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Need for Speed: SHIFT
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Racing/ Racing (Simulation)

Graphics & Sound:
Need for Speed: SHIFT is the latest installment of the long-running Need for Speed series and has the level of graphics one would expect of such a mature series. The environments look great and the cars look stunning; especially the Chrome finish paints. For those who like to tweak their cars, there are a lot of upgrade options, from rims to engine upgrades, exhaust upgrades, aerodynamic upgrades, nitrous, race tires, and, of course, paint and vinyl. Certain cars offer what SHIFT calls the "Works Conversion," which allows you to carefully tune tiny details to tweak your car until your heart is content. You can also tune your car for the upcoming races, adjusting everything from tire pressure to shocks or drivetrains. And the best thing about tuning? It's free.

The sound effects are well done in Need for Speed: SHIFT, with the engines sounding very realistic and the surround sound helping to immerse you in the action. I don't, however, understand the choice of music. Perhaps I'm simply getting older, but I haven't ever heard the songs before. Hell, I don't even recognize any of the artists. If you want to check out the music, hit the link at the bottom. EA is making the music available on a soundtrack album and is offering ringtones of the songs at a special EA music website. The musical aspect of SHIFT that can drive you insane, however, is the strange music/sound effects combination that plays in the background while you are upgrading your cars. I never considered random tire screeching to be music (Note: I still don't), so I found that I preferred to mute the game while applying vinyl to the cars.

While Need for Speed has developed over the years to incorporate free-roam driving aspects and road races, SHIFT, returns to Need for Speed's original focus on high-speed, high-performance racing machines. You get to slide behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB9, Bugatti Veyron 16.4, Dodge Challenger Concept, five different varieties of Porsches and even a McLaren F1. Need for Speed: SHIFT has sixty-eight cars in all. All of your driving, however, is restricted to predefined racetracks; there is no free-roaming aspect to NFS: SHIFT, which seems a bit like a step backward, to me.

There are two basic modes to choose from: Career, where you work your way from a n00b to a pro, unlocking cars, race events and tiers as you go and Quick Race, which gets you onto the track quickly with either a car from your Career or a loaner car. In either Career or Quick Race, the damage that happens on the track stays on the track. Configuration settings determine whether the damage your car takes affects your car's ability to drive or is simply cosmetic, but either way, you're car will be brand-spiffy-new at the beginning of each race, without any dent in your wallet.

Career mode serves up various race types at different points, while Quick Race lets you quickly and easily choose the specific event type that you want to play. These racing events include: Race, Eliminator, Drift, Driver Duel, Series, Endurance, Manufacturer, Time Attack and Hot Lap. Race is your bread and butter, plain vanilla-type racing, Time Attack is all about setting a lap record and Hot Lap is about hitting a specific, predetermined target time. Series has you race in a series of races, back to back. Driver Duel pits you against a top-ranked driver. The others deserve a little more explanation. Eliminator isn't anything new, if you've played other racing games, but for the uninitiated, the trick in Eliminator is not to be last; the last car to cross the finish line in each lap is eliminated from the race, hence the name. If you don't come in first in an Eliminator race... you don't even place. Drift is also nothing new, but Need for Speed: SHIFT raises the bar with the inclusion of targets that you want to get really close to - without touching - while going sideways down the track. At high speed. Drifting is easy in some games, but I found it to be generally more difficult to pull off cleanly in Need for Speed: SHIFT. When I drive my New Beetle around town, my tires usually go the normal way, so I can't say whether this added difficulty is more realistic, but I imagine that it is. Drifting is supposed to be riding that thin line between exhibiting a mastery of control and being out of control, and I found myself slipping over that line (and headlong into stacks of tires and walls) on several occasions. Manufacturer is a race that features specific Manufacturers' cars, acting as an embodiment of a rivalry between two similar cars from different houses. Finally, there is Endurance, which really puts you (and your car) through the wringer, in a race that can literally last an hour. (You might want to pack a lunch for this one.)

The fact that Need for Speed: SHIFT rewards both precision and aggression means that as long as you're generally doing something that gets you toward the finish line, you're probably earning points. These experience points help you to advance in levels and unlock new tracks, tiers and cars. The thing to bear in mind, however, is that regardless of whether you are a more precise or aggressive driver, there are points to be earned for both sides of the fence. This means that if you're deep in one camp, you will want to pick up some skills from the other camp - you'll gain experience quicker and, therefore, gain levels quicker.

Personally, I find that I primarily drive aggressively to fight my way to the front of the pack, then, once in front of the pack (and with no one close enough to knock around), I drive with precision to maintain my lead, since slipping off the road - even just into the gravel - could mean the difference from winning the race outright and not even coming close to a podium finish.

NFS: SHIFT is a simulation racing game. If you're more of an arcade racer, you might find that SHIFT isn't quite your cup of tea. However, one tip I can pass along will help you arcade racers out there to get better placing, as well as earn some aggression points: if there are cars ahead of you, don't slow down (completely, anyway) for a turn. Instead, make sure you're on the inside of the curve (in relation to the other cars) and, when the other cars brake and sort of jam up a bit, smack into them, using them as a impromptu barrier to keep you from flying off the track. With luck (and skill), you can cause the other cars to either run off the road or - better still - block the road, slowing other cars down for a bit in the process of clawing your way to the front of the pack. Your prize, other than first place, for muscling opponents out of the way? Why, aggression points, of course.

Game Mechanics:
The twist in Need for Speed: SHIFT is the experience system; you can gain experience of two different sorts: Precision and Aggression. You get Precision points for things such as driving clean laps, staying on the driving line or drafting behind other racers. Aggression points are what you might expect: checking other cars off the road, keeping cars from passing you or turning an opponent's car around the wrong direction without going off-road yourself.

I find it interesting that Need for Speed: SHIFT positions the Precision versus Aggression aspect as if you will determine to which camp you belong. The amusing thing is that, if anything, it seems to favor players becoming more well-rounded. Also, the icon that adorns your profile indicates whether you are higher rated in Precise or Aggressive driving, but not how far apart the two are. Because of this, a driver who has, say, 1500 Precision points and 1501 Aggression points will appear to be "Aggressive," with nothing to indicate that they are nearly perfectly balanced between the two skill categories.

One aspect that I could have done without is the limitation on garage slots. As you progress through the game, you will gain extra spaces in your garage, affording you the room to get another car. (You'll have to also unlock the cars, if necessary, and earn the cash to buy them, as well, before you can drive them home, however.) It never was much of a restraint for me, but I tend to sink money into upgrades, rather than filling my garage with off-the-shelf cars. Still, those who would rather buy a stock racing machine and race it rather than spending their time, money and elbow grease to upgrade their current ride could end up having to choose between the cars they have and the cars they want to buy.

All-in-all, Need for Speed: SHIFT is a fun time and a nice way to try out some cars whose interiors will never be graced by most of us. If you're a big fan of the "drive around town, challenging other racers" or "avoiding the cops" sort of thing, well... move along; there's nothing to see here. If you're down for some strictly on-track, legally sanctioned racing, you should probably at least give Need for Speed: SHIFT a test drive.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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