Shift 2: Unleashed Hands-On Preview – Shifting Expectations?

Richard Walker
Realism is never a word that you'd have previously associated with the Need for Speed franchise until Shift came along. Boasting a fairly unique feature in its 'helmet-cam', which replicated the movements of the driver's head in a bid to recreate an authentic and visceral racing experience, Shift attempted to do something a little different with the racing sim. At least that was the idea. The end result was something that aimed to emulate both the intuitive nature of an arcade speedfest while attempting to please the more hardened petrolhead racing fan with aspects of a more simulation-centric racer.

Whether it succeeded is up for debate, but it only managed to garner a score of 70 in our review, losing points for being glitch-riddled, a bit dull and failing to deliver where it should have really counted – the handling. Slightly Mad Studios is back on development duties again for Shift 2: Unleashed, which drops the Need for Speed prefix, possibly in an effort to set it apart as something different and not in keeping with the arcade sensibilities of the franchise.

More than ever, the emphasis is on the simulation side of the coin for Shift 2 and the series' helmet-cam is back with a vengeance, now with a natty visual sheen effect to replicate wearing a helmet with a visor. Sort of. It's actually the most minor of Shift 2's newly added features and barely worthy of mention come to think of it, but still, it's nice to know it's there. More substantial is Shift 2's renewed focus on providing realistic handling with plenty of feedback, and based upon a couple of hands-on laps with the game, we can attest that it's shaping up fairly well.

You know that a racing title is truly authentic when we go streaking off the track within two seconds of picking up the controller, kicking up grass and gravel as we mount the verge and the rest of the pack go tearing past us. We'll chalk this one up to experience. Somehow managing to catch up to the tail-end of the racers in front of us, we tussle to gain a better position and as we grind and bump into the opposition, the vibrations and to and fro of the helmet-cam makes for some quite immersive feedback.

The handling actually feels rather responsive and it's probably the only racing game that we'd ever consider playing with the in-car cockpit view, which is saying something as a resolutely out of car third-person view player. It's always better to know where your car is in relation to the track if you ask us, and well, we've always plumped for the default viewpoint favoured by arcade racers. While there's multiple views to choose from, if you want to play Shift 2 properly, you'll shove your virtual head into a helmet and get behind the wheel.

Right, that's enough about the helmet-cam. What else is new? Well, Slightly Mad is adopting Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit's Autolog feature in an improved capacity for starters, meaning that you'll have the same social networking gubbins for challenging and being challenged by your friends, and it'll be even easier to use. It's on the track where the biggest changes have seemingly been implemented though, with more consideration for external factors like grip on the various surfaces, the effects of G-force and the feel of the suspension as you ride roughshod over rough asphalt or smooth tarmac.

Driving in a nippy BMW Z4 GT3 during our hands-on, we get a good sense of the impact that different surfaces have on the handling and driving like a madman is a sure-fire way to end up leaving the track in a spectacular crash where you can roll your car quite easily if you're careless. And that's exactly what we end up doing on our next lap around the Australian Bathurst circuit that Slightly Mad is showing for this particular demo.

What's also notable about this track is that it's also a night race, which Slightly Mad claims is genuine night time racing, not just a day time track in the dark. We're not entirely sure what that means exactly, but apparently it translates to races that are a lot scarier as you skid around corners and speed over dips with only your headlights illuminating the way ahead. The idea is that it makes things seem more dangerous, so getting to know the tracks and planning ahead here is far more important than it ever has been in a racing game.

So, it's a pretty positive first showing for Shift 2: Unleashed then, and while we're not entirely sure what the 'Unleashed' part pertains to yet, it looks as though Slightly Mad's sequel might succeed in shifting expectations of what a Need for Speed simulation-style racer can be. But then, the first Shift looked set to deliver on its promise, so we don't know what to think. With improved handling and even more polished visuals, Shift 2 certainly seems to be on the right track and if it can maintain the level of refinement we've seen so far, it could get racing sim fans salivating. As it stands however, we've not really seen a defining factor that sets Shift 2 apart from the competition, apart from the helmet-cam of course, so it’s still got its work cut out to catch up the opposition.

Shift 2: Unleashed is set to leave the pit stop in spring 2011.
  • Well I'm going to wait and see before I make up my mind... As long as they improve the handling this game can only be better then Shift. I do hope we can have a go with a demo because if they haven't changed the handling I'll stick with TDU2.
  • EA need to slow it down with Need for Speed, its becoming quite tacky and all. I still think to this day, Need for Speed Underground 1 and 2 are still thè best "NfS" though.
  • yet another NFS title...
  • whats all about this drifting thing in racing games these days? it just plain sucks...nfs hot pursuit 1+2 were the best,the new one sucks,shift sucked and shift 2 is going to suck. end of story
  • #4 hmmmm...hater much??
  • #4 I agree with you, I like racing games but when drifting is listed in one of the events I tend to 'drift' away from it.
  • racing is populair, let's milk this shit while we can because we can.
  • @4+6 i take it you are the kids that block me when im sliding around the corner..... go play mario kart you bitches.
  • Hell yea NFS Underground 1 and 2 were both great! When it comes to racing games these days though, I'm going to be sticking with Forza 3. That is until Forza 4 comes out.
  • @8 i thought you drift in mario kart though? i could be wrong lol as for me i dont particulary like these types of games so i probably wont play it unless i hear exceptionally good reviews :p
  • Underground 2 the Highest point of the NFS career, Shift the lowest point...
  • Lol @4 - hateres gonna hate haha Most Wanted and NFSU2 were the best, havent tried the new one yet.
  • Well im happy if no one else is lol
  • hell Shift sucked bad why make another fail? ill pass on this thanks.
  • It would be nice to tell us what crashing into other cars is like. Is it realistic? How badly can you damage your car if you drive into a wall of tyres at 70mph?
  • Bathurst huh? Sounds like it'll be good.
  • Best NFS is 3, but Shift 1 (with Ferraris) are very solid and fun.
  • yet another NFS non street racing title
  • Aaaah the Nostalgia. Does anyone remember old NFS 3? The original Hot Pursuit? Epic. Dug it up yesterday, truly awesome. Shift was ok, not good and not bad, but still at least much better than all that Underground chav shit. Pretending to be a cholo? No thanks.
  • I always use cockpit view while playing Forza3 as it add to realism with ability to look around and all. Helmet would be cool, but in some cars you can barely see shit, so I guess I'd rather stick with cockpit;-) Sounds OK, but it's nothing Forza haven't done. I'd say they are like 2 years late LOL!
  • my favortite nfs is the new hotpursuit, shift was rubbish and shift 2 will be crap aswell
  • Shift was poo, felt like the car was made of jelly
  • The first Shift dousn't lookt very good. The graphics are great, but the cars that you are driving were not well. But I like the trailer of Shift 2. Maybe the game is not so good as when I'm gonna play it, but maybe it is 10x better? We'll see..
  • I don't see where the hate for Shift is coming from, I enjoyed the game.
  • I wonder if there will be any Ferraris
  • Wasnt impressed with NFS: Shift...have to wait and see on this one Best NFS for me was Most Wanted followed by Underground. Have to give a small amount of props to was...OK But they need to stop pumping NFS titles out like candy on halloween and take there time and make these games like they used to.
  • Street Racing gave this company life and now the life is sinking with bullshit like this...leave it to forza stick to street racing and customizatio
  • Most Wanted on the Original Xbox was the best. I played it for the 360 and despised it. Too many problems with invisible walls. As for shift 2. I'd hit it but I wouldn't wife it.
  • @2 Agreed.
  • Meh, this is going to be like shift 1 it's a poorly made pursuit mixed with underground.
  • Forza is everything Shift will never be.
  • another need for speed shift? the first one was shit
  • Shift is a simulation racer, and you really can't put it in the same category as Hot Pursuit, which is an arcade racer. Kudos to the NFS brand for trying to dominate all aspects of the racing genre. Am I the only one who thinks the new Hot Pursuit is great? The cars and the tracks are gorgeous, the controls feel responsive, multiplayer's a blast, etc. The only think that's missing in my mind is a single player story, i.e. Most Wanted / Undercover. If Hot Pursuit 2 came out with a story-based single player campaign, it'd be a 100% perfect racing game to me. I'm really hoping Criterion gives Hot Pursuit some staying power with regular DLC releases, and hopefully not just new cars.
  • I really do like all of the need for speeds but i just think that they should make a need for speed underground 3, so many people say that underground 1 & 2 was such a big hit and is their favourites, they could do so much with it, it would be such a big hit!
  • I agree with #4
  • I going to get this game
  • When it comes down to it the best NFS has to be: NFS 3: Hot Pursuit NFS: High Stakes NFS: Most Wanted NFS: Carbon since carbon I haven't cared about much of the new aspects of the game I haven't played the new Hot Pursuit nor Undercover but as my gaming goes those are by far the top picks in this horse corpse being beaten.
  • i loved underground 1 n 2 but i think it was the lowest point of the series,come on no cops in a street racing game far the best is most wanted.undercover cover wasnt bad either,havnt played the shift games yet,but the new hot pursuit is ok i guess,i like costumizing my cars n that was a big reasone i didnt play it much
  • shift was gd was easy to complete the best gameplay andstory was and has to be most wanted
  • The handling in Shift was absolute ass. The difference between it and Forza 3 is just incredible. Car handle similar to what they should in Forza 3 but in Shift they were just plain retarded. As soon as you steer in any car it would start to drift, even the front wheel drives, it was a total joke! I'm sorry but they made the cars in Shift hard to handle, THAT isn't realism, just stupidity. Shift 2 better be more like Forza and GT5 for it to be good.
  • Advice to EA - Take NFS MOST WANTED and mix it with NFS UNDERGROUND 2 and call it -NFS UNDERGROUND MOST WANTED 2- Ty.
  • shift was great until getting in the real fast cars then they became undriveable in hope they address this and ill be happy
  • Didn't mind the first Shift title, it wasn't the NFS franchise glory moment but it was a good game if a little boring in places, I will check out the demo when it appears before I commit to purchase I think.
  • i didnt like the first one but i know have high expectations for need for speed after playing hot pursuit which is amazing
  • I hated Shift 1. HATE, HATE, HATED it! After I played the new HP, I have hope that this may be a good game. Shift 1's handling for cars SUCKED. If Shift 2 isn't good, I'm giving up on NFS sims for good. I'll be sticking to Forza for simulation races
  • I am a REAL racer (ya know, one that uses petrol) and I dont understand the hate for Shift. Everyone whinges that the higher powered cars are hard to control at 200km/h+ did u expect it to be easy?? I'll admit it can be a little twitchy doing it on a xbox control but if u actually understand how a car reacts at speed then u should be able to anticipate all outcomes. Shift crapped all over Forza3 (which felt like i was driving a train most of the time) and Shift 2, with the inclusion of Bathurst (WOOT! WOOT! WOOT! Mt Panorama here I come!!) is going to be beyond awesome. The ONLY thing Forza has over Shift is the engine mods that can be done, I would love to have this much control over the cars I've raced in Shift. Drag racing is also awesome (not in Forza) but not much fun unless you have Forza's level of tuning. And please stop referring to it as a NFS title as the above article clearly states "Shift 2: Unleashed, which drops the Need for Speed prefix"
  • please, i dont like these style of nfs games. Just give me Hot Pursuit, underground, most wanted or a BIGGER carbon style game. Not this crap.
  • im sick of people dissing on shift i freakin loved the game so much i went out and bought the feedback racing wheel and even built a full on arcade style racing seat and played the crap out of it till my ankle cramped from the petals i played the forza demo and i thought it blew in comparison this is my opinion but i know shift2 is a absolute buy on my list this year
  • I liked shift, i got a lot of points on it. BUT i got a copy for free, i probably wouldn't of bought it but i was very impressed with the graphics i dont like the new hot pursuit Forza is very similar to shift, and forza 4 with kinnect compatibility will surly put shift 2 to shame NFS needs to stop. they ruined themselves there glory days have gone
  • Underground 3 please!!!!
  • MOST WANTED 2 !!!! OMG is it that hard to listen to us when we say thats what we want need for speed needs a bost not remaking hot pursuit and trying to say its something new we need a full set of cars everything like in forza with the vinle system that is fully customizable and COPS that would be epic in my opinion
  • @ #50 & #51 - Carbon and Undercover were like a Underground 3 and MostWanted 2 BTW... Shift was f*king great... with the updates (that fixed many gliches and the sliding) IMO it's nearly perfect... just the car aumount and the soundtrack sucks (it sucks but still better than Justin Bieber)
  • IMO all NFS games are epic until you finish them at which point they get incredibly boring
  • @42, that just means you're bad at driving because you don't know how to handle fast cars. I hope this game isn't too short, I beat Hot Pursuit rather quickly.
  • I might just get this, but Im definately getting Dirt 3. I dont like how NFS games dont have rally type events and what not. It makes it a lot more realistic than just street racing
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