Shift 2 Unleashed PS3 review

June 29, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Platform(s): Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC

For over a decade, the Gran Turismo games claimed the racing simulation throne with just a handful of competitive standout titles. When the first Need For Speed Shift came onto the scene in 2009, many gamers dismissive of the NFS franchise for its inconsistent releases took notice.  In my opinion, Need For Speed Shift was the new champion and king of racing games.  With a unique cockpit camera that provided a whole new level of tension and vicious, roaring engine sounds, Shift became known as a survival-horror racing game. Shift gave us everything that was missing in Gran Turismo, an incredible sense of speed and a real, sometimes unforgiving challenge. Now we have Shift 2 Unleashed, a game that's rife with occasional frustration and bittersweet victories.

The Good
- Once you tweak your controller settings, fantastic controls 
- Gorgeous graphics 
- An incredible amount of tracks 
- A new helmet cam view for a more realistic driving experience 

The Bad
- Controls will initially frustrate most gamers
- The announcer can be unbearable at times
- Convoluted menu design
- The Drift races feel out of place

I’ll be honest, I nearly dismissed Shift 2 during the first two hours of playing. The controls are nothing like the first game. The steering is incredibly sensitive and your car spins out at every major turn. Choosing a different vehicle makes little to no difference and attempting to tune your car seems insignificant at first. I would go as far as saying that Shift 2 is unplayable right out of the box.

Before you start, it is imperative that you adjust the steering sensitivity and dead zone sliders in the advanced menu under ‘driving options’. One of the presets that I used is from this forum. You can experiment with the sliders to find the most suitable settings but the adjusted controls are NIGHT and DAY. With the correct settings, Shift 2 becomes an entirely different game. I suppose the default controls are considered more realistic, but they require ninja reflexes and concentration just to stay in a straight line.

Shift 2 is incredibly difficult and casual gamers should stay far, far away. This is a racing game for hardcore gamers only, the kind of people that want to be challenged and the kind of people who embrace games like Dark Souls. The AI cars are brutal, unforgiving and always seem to have a grudge against you. Oftentimes they are more concerned with pushing you off the track than winning. To its credit, that’s what makes Shift 2 so thrilling. Each race feels like a battle for survival. It is crucial to find the right car for each track or you will be left in the dust before reaching the first turn. Gran Turismo spoiled us a little too much.  In GT, It’s enough to pick a car with the highest horsepower and cruise to a podium position.

Shift 2 spits that concept in the face and forces you to work for your medals. No matter how much you boost your vehicle performance, the AI drivers will match your ride with equally powerful upgrades. Despite being hard, the game is never unfair. Losing a race is generally a result of using the wrong car or losing your concentration.

Shift 2 is the first racing game to introduce the helmet cam view. It pulls back the camera further from the cockpit view, making the sensation of being in the driver’s seat even more realistic. It takes a while getting used to since the helmet shakes when going into turns, but it’s a great addition that some will love and others will hate.

On the track, Shift 2 stomps its competition. Each race makes you break a sweat and the satisfaction of claiming the first place is unparalleled. Off the track, it’s a hodgepodge of convoluted menu designs and embarrassing, real live videos featuring famous racecar driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. Graphically, the game is nothing short of stunning. You are presented with a selection of over 100 gorgeously rendered, licensed vehicles, each offering numerous upgrade options and an easy to use tune up menu. And if the 100 cars weren’t enough, the game contains over 80 stunningly detailed tracks. The lighting on each track feels surreal, in a realistic kind of way. On one track, the setting sun blinds you as you approach a corner at 200 mph, a race later you find yourself driving down a pitch-black road, unable to see beyond your headlights.

Yes, that’s right folks, this is the first racing game where the night driving actually feels dark. Unless you are familiar with the track, you can forget approaching turns at top speeds. Bumping into other drivers at night is even more discouraging since the loss of your headlights makes you practically blind. There are a few low-resolution textures and blurry objects during the course overview of each race, but for the most part Shift 2 is a very impressive looking game.

Unless you are a huge fan of Vaughn Gittin Jr. (a professional drifter), the ongoing commentary will drive you crazy. “Good job man, Way to go man, you can do better man,maan,maaan maaaan”  is all you will hear before and after each race.  And if the remarks weren’t agitating enough, each event is introduced with a cheesy video of Vaughn giving us his two cents. The soundtrack consists of typical rock tunes from bands such as The Stone Temple Pilots, Jimmy Eat World, 30 Seconds to Mars and many more. Whether you are a fan of the music or not, it just doesn’t fit the racing. I can’t help but feel like I’m in a Mountain Dew commercial during certain songs. Luckily, you have the option to turn the music off, entirely.

And you want the music off, because the sound of roaring engines is electrifying. The screeching of the tires resonates as you exit tight corners with a sudden, deafening growl of your machine rocketing off into the distance. When you trade paint with the rival drivers, the shrieking of the metal feels like your limbs are being tossed around. The sound certainly amplifies the tension on the course. At times, the sound will glitch, resulting in frustrating, high pitched noises from the speakers. It lasts for only a few seconds, but it’s very noticeable in the midst of a heated race.

Motor-racing aficionados will love this game. Casual gamers will most likely run away after the first twenty minutes. This is a game that rewards patience and persistence. The game comes off as unforgiving and maybe even unplayable at first, but the diligent gamer will be rewarded with one of the most exceptional racing experiences on the market.

Review by Tin Salamunic

Final Score “Fantastic” 9.0
Incredibly detailed environments and fantastic lighting. The vehicle models look superb and the car damage is excellent.
It takes a while to get used to and requires some tweaking in the options menu. Once you get the hang of it, it’s unmatched.
An insane amount of tracks and a lengthy career mode will keep you busy for quite some time.
The announcer is atrocious, but the engines sound remarkable.

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