About one minute into the first career race of Need for Speed Shift, you have felt the enormous satisfaction of whipping around a corner to overtake an opponent. A few minutes later, you realize you’re still using the cockpit view.
You didn’t frantically search for the button to change to a third-person perspective. You’re enjoying it, even indulging in the fact that someone has finally developed an in-car sensation that is not a texture slapped over the screen with a windshield in the middle.
It is completely unobtrusive to the action, becoming an integral part of Shift’s full experience. Developer Slightly Mad Studios has crafted a racer that sits firmly between the arcade and simulation racing genres, creating a superior racing title that wants to immerse, not simply involve.
Everything about Shift’s design is rewarding. A constant point ticker is present on-screen, tracking your racing level which unlocks new cars and bonuses. A star system tosses out additional races in higher ranks. A steady cash flow ensures a variety of cars are open at all times.
Nothing is as rewarding as the tracks themselves, culled from actual locations to provide a stream of unique challenges. Racing is a joy in Shift, with the engine delivering a fantastic sense of speed and danger. The penalty for crashing into a wall at full speed is more than physical damage; it is complete disorientation. Your virtual driver blacks out, struggling to regain composure after the shock.
Again the in-car plays a role, as the wall you’re about to hit seems to approach even quicker as you slide uncontrollably. You know you’ve made a mistake the second the vehicle begins slipping away and the designers will have their retribution for not taking care of their expansive selection of licensed vehicles.
Shift is more than a diversion for this series, certainly an EA staple that is proud of its open world challenges compared to the lackluster simulations such as Pro Street. This is where Need for Speed seems to have found its niche, and only in one game.
It may not be noticeable now, but Shift is important for the genre as whole, inviting those who are left out of Gran Turismo or Forza due to their complexities. The design is such that a steady stream of positive bonuses for even lower-tier players keeps them involved, and racing imperfectly is rewarded. Shift makes braking as fun as boosting with nitrous.