Preview: Need For Speed SHIFT

The Need For Speed franchise seemed to forget its roots when it made the jump to the PlayStation 2. Movies like The Fast and The Furious were what the youngins were into when Underground came out, and thanks to that, the series gained a whole new audience. Somewhere down the line, however, NFS forgot that it was a racing game and started going Hollywood on us by including storylines and actors.

EA is now taking a step back from the Hollywood movie influences and refocusing the franchise on what racing fans really want. I got to check out Need For Speed SHIFT not too long ago and was really impressed with where the series is now heading.

Hit the jump to find out more on Need For Speed SHIFT.

I just can’t get into simulation racing games. The only racing games I can enjoy are arcade-style racers. Actually, it’s really just the Burnout series that I can get into as far as any car racing games go. It frustrates me to no end when I have to struggle to maintain a straight line in Gran Turismo.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that I didn’t have any of the usual frustrations while playing SHIFT. The game has a lot of simulation elements to it, but it has a nice arcade-style feel to it as well. I was just happy that I could maintain a straight line without having to struggle during the course of the race. It helped that there was a guiding system on the ground as I raced around the course.

The Race Indicator is a line on the ground that covers the entire course. It’s showing you the best position to be at while on the course and the colors change from green, yellow, red and blue to indicate how fast or slow you need to go depending on where on the course you’re at. If you’re about to hit a corner, the Race Indicator will switch from green to red, which means that you need to slow down — otherwise you’re going to lose control.

SHIFT wants to be accessible to everyone, so if you don’t want the Race Indicator on, just turn it off. Don’t want anti-lock brakes? Then you can just turn them off. Players can customize their car in a ton of ways to help them learn the ropes, and as they get better, they can turn off the assists to make SHIFT more of a genuine simulation racer.

One thing that blew my mind was just how gorgeous SHIFT looked. The game was only in pre-alpha, with just six months of development time underneath its belt, and it already looked fantastic. The locations in SHIFT will be a mix up of real-world and fictional environments. One of the tracks that I raced on was set in London, which had a lot of the touristy spots in the scenery, but there’s no actual race course like this in London. Plus, it was completely sunny, and everyone knows there’s never sunshine in London.

All of the tracks will change depending on the car you’re racing with. If you’re racing a car that’s good at drifting, then there will be more turns. If you’re driving a really fast car, then you’ll see less turns and corners. Certain classes of cars will be better suited for certain tracks. Cars will included Corvettes, Audis, Porsches, Lotuses, and many more.

SHIFT really is about getting players to feel like they’re in an actual race. You can have multiple viewpoints, such as the hood cam, rear cam and the dash cam. As you’re gaining speed, the surroundings start to blur and the focus goes to the road. Crashing your car is oddly fun too. You can’t wreck your car (car companies don’t like to see their cars all smashed up in games), but you will get to experience the shock of getting into an accident. If you plow into an object, the camera will shake violently and you can’t see the road for a few seconds. It’s kind of like getting hit with a flashbang grenade in Call of Duty 4.

One other great improvement in SHIFT is the AI. The AI will act in a realistic manner. This means that the AI won’t always take the same exact path throughout the course; they can lose control if they hit a turn too hard, and they will fight back. If you bump an AI car, they will bump you back the first chance they get. The AI has a grudge indicator and if you’re overly aggressive, the AI will fight right back.

SHIFT won’t have any rubber-banding, either. The game will actually get a sense of your skill level in the game. So if you’re sucking too hard, it will adjust appropriately.

Overall, Need For Speed SHIFT is getting back on track to becoming another great racing game in the NFS series. There’s still a lot to find out, such as online features, multiplayer and the level of customization SHIFT will offer. We should be hearing more on SHIFT around E3.

Need For Speed SHIFT is published be EA and developed by Slightly Mad Studios (previous works include GTR and GTR2). It will be out this Winter for the PC (previewed), Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP.

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Hamza Aziz
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