the pure driving experience. Rather than handling Shift internally, EA reached out to Slightly Mad Studios, the guys behind the GTR series on the PC (a critically acclaimed franchise to be sure). The results look to have paid off nicely.
As I mentioned, the game is about the driving experience. While you can of course play in a handful of third-person views or from the bumper-cam, the game is designed with the cockpit view in mind (which I'm personally always a big fan of). When you're sitting at the starting line and waiting for the lights to drop, your car will jolt from side to side as you pump the gas. Your engine lets out a fierce bark every time you touch the pedal, and you can see your driver's fingers adjust their grip on the steering wheel.
Once the race starts proper and you slam the gas pedal to the floor, everything is turned up to 11 before the knob breaks off. Your engine quickly becomes deafeningly loud, drowning out anything outside of the car and helping to sell the fact that you've got a barely-tamed powerhouse of an engine with perhaps only inches of leather, stuffing and frame between you and it. As the car pushes the speedometer clockwise, the camera pulls back slightly to instill the act of being thrown into your seat. Slam on the brakes and the opposite happens as your view thrusts forward towards the dashboard.
Coming into contact with something solid takes this to the next level, however. The camera practically bounces off the steering wheel, the whole screen becomes blurred for a second or so and, if the crash is bad enough, it looks like you're even blinded with a flash of light for a split-second. It's dizzying and disorienting, but wholly awesome.
NFS Shift looks great right now, though I was playing the PC build (with an Xbox 360 controller) as opposed to the PS3 or 360 versions. Regardless, it looked great and ran silky-smooth, which is especially notable since the build I played was a few months old, putting it close to a year out from what the actual shipping code will be. As I mentioned, I can't wait to play the finished release later this year, but I'm sure I'll get a few more spins behind the wheel before then, so stay tuned. This is, thankfully, one the racers to watch this year.
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