Shift 2: Unleashed Hands-On Preview – Shifting Expectations?
Written Tuesday, November 30, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Realism is never a word that you'd have previously associated with the Need for Speed franchise until Shift came along. Boasting a fairly unique feature in its 'helmet-cam', which replicated the movements of the driver's head in a bid to recreate an authentic and visceral racing experience, Shift attempted to do something a little different with the racing sim. At least that was the idea. The end result was something that aimed to emulate both the intuitive nature of an arcade speedfest while attempting to please the more hardened petrolhead racing fan with aspects of a more simulation-centric racer.
Whether it succeeded is up for debate, but it only managed to garner a score of 70 in our review, losing points for being glitch-riddled, a bit dull and failing to deliver where it should have really counted – the handling. Slightly Mad Studios is back on development duties again for Shift 2: Unleashed, which drops the Need for Speed prefix, possibly in an effort to set it apart as something different and not in keeping with the arcade sensibilities of the franchise.
More than ever, the emphasis is on the simulation side of the coin for Shift 2 and the series' helmet-cam is back with a vengeance, now with a natty visual sheen effect to replicate wearing a helmet with a visor. Sort of. It's actually the most minor of Shift 2's newly added features and barely worthy of mention come to think of it, but still, it's nice to know it's there. More substantial is Shift 2's renewed focus on providing realistic handling with plenty of feedback, and based upon a couple of hands-on laps with the game, we can attest that it's shaping up fairly well.
You know that a racing title is truly authentic when we go streaking off the track within two seconds of picking up the controller, kicking up grass and gravel as we mount the verge and the rest of the pack go tearing past us. We'll chalk this one up to experience. Somehow managing to catch up to the tail-end of the racers in front of us, we tussle to gain a better position and as we grind and bump into the opposition, the vibrations and to and fro of the helmet-cam makes for some quite immersive feedback.
The handling actually feels rather responsive and it's probably the only racing game that we'd ever consider playing with the in-car cockpit view, which is saying something as a resolutely out of car third-person view player. It's always better to know where your car is in relation to the track if you ask us, and well, we've always plumped for the default viewpoint favoured by arcade racers. While there's multiple views to choose from, if you want to play Shift 2 properly, you'll shove your virtual head into a helmet and get behind the wheel.
Right, that's enough about the helmet-cam. What else is new? Well, Slightly Mad is adopting Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit's Autolog feature in an improved capacity for starters, meaning that you'll have the same social networking gubbins for challenging and being challenged by your friends, and it'll be even easier to use. It's on the track where the biggest changes have seemingly been implemented though, with more consideration for external factors like grip on the various surfaces, the effects of G-force and the feel of the suspension as you ride roughshod over rough asphalt or smooth tarmac.
Driving in a nippy BMW Z4 GT3 during our hands-on, we get a good sense of the impact that different surfaces have on the handling and driving like a madman is a sure-fire way to end up leaving the track in a spectacular crash where you can roll your car quite easily if you're careless. And that's exactly what we end up doing on our next lap around the Australian speedway that Slightly Mad is showing for this particular demo.
What's also notable about this track is that it's also a night race, which Slightly Mad claims is genuine night time racing, not just a day time track in the dark. We're not entirely sure what that means exactly, but apparently it translates to races that are a lot scarier as you skid around corners and speed over dips with only your headlights illuminating the way ahead. The idea is that it makes things seem more dangerous, so getting to know the tracks and planning ahead here is far more important than it ever has been in a racing game.
So, it's a pretty positive first showing for Shift 2: Unleashed then, and while we're not entirely sure what the 'Unleashed' part pertains to yet, it looks as though Slightly Mad's sequel might succeed in shifting expectations of what a Need for Speed simulation-style racer can be. But then, the first Shift looked set to deliver on its promise, so we don't know what to think. With improved handling and even more polished visuals, Shift 2 certainly seems to be on the right track and if it can maintain the level of refinement we've seen so far, it could get racing sim fans salivating. As it stands however, we've not really seen a defining factor that sets Shift 2 apart from the competition, apart from the helmet-cam of course, so it’s still got its work cut out to catch up the opposition.
Shift 2: Unleashed is set to leave the pit stop in spring 2011.