Friday, December 4, 2009

Need for Speed Shift Review

In the world of racing games, there's pretty much two types.  There's the arcade racers, and the sim racers.  On the sim side, the field's been pretty much dominated by two franchises.  For the PlayStation owners, there's been Gran Turismo.  For the Xbox crowd, it's Forza Motorsport.

On the arcade side, there's a lot more variety.  Some games use licensed cars, others fictional.  Some have real tracks, some have over-the-top fake ones, and some take place on city streets.  There are many great arcade franchises, but the clear king (by sales) is the Need for Speed series.

In addition to being a mostly-solid series, Need for Speed has occasionally reinvented itself.  This has given us some great additions like street racing and police chases.  Not all changes are for the best.  This time around, it's like EA looked at the reviews for Need for Speed Undercover (a game I really enjoyed, critics be damned), decided that same changes were in order, then tossed the baby out with the bathwater.

Despite the name on the box, Need for Speed Shift is hardly a Need for Speed game.  I could understand why you'd think so.  The menus are very Need for Speed-ish.  Like every other NFS of this console generation, you start out with a bevy of cars you might actually own (Chevy Cobalt, Volkswagon GTI) and graduate up to cars you'd be lucky to even see in person (Aston Martin DB9, Lamborghini Murcielago).  And like other NFS games you can buy performance upgrades, body kits, and vinyls to tart your car up.

But the similarities stop there.  Because, in an effort to reinvent itself, Need for Speed crossed a line it was never meant to: Need for Speed Shift is a sim racing game.

To be sure, it's a fairly competent game.  The career mode consists of earning stars in different racing tiers.  Once you've earned enough stars, you can go for the World Cup.  A bevy of driving aids will help ease NFS fans into the sim shoes.  The car models are great.  Shift doesn't really do anything wrong, per se.

The problem, though, is that it doesn't do anything exceptionally well, either.  The car selection is limited to 65 cars, which is pretty good for a NFS game but far below most sim racers.  There's just 18 tracks.  Career mode is driven mostly by selecting racers from simple menus.  And car customization isn't particularly deep, either.

EA is essentially alienating the huge base they've built with the arcade racing crowd in an attempt to muscle in on the sim racing crowd.  And frankly, the timing couldn't be worse.  A minimalist sim racer, no matter how pretty or competent, just isn't going to stack up when compared to other sim racers on the market.  It really can't help when Forza Motorsport 3, and infinitely superior sim racing game, released about a month later, or with Gran Turismo 5 coming in February.  Luckily, Shift does seem to be an aberration; Burnout developers Criterion studios is working on the next game in the franchise.

Final Score: C+

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