Review: Need For Speed: Shift (Xbox 360, PS3, PSP)

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Identity Shift:Need for Speed: Shift represents a transformation for the NFS franchise. Gone are open-ended cities laced with dangerous highways, seedy underground street racing and cops willing to chase you all about. Shift casts away the cheesy cell phones calls and inter-city drama and offers up a hybrid arcade and simulation experience that drops you into a loosely defined system of tier-based racing. When you start Shift you'll begin on Tier 1 with enough cash to buy your first car. After that the game opens up, allowing you to race in events you've unlocked and purchase more cars as you get further in the game.

Keep It Moving:Shift does a great job rewarding your career progress. After successful races the game will open new events, new tracks and higher tiers. By winning you'll also get plenty of cash to buy and upgrade cars. The game has four Tiers, which feature cars of relative performance, and culminates with a World Tour Championship. As you work through career mode the game offers up Invitational races that allow you to get a taste of higher Tiers and faster, flashier cars. The Invitational events give you a sense of what's to come in the game and are great opportunities to make more cash to buy the cars you'll need to dominate the Tiers you've unlocked. The race types in the game are fairly standard: including one on one driver duels, manufacturer races, endurance races, drifting, mixed field races, time attack, hot laps and eliminator races. The drift races are probably the least compelling of the lot while the manufacturer and eliminator types offer the most excitement.

Casting Call:Shift tracks what kind of driver you are by awarding driver skill points for your behavior behind the wheel. Your actions are interpreted into two buckets, aggression and precision. Aggression points are accrued by spinning out opponents or ramming them. Precision points come from perfectly timed starts, clean passes and from handling corners correctly. Outside of the scoring you're also awarded a myriad of badges that also track your driving style. Your driver type is used to help match you in online play. It's a good system to keep you away from online drivers that don't race they way you do. Between the points and badges you're constantly leveling up your racer while leaving a clear footprint of what kind of driver you are.

Eye Candy: As soon as you start to race in faster cars, Shift does a great job of making you feel as though you're really moving. The car models are generally good and the tracks and backgrounds feature a nice amount of detail. The game offers the standard fare of racing views, but the cockpit view is especially effective and immersive. While I preferred the hood and wheel-level views, you're sure to find one that works for you. The game features a decent amount of car damage, though it's fairly forgiving in terms of car performance. The sound design in the game is a real standout. The game doesn't play music during the races which allows the rich and varied sounds of the cars to shine through. Crashes in the game are also handled well. When you collide with enough force against a wall or another car your vision is briefly blurred, which is good as it adds some consequence to ramming another car and also makes the collision feel more real.

Thanks A Lot: There's a total of 72 playable cars in Shift. On one hand it's nice to see fewer cars clogging up your garage that you'd never want to race anyway. On the other hand we've come to expert more cars -- a lot more -- in serious racing games. And while we love the entrants from Honda, Porsche, Lamborghini, Zonda and others, we sorely missed Ferrari here.

Weather Or Not: Granted this is a strong freshman offering from EA, but we really would've loved to race in weather, and for that matter, at night. No doubt changing the physics and graphics to accommodate this is a challenge, but our hats and racing goggles will be off to the game that finally nails both.

Need More Speed: The load time between each race, presumably as the track loads in, is pretty bad. While 20-30 seconds doesn't seem awful the first few times, enduring that race after race isn't appreciated. We'll throw down the checkered flag on the game that actually rewards users with faster load times for completing hard drive installs. It's about time.

Shift sits somewhere between a pure arcade and a pure simulation game. If you're a purist on either end of the spectrum you might not gel with this game. But if you're an open-minded racing fan there's certainly plenty of great gaming in Shift to tide you over until Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5 drop.

Gameplay: 8

Graphics: 9

Audio: 9

Online: 8

Overall: 8.5