Need For Speed: Shift

A boot is the irritating metal claw that immobilizes cars; a reboot hopefully puts them back in motion. After a good run as the dominant videogame racing series, EA’s Need For Speed franchise was rebooted in 2003 to emphasize then-fashionable illegal street racing and sandbox gameplay. But the flashy street style dulled, and EA’s Burnout series did open-world racing quite well. So Need For Speed: Shift reboots the series once more. It’s back to basics: closed tracks and hardcore racing.

In an attempt to deliver demanding simulation driving to the masses, Shift offers a level of CPU control for nearly everyone. Navigate the various tracks and roadways with all but acceleration and steering under AI control, or go full pro and do it all yourself. Some puppeteering is necessary at first: Steering is twitchy and over-responsive, and smooth acceleration requires much practice. After a couple hours in the cockpit, however, Shift feels no more or less idiosyncratic than other racers. As with a new car, once you learn the quirks, it feels fairly natural, though not particularly inspired.

Shift doles out literally hundreds of rewards for performing tasks of all kinds. Earn a badge for winning several races in a row, and for driving a European car a few kilometers. The badges are appended to your driver profile, which serves primarily to track whether you’re a precise or aggressive driver. You’ll win points for meticulously following a racing line, or for ramming other cars. Yet the game is so willing to please that precise drivers won’t lose points for bad behavior. The only real follow-through for choosing a driver alignment is that you’ll be invited to specific Invitational Events.

In the end, all that matters is making the finish line. Points and awards help unlock new events and cars, and are otherwise mere decoration. The bottom line is that Shift is a competent racer with a lot of flashy doodads tacked on. In that respect, it’s actually similar to the cars so heavily featured in games the series is now so eager to forget.

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