Leave your Fiat Punto at home son….
I think the word ‘shift’ here is pivotal, not only does it pertain to the manual task of physically disengaging a given gear in mind to select and alternate gear whilst driving, but also in respect to the expectations people have of NFS; maybe NFS has finally gone up a gear as the name suggests. NFS had to time their shift right to get off the line quick enough to keep pace with the raw racing machines ahead of them like Forza, Grand Turisimo, and GRID.
NFS seems to be a bit of a mash of Forza and GRID, yet it seems to do neither very well. There are, of course the tell-tale interiors of NFS; the odd camera angles during the menus, the constantly rotating camera during the car select screen that never really gives you a good look at your trusty stead, and the glitzy-street car modding feel of the game have all been retained in true NFS style, but like always there seems to be something lacking, something you can’t quite put your finger on, a nut or bolt missing here and there.
Like every good racing car, everything has to be in its place, perfectly tuned to squeeze every last foot-pound of torque from it so you can beat the competition. NFS ‘Shift’ is more like a track day car than an out and out racer, it has the looks, it has the flashy parts which now include quite an extensive tuning menu and three stage upgrade menus, but it all seems to go by the board once you get into the action on track. No amount of fussing and over exaggerating can cover up the fact the NFS feels very empty and a little wooden. It seems like they are trying too hard to make it something it isn’t. For me NFS has always been a less than serious racing/modifying frolic for all ages and that’s what NFS does best. Now however, they are trying to get very serious and have missed something very vital; an atmosphere, a ‘feel’.
The car listing is quite extensive as far as it goes, and there is lots to do with your cars, from engine and chassis mods to spending ages applying decals and vinyl, only to get the thing on track and be wholly frustrated with the poor physics and irritating opposition who it is almost impossible to keep down, considering you get points for aggressive driving as do you for precision, should you try the classic corner tip where the idea is to spin the opposing car by forcing the rear corner of their car to one side you will soon find that you will rarely if ever get away with this trick without spinning yourself as they turn into you and force you over with them. As well as that, all an opponent has to do is breath near your car and you’re off the track and into the tire wall, but if you ram them into a corner at 170, they just drive away like nothing happened.
NFS ‘Shift’ could have been a racing legend in no time
The driving dynamics are a bit ‘all or nothing’ in a way. The car will rarely, if ever, over steer or under steer when you want it too, its always the opposite of what you want, coming into a corner ready to turn in- and off the breaks smoothly in “Arrgh!” loads of under steer- and here I am in the tire wall again helped by the moron behind me who used my bumper as a break, he’s driven off now though, and by the time I get into reverse with the horrific lag between first and reverse gears in the automatic setting, the whole damn field has gone past me, finished the race, watched a movie, and are currently at a nice restaurant having dinner. Say on the flip side you want to induce a controlled slide to tuck the front of the car into the corner to make it round, don’t be surprised if it either won’t go at all, no matter how much throttle you throw at it, or in the blink of an eye you’re facing oncoming traffic, Its frustrating to say the least, mainly because when it’s good its really good, but when its bad its flamin’ awful.
Graphically speaking the game is very good. The interiors of the cars are very detailed and it’s pretty cool that when you upgrade the cockpits in stages that you can really see the difference it makes to your driving experience (if you race inside the car that is, and so you should). Crash damage is a little bit of a let down though, as realistically all you can do is lose the odd bit of bumper of body-kit here and there and suffer anything from minor to major steering bias. Other than that though the cars seem to be made from pig iron reinforced with titanium as I got away with a full bonnet-on smash at 130mph with nothing more than a dented bumper and bonnet. While we’re talking about smash-ups, another touch which introduced some realism into this little wooden world is the effect that crashing has on your viewing of the game; it blurs the game out and flips it into back and white dependant on the speed and impact force of the crash, sometimes it can be quite disorientating as it is in real life.
On reading through this review it has suddenly dawned on me the condemning nature of my words, but don’t get me wrong, I like NFS Shift. Truth be told I bought it on a it of a whim as something to occupy me until the daddy of all racers returns for its third instalment (Forza 3), and so far Shift has been a pretty good experience on the whole, but NFS has some hard acts to follow in this arena, especially in moving away from the teenage racer/modde to fighting it out with the big boys. It takes a lot to make a good racing game and this time I think NFS has missed the mark a bit. I really think that given more thought and balancing out the flashiness of the menu system with the playability of the game, NFS ‘Shift’ could have been a racing legend in no time, but unfortunately where GRID, Forza, and GT left hot tire tracks behind them, NFS stalled off the line.
The Bad: Wooden and empty feeling; Not exactly top notch driving physics; Slow automatic gear changing leaves you high and dry; Irritating opposition