Shift 2: Unleashed’s introductory sequence aims high, exhaust fumes and cheesy driver expressions included, attempting to capture the visceral experience of driving a race car flat out against a full grid. And to its credit, the game does go some way in achieving its goals. Once you actually start a race, you have the option of toggling between different camera views (so far, so ordinary), but unlike other games, you also get a stunner of a helmet cam. This places you right smack inside the helmet of the driver and throws in a raft of nifty effects to sell the experience. This includes muffled audio, depth of field effects that blur out the instrument cluster, and the draining of color from your screen whenever you happen to make contact with an opponent or the nearest wall. The best of them, however, is the dynamic nature of the camera. You’ll notice that the perspective bobs with each track undulation that you drive over, and how your view turns towards the apex as you take a corner.

Tosy Turvey

Tosy Turvey

It’s all quite impressive provided you can stomach it. There’s also the practical concern of preferring to see as much of the track as possible rather than being cooped up inside a helmet with a restricted view. If these aren’t a concern, you’re in for an experience no other racer can give you. Driving feels squirrelly, with your vehicle over and under-steering at random. Granted, the level of twitchiness varies from car to car, but you can sense that the developers were confused as to what direction the driving model should take.  You may feel the urge to give up on the game the first time your car magnetically pulls itself into a gravel trap, but there is some fun to be had if you persist, acknowledge its arcade leanings and learn to work with the game. There’s on-screen telemetry that you can pull up on screen should the gear-heads among you feel the need to do so.

Muscle car mayhem

Muscle car mayhem

You have a standard career mode to work your way through and a set of cars, segregated into three categories, to purchase. Every action you perform on track, from drafting to overtaking to sticking to the racing line earns you XP and cash.  The XP unlocks new events, vehicles and assortments for your car, whereas your prize money can be used to purchase cars as well as upgrades and parts to customize stock cars. Upgrading also moves cars between performance classes. AI is solid, with cars actively aware of your position on track, avoiding needless scrapes, adapting to your style, and generally showing more realism that most other games.

The menus have been spruced up quite nicely, and are both speedy and intuitive to work your way through, while being visually attractive at the same time. Of special note is the soundtrack. What could have been a motley collection of inoffensive modern rock tracks instead becomes an eclectic b-sides remix set with orchestral versions of songs that work beautifully as background menu music. The in-game audio is also well done, with crunchy collision effects, tarmac effects that convey a sense of grip, and engine sounds of various cars being given well defined spacing and depth.

Inside view

Inside view

The graphics have also received a significant overhaul, and while the cars on track are nowhere near as detailed or pretty to look at as the beauties in Gran Turismo, they still get the job done. Trackside objects are a sore point if you’re the kind to pay too much attention to what’s behind the tire wall. Crashes are spectacular, with pile-ups and barrel rolls par for the course. Your car satisfyingly crumples with repeated impact, and major wrecks can not only take you out of the race but your opponents as well.

The Autolog feature from Criterion’s wonderful Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit has been transplanted into Shift 2 wholesale. It tracks your friends’ performances to the minutest detail and challenges you to retry events that they’ve bested you in. You’ll find all the features intact, even if some of the functionality gives you the odd feeling that it was integrated when the game and UI were late in development. This, in addition to the standard multiplayer modes, gives the Shift 2 enough legs to last out the rest of the year.

Getting down and dirty

Getting down and dirty

While Shift 2 may not make the best first impression, it does grow on you. And while it doesn’t reach the giddy heights of its peers, it’s still a ride well worth taking.

The game is priced at – Rs 2,499 (PS3), Rs 1,999 (Xbox 360), Rs 999 (PC).

Tags: , , , , , , , ,