by Joseph Barron
previewed on PC
Shift into gear
Shift is the latest title in EA’s fan-favorite Need for Speed racing series. You had better forget everything you think you know about the franchise though because street racing and tuners are out, while simulation and closed-circuits are most definitely in. This dramatic change in direction comes courtesy of Slightly Mad Studios, one of the teams behind PC über-sim GTR.
From what we have seen so far it seems as if Shift lacks some of the glossy polish we have come to associate with other sims, such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, but the graphics have a gritty quality that makes it seem a little more life-like in some ways.
Keep both hands on the wheel
The main selling point for Shift, at least from a graphical perspective, is the developer’s interesting take on the cockpit camera. What differentiates Shift’s first-person view from other racers is the way in which it emphasizes the forces at work on the driver’s head. The camera moves based on subtle mechanical influences in the car such as accelerating, braking and suspension travel. Naturally, harsher forces will have larger effects, for example, collisions will blur your vision, with harder ones almost blacking you out.
Some players will get a fantastic kick of adrenaline from this experience, but visceral as it may be, it will probably be counterproductive for most hardcore sim fans that will doubtless revert to the usual hood and bumper cameras. Hopefully the final version of the game will have the option to manually tweak how severe the first person effects are, so that a wider range of players will be able to use the camera comfortably. The subtle head-movements won’t be to everyone’s tastes and could be very problematic for people who suffer from motion sickness.
Outside the car you will see all the bells and whistles you have come to expect from your modern racers, including giant trackside TV screens and 3D animated fans. You can also expect in-cockpit dynamic lighting, deformable tire-walls and a highly detailed damage model in the final version.
Define your own driving style
The core handling model of Shift is probably not going to challenge GT5 and Forza 3, but it will definitely appeal to the Race Driver: GRiD crowd. By no means is it “just another GRiD” though. Shift introduces the idea of creating a Driver Profile; a racing identity that defines your own style as well as how other drivers will adapt their tactics when racing against you.
During races you earn RPG style experience points based on certain actions, regardless of what position you finish in. This seems like a fantastic idea as it would eliminate the frustration of desperately trying to win every race and reward you for making the best of the car you are in. Most importantly, you will be able to make progress in the game without being on the top step of the podium at every race.
You earn experience points in a variety of different categories, such as precision (hitting perfect racing lines) and aggression (trading paint with rivals), as well as several others. The more points you have in a category, the higher your level will be. In theory, this effects how AI drivers respond to you on the circuit, though we are yet to see that work noticeably in what has been shown of the game so far. Slightly Mad have also claimed that you will be able to make rivalries with other drivers who will remember your actions and respond accordingly the next time you’re side-by-side on the track.
The open-world of previous Need for Speeds won’t make an appearance in Shift; instead you will race on some of the world’s most famous race circuits, such as England’s Brands Hatch and America’s Laguna Seca. The full number of circuits and cars hasn’t been released yet but you can expect a healthy spread of vehicles, largely leaning upon GT and Touring Cars, such as the Porsche 911 GT3 and BMW M3. Slightly Mad have said that cars will be customizable, but they haven’t said how much of the cars can be tweaked, at least in terms of aesthetics. Setups though can be fully customizable for the hardcore racers.
Has it got the pace?
It remains to be seen as to whether Shift can keep up with the horsepower of Forza and GT, but if you are a fan of Race Driver: GRiD’s balance between simulation and arcade then Shift is shaping up to be a game that will seriously rev your engine!