Need for Speed: Shift Review (PS3)

A mystery wrapped in an enigma surrounded by fog and anonymity. Thatís what Need For Speed: Shift has been, for the first hour or so of gameplay. But after enough time spent in the game, I am pleased to say that Shift is an excellent racer, one worthy of much praise, and little remorse. I spent so much time with it that, as you may tell, this review comes quite late.

Shift canít be compared to previous Need For Speed titles. Those are arcade racers, with semi-realistic physics, super fast cars street-racing with plots and cinematics to get your blood flowing. Shift, as the name suggests, takes a different course and flies up to the simulation level of racing. Shift is much closer to Gran Turismo than it is Need For Speed.

Shift features a host of different races: time attack, one on one, and first place competitions. It may go without saying, but the visuals in Shift are pretty. Even driving at 150MPH, they're nice to look at.

With that in mind, Shift is a sim made for players at any level. If youíve never driven a car and know nothing about traction, weight, momentum, or even the simplest of physics laws, donít worry. There are enough kid-glove settings like auto-braking, drive path and AI difficulty to make sure you win every race, so long as you know what buttons to push.

For the review, I tested both the PS3 and 360 version using a variety of racing wheels. It should be noted that none of the wheels tested are technically supported, yet they nevertheless worked excellently. I play with racing wheels because, in my mind, it wouldnít be a racing simulator otherwise.

Shift is incredible in that it goes as deep as the player wants. Imagine two brothers sharing the game, playing on two separate days. The younger one can have traction control, no damage, auto-braking and have the difficulty set to easy, and he can go through the three tiered races in a week or so, buying a few new cars all the while. The older brother may set the difficulty to medium and have no computerized assistance, and will earn more money, buy more cars, and complete the tiered rankings also within a few weeks.

Who will have more fun? Setting aside the philosophical argument of whether people have more fun when theyíre younger, the older brother has more freedom and much more access to the game. He can supe up his cars, enhancing the engines, wheels, aerodynamics, and even parts. Most of these upgrades have three stages, and most of them implemented cost triple the original carís price. Go deeper down the rabbit hole to advanced tuning, where tire pressure, wheel alignment, slip differential, gearing, aerodynamics and springs can be fine-tuned to your liking.

What perspective do you like the most? In the cockpit is the most realistic, but also one of the harder POVs. Aggressive driving will earn you points, but it is also more reckless and will leave you open to error.

Donít worry if little Bobby decides he wants to do it to: thereís a quick-tuning and advanced tuning section, so anyone can mess around with their cars. But hey, letís just assume the kidís too little to even get all of that. Let him go and paint the car how he likes.

Shift is no Forza MotorSport 3 when it comes to car customization, but that doesnít mean you canít have a good time making your car of choice look dashing as ever. Paint any of the sections, give it a signature finish, change the rims, or even use one of the presets. Donít expect to write your name on the roofÖthis isnít Need For Speed: Nitro.

How many cars you can customize, however, isnít so great. With 52 cars available, Shift pales in comparison to even Gran Turismo PSP, which features 400. Thereís only so much one man can do with 400 cars, or more, but weíre content with the available selection, and Iíll tell you why: it follows Dick Marcinkoís 7th rule of leadership: Keep it simple, stupid.

Shift is a no BS, no hassle racer. It tells you everything you need to know, and lets you go as deep as you like. The racing is dead-on. While some complain that drifting is impossible, I found it easy, both with and without a racing wheel, both with and without using the e-brake. In terms of points, EA seems to have an excessive liking towards the e-brake, especially for offering points, but using a racing wheel with it proved next to impossible because the buttons on the racing wheels arenít customizable. While EA representatives promised that a good driver can do it, Iím not a pro. I can race with a wheel and win, but Iím not taking my hand off the wheel or shifter unless the dinner bell comes aíringiní.

The use of precision vs. aggressive racing as a part of the userís profile is also an interesting twist. I listed as a precision driver, thanks in part to the racing wheel, and I was awarded points and badges for driving as such. But feel free to ram into other drivers, as I did once completely flipping him over and winning the race by a cool twenty seconds. Aggressive driving has its benefits, though while it may be more fun, making mistakes will penalize players. Precision is more about making the turns and doing a damn fine job; aggression is about hitting everyone off the road until you make first place.

In-game ads return, though obviously driving fast makes them almost a blur. But you'll see some for sure. Massive drifts are, like in real life, hard as hell to pull off. So if you aren't getting them easily, maybe you should, you know...practice!

Racing itself is fun and rewarding. I found the physics to be realistic, though damage is not, even with damage effects on. The only effect that truly came to life was stopping the car dead when driving in manual and not hitting the clutch, which killed the car. If only there were some easy way to start the car againÖshame there isnít.

Need For Speed Shift does exactly what it is made for: giving any driver the experience they want in a racing game. Want to just race some cars in various tiers on easy? Great. What to turn off assistance and live on the dangerous side? Have fun. Want to change the engine, check tire density, and see just what angle the rear spoiler should face? Go for it. Donít waste time doing anything you donít want, like waiting in loading or menu screens, go out and race! And thatís just what Shift does.