Release Date: September 22nd
The NFS series takes a turn for the hardcore with a renewed focus on what it’s like to be a driver, and not necessarily of a Nissan.
PRESS RELEASE PROMISES
-65 realistically unique cars spanning the last 35 years
-In-Car view returns to NFS for the first time in nearly a decade
-50 unique layouts across 18 tracks
-First game to “True Driver’s Experience”
-Numerous mid-race, objective-based incentives
Well, the emphasis on the Driver Experience could be the game’s crown jewel. But of similar importance, I’ve been dying to see what exactly the devs had meant by the promise of mid race “milestones,” or the achievable goals beyond simply pole position. After all, most traditional racers are kind of like our Comments section: It’s all about being “first!!!” and little else. One of the greatest strides EA has taken to distance itself from ordinary racing game is eliminating the need to quit every time you clumsily plummet to last place with a brand new points-based reward system.
Points are basically put towards your overall profile XP (applicable online and off) and are broken into two categories: Precision and Aggression. The former rewards stuff like immaculately drifting around corners and emerging through course sections unscathed, while the latter encourages you to trade a little paint.
But mind where you channel that aggression, Mr. Wheeler. As boring and deceitful as most promises of driver AI get, SHIFT’s non-playable drivers have are looking to kick the tired tradition of rubberband bullshit. It’s true that AI drivers won’t swipe you off the track as if you were invisible while trying to realign themselves to a poorly designed carousel. But better still, they can develop personal vendettas against you if they perceive you to be an aggro-asshole.
Leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone… but hit them, and they’ll hit you back. Whether specific NPCs are born pricks or you simply have to teach them remains to be seen, but since the creators are referring to the dynamic system as “emotions,” one could assume that you could start out a race against the occasional enemy with a personality disorder.
I was floored when I first laid eyes on SHIFT last March
, although not necessarily in a good way. It was a little unsettling to be informed that a series I’ve comfortably come to know for hot pursuits, open-world maps, and neon body kits was about to go the Forza route of real-world tracks and precision handling and physics. (Even more so, when you consider the last game starred an undercover cop who had to overthrow a crime syndicate using only his Porsche.)
But after playing it again on the show floor, I’m happy to report this mature-minded departure is shaping into the NFS series’ most significant evolution in years. Perhaps ever. While it’s without a doubt more realistic than any Need For Speed in years, I caution you folks not to write the game off as a boring simulator. “The True Driver Experience.” Certainly sounds like PR babble… yet, it’s actually something fresh, innovative and downright arcadey.
Modern racers have all but forgotten there’s an actual person behind the wheel, but SHIFT’s gonna make damn sure you remember. Not only will you find your hands interacting with all facets of automotive minutia, but the cockpit view quite gorgeously displays a living, breathing human reacting to the road with every bit of detail as your vehicle. Haphazardly pinballing yourself around courses results in disorienting onscreen concussion effect that varies depending on the brutality of your impact.
As apprehensive as I was over Need For Speed: SHIFT’s change of pace, the developers behind Skate and the critically lauded GTR series have made me a believer again. If you played ProStreet and Undercover just long enough to be underwhelmed, you’re going to see this as a vast improvement. The driver experience is no bullshit, and although I could care less about customizing my interior, watching stuff like your drivers neck crane back at high accelerations and feeling the force of an impact on your skull is both subtly sublime and jarringly immersive.
I love an on-track guideline, but it’s the concussion elements will make you a better driver. Momentary blindness is far more of an incentive to master courses than any dented fender could ever hope to be. The same could be said for the point/reward system, even though they’re basically Project Gotham’s Kudos points. But it’s not like you’ll be getting anything like that this year…
Right when I was getting over the shock of NFS and Forza actually being comparable, I received another kick jolt once I realized I was actually more excited for SHIFT, which quite simply looks way better in terms of next-gen presentation. Visually speaking, SHIFT actually looks prettier, all the while offering significantly enhanced gameplay from its last title (Thank God). Sure, its scope is significantly smaller, and you know it won’t have a fraction of the community and DLC support as Forza, but all the upgrades feel infinitely more substantial.
If I had to pick a winner - and I do - I’d go with SHIFT. It looks a little more fresh and exciting, while Forza looks like hours more of the beautiful same (but what a value!) Fortunately for me, by the time I finish SHIFT, EA will doubtlessly be hyping its next NFS title AND I won’t head into Forza 3 unprepared!
Never did I ever conceive of a day when an annual Need for Speed game would rival my interest in a new Forza… but here we are. Feel free to call me an asshole in the comments.
Jun 18, 2009