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Reviewed by Jason Thompson
ou may recall that the last time the “Need for Speed” series was taken off the streets and put onto racing tracks (“Need for Speed: ProStreet”), the end result wasn’t very enthralling. Perhaps it was just a natural letdown after having so many great entries in the series being based on street racing that neutering the franchise by placing it in regulated racing parameters was just not going to elicit the same thrills. Or maybe it was just the stupid back story to the game that felt like a tagged-on afterthought. It might’ve been either or those things or both, or some other contributing factors, but the point is that the experiment wasn’t much fun.
Thankfully, the second attempt to throw “NFS” on a real set of racing courses is indeed exciting and addictive. This time there is no story at all; you’re just simply a race car driver who needs to make his way up through the ranks and reach the final, glorious tournament. It’s about as cut and dry as it can get, and that stripped-down approach works well here. Sometimes it really is all about the racing, and when all is said and done, you don’t need a bunch of obnoxious characters getting in the way.
As usual, you’ll start at the bottom rung of the racing ladder. A preliminary test race gauges your skill and sets the computer AI and overall difficulty according to your end result. These settings can later be changed as you get the feel for the game over time. Of course, one of the main things to do in this game is to purchase cars and modify them to become real behemoths on the track. There are different racing tiers to work through, and as expected, a car used in a tier three series of races cannot be used for a tier one series, and vice-versa. Cars and modifications can either be bought with cash won by completing races, or by purchasing money with your own cash through online microtransactions. This, of course, is completely unnecessary and a sad “feature” of the game. But it’s not enough to go on at length about, so I shan’t.
During each race, the player can accumulate a number of stars on each track. These stars are won by reaching certain point levels or completing certain tasks. Accumulate enough stars and you’ll open extra events and tiers. Special events that exceed the player’s current skills are often opened and are a good source of money if you manage to place on the winners’ podium. They also give the player a chance to check out and drive some killer cars that they can’t currently play with on their respective tier.
There are definitely cars aplenty to choose from here. Everything from domestic American rides to fancier European models, these cars are to spec, with the expected assortment of front, rear, and all-wheel-drives to choose from. However, not all cars can be modified equally. In addition, each car can also be tuned to however the driver likes. Yes, it’s yet another holdover from the dawn of “Gran Turismo,” but it feels like such a staple anymore that a racing game like this might feel naked without the option.
Races consist of circuit, lap time, duels, and drifting specialties. Honestly, drifting is a bit of a pain in the ass to learn on this game versus others that feature it. It’s not too difficult when setting up a quick race, but when confronted with it in the Career Mode with a shortened track to start with, it can be a bit of a bother. At the same time, the game is compelling enough to make you want to learn it, so patience is a virtue here.
There are plenty of online game options to choose from here which are pretty fun, but the game really shines here in its single player Career Mode. The sense of speed given on some of these courses is palpable and gives the sense of white knuckle racing plenty of times throughout. Favorite courses like Laguna Seca are also featured and are extremely challenging (Laguna has been featured in plenty of racing games over the years and this rendering of it is plenty difficult in all the right places, just as it should be). All told, “Need for Speed: Shift” is a fine and exciting racer. It’s not very frilly, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s exciting, addictive, and a worthy entry in the long-running series.