Need for Speed: SHIFT

You think you can slam into an embankment at 90mph with no penalty, Slick? Not with the new concussion elements. Jarring collisions not only damage a vehicle’s performance, but also cause a temporary disturbance in your vision. It’s subtle, leaving your eyes momentarily blurred and ears ringing as if hit by an automotive flash grenade, but the effect is undeniably cool in creating a varied and recoverable visual disruption.

Also new to the series is an optional guide line, a la Forza 2, to see you through the hard turns. It’ll glow red to tell you to slow the hell down, green if it’s steady as she goes, and blue to suggest a tad more velocity. SHIFT’s newfound focus of speed over style could (and should) come as quite a surprise to NFS fans, but the developers were quick to distinguish it from elliptical car porn like Gran Turismo. Rubber banding AI is generally the productof the spotlight shone more heavily on licensed cars, but they’re not the star here. You are. And it was great to see computer opponents react to specific course events with dynamic independence while taking visible performance damage. NPCs (yes, the term works) can even form a grudge pattern against you. Not only will they adjust to your techniques… they’ll seek you out and hit you back!

Of course, licensed cars are a given - this is a NFS, after all. But they’ve been given an attention to detail beyond that of just handling and acceleration. While in cockpit view, vehicle’s interiors are modeled as authentically as the outside, and a thorough customization mode is definitely in the cards. Plus, all the gauges unique to each make and model, eliminate the need for a traditional HUD.

Above: Just like a real Porsche, sans the central AC

Most of our time on the track was behind the wheel of a more than capable Audi RS4 and Corvette Z06, but taking the reins of a Zonda proved to be a different experience altogether. Luckily, the official Brands Hatch track compensated by tailoring itself for a course more suited to the unbridled speeds found in an F1 experience.

This is all being brought to you by Black Box and the folks behind the critically lauded GTR series; so clearly, these are people that know their business. But we were assured that SHIFT will strive to avoid the more burdensome trappings of other racing sims. How do you remove the grind? Well, by offering the player goals other than coming in 1st place. And while we weren’t given specifics as to what these milestone incentives would be, the prospect of a racing game that doesn’t make us restart after one mulligan is enough to get our attention.

Maybe we would’ve gotten upset about SHIFT’s abandonment of everything in NFS: Undercover, but we got too distracted by the glitz of Need For Speed’s most significant update in years reflected off our hood. Fear not, series fans. Need for Speed: SHIFT is looking damn fine, and still has plenty of room to grow before it’s released this fall.

Mar 4, 2009