Game On!: Need for Speed: Shift

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Need for Speed, the oldest continuing sports franchise from Electronic Arts, takes a turn for the better with the new Need for Speed: Shift. The latest game in the 25-year-old series moves away from an arcade-like approach to track racing - fans used to open-world street races won't find any drifting here.

After recent disappointments like Need for Speed Undercover and Need for Speed: Most Wanted 2, the developers at EA have retuned the game to tackle a more serious and realistic form of car racing.

Shift leverages the power available on current-generation gaming systems to deliver a game that falls nicely between arcade-focused games and hardcore gearhead simulations like Gran Turismo.

Gone is the open-world exploration of the last few titles; in its place is a nice selection of real-world racetracks and high-performance cars. Players have to master precision driving techniques and high-end engineering to tweak and tune for the best racing profile - all while fighting to hold the perfect line around the track.

One shockingly effective change places players in an eerily realistic driver's view of the track. While this sort of optional view is not foreign to the racing game genre, playing Shift in this mode was the first time I truly felt like I was driving. It was also the first time I didn't immediately switch over to a reverse third-person car camera to steer.

Fans often measure driving games by the quantity of customization options available, and when compared with big dogs like Forza, the options in Shift do feel a bit anemic.

The game also can't compete with the seemingly endless number of licensed cars included in every iteration of the Gran Turismo games. But with 72 licensed vehicles, there's a diverse enough pool of vehicles, optional parts and upgrades to tide over all but the most dedicated racing gamer.

Online play extends the game's value, as battling the often-predictable game drivers can't measure up to the pure fun and chaos of racing against real people.

Shift offers enough new tracks and vehicles to tide over racing fans who can't wait for Forza 3 or Gran Turismo to see their eventual release dates. More casual driving fans will also find the game approachable and challenging.

This is a safe purchase for racing fans and another good reason to invest in a high-quality driving accessory like Microsoft's racing wheel.

"Need for Speed: Shift"

System: Xbox 360, PS3, Windows, PSP, iPhone

Price: $60

Players: 1 (up to 8 online)

Rated: E for Everyone

Who Should Buy it?: "Top Gear" fans

GameOn! Grade: B