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Need for Speed: SHIFT

“Whoa!” We’re pretty sure that’s exactly the response EA and Black Box were angling for when they recently showed off Need for Speed: SHIFT, ‘cause that’s sure as hell the one they got. Why else would they be going around demoing the game earlier than ever in the franchise’s history if they weren’t 100% certain of the wow factor therein? These guys are proud of their baby, and all too eager to tell everyone that the screenshot below is completely undoctored gameplay footage captured directly from the game in motion.

Above: No seriously, this is what the game looks like

Not only were the visuals in the upcoming Need For Speed: SHIFT a breathtaking sight to behold, they also represent a radical departure from everything you thought you knew about the series.

In case you haven’t heard, we’re getting THREE NFS titles in 2009, each targeted at a specific sect of gamers with a specific set of needs. PC owners are getting an online focused MMO, while the Wii and DS versions will be geared to the casual… whatever that means. So where exactly does that leave core gamers and their PS360s? Luckily, SHIFT is heading exactly where the series needs to be.

It’s like they looked at the title as literally as possible. A “Need” for “Speed” is exactly that - and doesn’t necessarily imply a need for cinematic plotlines, police pursuits and open-world environments. Ah ha – but whose “need” is it? The driver’s, or rather, yours. Because after all, the whims and wishes behind any gamer picking up a racing game is to be the guy who yanks the car into gear, applies pedal to metal, and drifts around all comers at the highest possible velocity.

But what does the focus on “Driver Experience” mean exactly? Well, to get the full benefit, honey, you really have to see it from the driver’s seat. The camera isn’t some omniscient cloud floating behind the windshield, but from the perspective of a person, with a neck, eyes, and brain. First-person racing? Pretty much, actually. Just like if you plunked Gordon Freeman behind the wheel of Corvette Z06, your perspective responds to G-forces and other avenues of inertia experienced behind the wheel. Extreme acceleration forces your skull into the headrest and dramatically high speeds delicately smear a halo on the foreground for a gorgeous sense of tunnel vision as the lavishly detailed world screams by you at 60fps.

Your head (and perspective) move with physics entirely independent from those of the car’s chassis and the result is spectacularly realistic with no visual drawback to the player... except for one. Those looking at guard rails to ease them into hairpins should take heed, because SHIFT is pioneering another immersive feature in this driver experience.