Shift 2 Unleashed review
EA drops the Need For Speed branding from its realistic racing sequel and, with a little help from an ill-advised helmet cam, reminds us that it’s not just 3DS games that can make us feel unwell…
If Shift 2 is to be believed then the True Driver’s Experience – EA’s capitals, not ours – is, more than anything else, one of not being able to see what the hell you’re actually doing. It is true that a real race driver’s view is somewhat impaired by both his helmet and by the cockpit of his car, and Shift 2 attempts to represent this in its much-touted helmet cam by framing your view of the race not just with a car dashboard, but with the inside of a helmet too. Your drive will even automatically turn his head in the direction of each corner as you approach it, just as a real driver would. The resulting effect is certainly impressive, and convincing from an aesthetic point of view, but does it really bring you any closer to what it really feels like to drive a race car? No, it does not.
See, apart from the fact that a real race driver will train for years before competing at any serious level, he also has the benefit of being inside the car and viewing it with his own eyes, which are attached to his own head and can see everything around him in precise three-dimensional detail. You, on the other hand, have further limitations to your view on top of the already obstructive helmet and cockpit. Your TV is a flat, two-dimensional rectangle and the simulated ‘head’ with which you are viewing the action is not your own and keeps moving around when yours doesn’t. In short, it ends up being even more difficult for you than it is for a real driver, and the head cam ends up effectively rendering the game unplayable. Even if you do really persist with it, there’s no way in the world it’ll ever be your favoured view when you’re going for best times or competing online, which means that Shift 2’s main selling point ends up feeling like an impressive but ultimately pointless waste of everyone’s effort. It could be amazing as part of some sort of advanced virtual reality simulation, but Shift 2 isn’t one. It’s just a regular game.
So if and when you, almost inevitably, give up on the helmet cam and switch to playing from one of the more conventional viewpoints available, does the True Driver’s Experience still shine through? Well, it tries, but it’s a bit of a nuisance about it, really. For example, the camera on the from-behind view still lurches about as if subject to G-forces and gets obscured by greasy marks at regular intervals for no real reason. This results in what games™ has branded the Slightly Annoyed Gamer’s Experience, and it would be preferable to just be able to turn it off.
It’s interesting to note that during some of Shift 2’s loading screens feature quotes from real drivers offering their own personal take on what defines the True Driver’s Experience, and one of them in particular is very telling. It doesn’t say, “Dude, it’s in the way your head wobbles about and how you can’t see out of helmet and how everything goes blurry and grayscale when you crash!” No, it sums up the True Driver’s Experience as the feeling that the car is part of your body, an idea that any experienced gamer can relate to. You know you’re in the zone when you forget the controller’s even there, right? So what Shift 2 really needs to do in order to achieve its aims, to make your car feel like an extension of you, is to provide the most intuitive handling model possible. But it doesn’t do that either.
It is, in fairness, better than the handling in the original Shift; certainly not as twitchy or frustrating, but still a little unnatural, with familiar issues such as a slight ‘on/off switch’ feel to traction and the sense that your car is pivoting rather than actually steering realistically. Once you get used to it, it’s perfectly playable and enjoyable enough to drive, but never completely intuitive. So the Driver’s Experience isn’t entirely True in this department either.
And the career mode’s a bit of a disappointment too. It’s not bad, but it’s noticeably inferior to that of Shift and carries a few annoying frustrations of its own. It just doesn’t feel like it has as many special, unique rewards as it did before, with Badges, Stars, Aggression and Precision having been dropped and pretty much every race having exactly the same supposedly unique objectives. Your progress through the career mode also doesn’t feel very deliberately paced. It’s not frustratingly slow, just a bit unfocussed, with rewards not always feeling consistent with the effort put it. The car requirements for many events are also annoyingly vague, with the performance indexes of your opponent’s rides never specified.
There’s certainly nothing game-breakingly bad about Shift 2, and generally it is a polished, high quality, nice looking product. But it does fail to provide a more engaging alternative to the admittedly quite clinical driving experiences offered by the Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo series. Underneath its fancy aesthetic effects Shift 2 is also rather on the dry side, with no especially compelling reason to pick it up if you already have one of the aforementioned console racing giants in your collection. Unless you really, really feel the need to take a peek inside a race driver’s helmet. Trust us though, it’s mostly just padding.