Need for Speed: Shift Download
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Recent Years Have seen the Need for Speed series struggle to come to terms with what it was trying to achieve. Success with a street racing/car pimping formula naturally led to being overly reliant on 'cool' sounds, silly decals and various other hip things.
Then Need for Speed: Undercover came out, an attempt to reconnect with one of the most fondly remembered aspects of the franchise's oldest games, by bringing back the cop chases and melding them with a Burnout-style open world. Sadly, this didn't really work. Since then, EA have been wondering how to make the series interesting. The solution they have arrived at is to split the franchise into three - an online title, an arcade game, and the subject of this preview, a grown-up racing game.
Need for Speed: SHIFT is a radical departure for the series, developed by Slightly Mad Studios, whose team primarily consists of some of the guys who made GTR and GT Legends. This means the game is aimed at people who take racing seriously, but that doesn't mean that fun has been sacrificed. Indeed, SHIFT seemed to be very much about having a good time, despite the sometimes-incredible detail Slightly Mad have managed to cram into its sleek gaming package.
"There's tonnes of small details in there, claims Suzy Wallace, scribe and producer on Slightly Mad's SHIFT. "The think that immersion comes from making the environment really believable. To that end, there's loads and loads of tiny little details that you might not notice until someone points them out. Tilings like, at high speed you'll get a depth-of-field shift, so the cockpit will blur out as you start to feel your focus change more to the road in front of you."
"The focus is very much on real-world driving, real-world cars, so there's gonna be no cop chases, no open-ended world, no complicated storyline - the focus is very much on you as a driver. Everything in there is meant to reinforce that feeling."
As you'd expect, the game won't be one of those racing games you'll be able to win 90% of the races in straight away. SHIFT will require you to put the hard yards in if you want to get to the top. This is no bad thing at all - without challenge, there's no reason to play - and SHIFT has a very good learning curve. You do feel as if you've improved between each race, learning the tracks, feeling more comfortable with the handling of specific vehicles and so on. The Al is excellent and diverse, with some of the computer drivers aggressively undercutting you on corners while others approach difficult bends with caution, and the best ones will not be pushovers.
Another aspect of the game Slightly Mad have been putting a lot of thought into is the damage model: "The way we had it originally, everything came off the car too easily. So what would happen is you would drive around the corner and everyone would slide into the car next to them, and everyone's bumpers I and stuff would start V falling off. So we've actually turned it up," says Wallace.
"Stuff like that is subject to a lot of tweaking, but yeah, you can knock your front bumper off, your rear bumper, your spoiler, your wingmirrors, everything."
As you'd expect from a game with this level of detail, the cars are varied and, most importantly for petrolheads, accurately modelled.
"We have a lower tier which has slightly more manageable cars to start off with, so in that we've got an Audi RS4, for example. In the higher tier, we have some more exotic machinery, like a Corvette Z06 and a Porsche GT2.
"The cars will feature full-on authentic race kits, with race liveries, bigger wheels and so on. There are also lots of environments, which are very lively - there's lots of stuff going on around the tracks Whereas normally in a driving game the focus is just on the cars and the tracks you can drive on, you'll see lots going on around the side of our tracks - animated marshals, 3D crowds, people waving flags and video screens."
SHIFTS cockpits could be the most detailed in any racing game
Staggering is a word we don't use often, but the quality and detail that has been lavished on the interiors of the vehicles in SHIFT is staggering. You can even see your driver's feet move up and down on the pedals when you accelerate and brake. That doesn't mean the outsides have been ignored, of course.
"We've got full HDR lighting, fullscreen antialiasing, next-gen particle effects, really advanced tyre smoke, and full soft shadowing in the interior view," says Wallace. "Also there's motion blur and depth-of-f ield effects. Our engine literally supports the changing of the time of day at the press of a button, and can change all this on the fly."