It's hard to say when a franchise needs a reboot or an overhaul, stripped of everything so the developer — a new developer in this case — can build something amazing. The Need for Speed franchise is 15 years old, and the most recent titles have been completely forgettable. In handing the keys over to Slightly Mad Studios, EA took a calculated gamble that has paid off in spades. Need for Speed SHIFT is one of the best in the series, and for sim fans, the best so far.
Additionally, we are going to see two other Need for Speed games in their new three-pronged initiative: NITRO will debut in November for Wii and DS and will feature arcade-style racing; World Online will come out next year for PC and be more action oriented. This leaves SHIFT, or whatever the next installment is called, to cater to more authentic racing, encroaching on the Forza/Gran Turismo space. It has already been announced that Criterion Games (Burnout series) is currently working on the next Need for Speed slated for next year. If SHIFT is any indication, these drastic changes were the way to go.
Steering away from street racing and cop chases, Slight Mad (whose employees created GTR 2 for PC) have crafted a full-on simulation that is just arcade-y enough as to not scare off the casual onlooker, the way Gran Turismo can. The balancing act is pulled off very well, allowing you to tweak the game to your liking, and only hits a couple hiccups along the way.
Not many games deliver the driving experience or sense of speed like SHIFT. Everything about the presentation of the dynamic cockpit view, effect of lateral Gs as you drift around a corner, and the wince and blurry vision as you smash into the wall make you feel closer to actually racing. The cockpit jostles and moves around, instead of the static interior view we have seen before; it is quite impressive, even besting that of Forza 3.
Your career starts out by taking a test lap to gauge your performance, and you can always run it again if you do not like the results. What this does is set the difficulty for the game. Casual will turn all the assists to High and basically brake for you; you just need to keep the car on the pavement. Normal might be a good place to start, as it only provides Low driving assists, but for most seasoned sim racers, Experienced is the setting to go with as it turns all steering and braking assists off. There is a Pro difficulty setting, which also includes full vehicle damage, so as you can see, the game can conform to your play style.