In the end, the point of videogames is to provide an enjoyable experience. Be the game big or small, wholly immersive or quick and surface level, you should enjoy the time that you’re playing them. Better games, however, are the ones that stick with you and provide fond memories when you’re not there with them.
When I sit down to review a racing game, the questions I ask myself about it are not solely limited to the cars, tracks, upgrades, customization, video, audio, and online play. No, they actually extend to how that racing game comes back to me in the real world. The racing titles I like the best are the ones which, when I’m sitting in my car, have me thinking about racing lines and gear changes, oversteer and understeer, downforce and grip. In recent days, Shift 2 Unleashed has caused me to think about all of that and more. That is to say, Shift 2 is a pretty good racing game and a truly enjoyable experience.
The basic problem I think some people find with immersive racing simulation titles is that people believe that they’re better players than they actually are. At its very outset, Shift 2 eliminates that as a possible bone of contention. Before you are actually allowed to begin the career mode, you are put behind the wheel for two races and based upon your performance in those two races, the game calibrates the difficulty level to one that you will find appropriate – neither too easy, nor too hard. The game’s decision is, of course, changeable as you go along in the title, but it does provide an excellent starting point.
Ostensibly, your goal in Shift 2, which has you racing on closed courses in real cars, is to win the FIA GT1 World Championship, but I seriously doubt that anyone playing the title actually considers that their goal, it’s kind of just a manufactured goal for career mode because career modes tend to need a goal. The actual goal for most people will be to race, to race well, and to do so across the 120 different track layouts (utilizing 35 different real world locales) with a plethora of the 120 different licensed vehicles and then to post good enough times with the game’s Autolog system so as to appropriately humiliate all their friends. In short, there is a ton to unlock in Shift 2, a ton to customize, a ton to buy, and a ton of fun to be had, and you’re going to want to see and do just about everything the game has to offer.
With so much going on in the game, Shift 2 can appear a little overwhelming, but developer Slight Mad Studios has really narrowed the entire thing down to bite-sized pieces. There is a large number of different levels of tracks and competitors which unlock as you go along, and within each of those levels the types of races in which you take part are further separated. Then, when you’re customizing your car so as to better perform on the track, you can either tweak a large number of individual items or have the game tweak those areas based upon a smaller set of options, i.e., rather than playing with several different settings to adjust oversteer and understeer there is a separate tuning menu which will allow you to simply choose more oversteer or understeer. The game in no way requires or promotes one or the other method, allowing you the player to choose the amount of control you want to utilize. Once your car is tweaked, you can then save the configuration, multiple configs can be saved, and choose specific tracks on which each config ought to be used.
As you play and complete certain objectives both within a single race and in the greater scheme of things you earn money and level up, thereby opening more courses, more races, and giving you the cash to improve existing cars and buy wholly new ones.
Perhaps my biggest problem with the game is the highly touted Autolog system which puts just a little too much emphasis on the multiplayer aspects of it all. This isn’t the first game in the Need for Speed franchise which has used Autolog, but in essence, what it does is push for you and all your friends to buy the title so that you can compare stats every single time you, individually, home alone, race. When you finish a race, the game informs you where on your Speedwall you rank in comparison to your friends on that course – and helpfully actually provides the model of car (and how upgraded it was) which produced the times. That’s all interesting enough if you have a whole bunch of friends with the game, but if you don’t, it just takes up time and space. Beyond that, the game seems to not handle very well the fact that you haven’t hooked up with many friends as its wording every time you’re still number one on a course on your Speedwall makes it sound as though you’re not doing a good job.
The other main problem with the game is the amount of times that it takes saving and loading anything is exceptionally long. It pulls you right out of the title to sit there for so long after a race as the game slowly but surely gets ready to save and then actually does. We also noticed that if you restart a race in the middle (because, frankly, what that other guy did to you was hugely wrong and unfair – like your being disqualified in a duel for hitting the other car when he actually rear ends you as you slow going into a turn), things don’t always fully reset on the course. For instance, if you hit a tire wall and send tires flying everywhere, then restart the race in the middle, those tires have a horrible tendency to be floating in space right where they were the last time out (visually anyway if not physically).
On the other hand, those tires are awfully pretty to look at. The game is utterly beautiful, with great looking cars and fantastic looking courses. You’re not really going to get a huge chance to check it all out in the middle of a race, but if you play with the camera angles as you zip down a straightaway, you’re going to be mighty impressed with what you see. It really doesn’t matter whether your racing at day or at night, or which camera angle you’re using, the game is beautiful.
If my incessant watching of Top Gear has taught me anything, it’s that racing modified street cars on a closed course can be an incredible amount of fun. Shift 2 Unleashed further pushes that notion, crying out for the Stig in all of us to don that Alpinestars outfit (Alpinestars is present in the game) and get racing. Now if I can just figure out how to shave 30 seconds off the morning drive to preschool…
Shift 2 Unleashed is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360 and PC.