Since 2009, EA has been trying to conquer the racing sim genre, first attacking it with Need For Speed: Shift. Shift 2: Unleashed follows the same path, for the first time taking out the “Need For Speed” from its title, but the fingerprints are still there, visually speaking and also in terms of gameplay, down to the use of Autolog, the multiplayer Facebook style online component that made its debut in the recent Hot Pursuit. But the more important question is if Shift 2 manages to be what it wants to be: a true racing sim.
The answer is so-so. It’s got the options for simulation, but also keeps the arcade side, in order to please beginners and Sunday drivers. The issue is that none of the two sides was fully completed, resulting a nice looking mule, but with two casqued legs in terms of control.
Career: 100% complete
The beginnings of the career mode are modest enough, with some laps in a Nissan for the game to judge your abilities and decide if you are a newbie and need help changing the gears, clutch and ABS or you’re a real Schumacher. Many of these options can be activated or deactivated as you like, a good idea if you feel overwhelmed by the aggressive AI and the undecided behavior of the car.
Actually, right from the start, it’s obvious that Shift 2 isn’t a real simulator, since cars tend to under steer in fast turns and overseer in slow ones. This is interesting for some, but annoying for others, since you can’t really be sure of the car’s behavior. In real life, all cars can under or over steer, but the response is way faster and a good driver can overcome it. In the game though, the lack of fast response results in losing important seconds (at the very least), if not in a total loss of control. The times you get aren’t consistent either, especially for fast cars, so you need many changes in the in-game options and for the wheel or controller settings in order to get a more effective response time.
The career starts the old fashioned way, going from older, slower cars to current generation Bugattis, the goal being to win as much money and experience as possible to unlock the FIA GT3 and GT1 championships. Winning, drafting, passing your opponents and being in the lead as much as possible are just some of the ways to gain experience to a maximum of 20 levels. Unfortunately, you get there quite fast, which means that beyond this point, there’s not much in it for you to get 100% in career mode.
On the other hand, there are other things to do, mainly getting money to unlock better cars and tuning options. Still, I found it a little too simple to just buy any car you want; it lacks the challenge from, say, Hot Pursuit or other NFS titles, where you had that itch to win one more race just to get another fast car.
If you have the patience to get to the real deal (aka Pro championships), you might come away a bit disappointed: not all the tracks are there, nor all the cars and there’s no sign of pit stops. Still, the way there is varied enough (races, drifting, time attack, best time per lap), with first time races being presented by champions from different formulas, thus people who really know how to drift, draft efficiently or exploit the track to get the very best lap times.
Unlocking new races is done by winning events, but also if you improve a car already owned. For example, a D class car with an aerodynamic body can compete in the C class. Many mechanic and aerodynamic parts can be improved or replaced to lighten the car, but for beginners it might be a little harder, since the information regarding the impact of the change isn’t that clear. And from here you can get other problems that can top off the difficult handling.
I’ve got my car…
And not just any car… there are many options available, from models that took to the road in the ‘80s to carbon fiber monsters that we only get to see in Top Gear. BMW, Volkswagen, Lamborghini, Audi, Shelby, Mercedes, Aston Martin or Porsche take seats alongside rare or less used cars – from Alpina B6 GT3 to the newest Pagani Huayra, exclusive for Shift 2. Surprisingly, we’ve also got a full damage option that can turn a Murcielago into a wreck if the driver didn’t go to school first. And unsurprisingly, still no Ferrari, but it’s already a known fact that the Italians don’t like their cars smashed to pieces, even if only virtually. In all, there are more than 140 licensed cars, less than the numbers boasted by the likes of Forza Motorsport or GT5, but enough that they didn’t miss any popular model from 20 years or 3 months ago.
The track list is familiar to those who spend their weekends watching racing events: Suzuka, Brands-Hatch, Brno, Barcelona, Donington, Laguna Seca, Monza, Nürburgring, Spa. There are also less known names, like Bathurst, Zolder or Dijon-Prenois, american tracks and some invented ones, but still inspired from real areas (Riviera for Monaco, for example). 41 in total, 5 of them available as a DLC – Legends Pack – that features classic versions of famous names like Silverstone, Hockenheim or Monza.
The actual track modeling is excellent, right down to the last bump and here you get to appreciate the possibility to activate/deactivate the traction control, ABS or the green arrows that show you the ideal driving line. Actually, you can play with all assists turned off, including the HUD and the rear mirror, for a clean screen and a much more difficult race.
Unfortunately, in the career mode there’s also the AI. Just as aggressive and stupid as in the first Shift, it goes from completely ignoring to hitting you for no reason, perhaps because the color of your Porsche is too annoying. Its approach of hitting you in the back so it can overtake isn’t the smartest way to create fair and entertaining races, especially since even a slight touch can angry the hell out of the virtual intelect. Fortunately, this behavior works for the opponents, so you might just squeeze into the lead if you go round a massive accident.