Shift 2: Unleashed was an entry in the Need for Speed franchise that didn’t always necessarily use the NFS name, despite being the seventeenth entry in the franchise, and the follow up to Need for Speed: Shift. Shift was an attempt by Need for Speed to get away from its arcade roots into a more realistic space, challenging games like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, on their own turf; something that would require an almost cast iron self belief. Sadly the experience wasn’t up to snuff, however this didn’t stop Slightly Mad Studios (they of Project CARS fame) from having another bite at the cherry. The resulting game was Shift 2: Unleashed.
Now as I have written about before, I have a soft spot for Need for Speed games, and Shift 2 was no different. Now, as it was coming out, the development team were making all kinds of bold statements, whether to try and raise awareness via controversy, or whether it was because they genuinely believed what they were saying, I’m not sure. Taking aim at Forza Motorsport 3 and Gran Turismo 5, Patrick Soderlund, from EA, implied that in his opinion, Shift 2 would provide a more authentic driving experience than GT5 certainly. The Lead Designer of the game, Andy Tudor, said that games like Forza 3 and GT5 were more like encyclopedias of cars, and featured hundreds of “irrelevant” cars that people would largely ignore. Marcus Nilsson, who produced the game, while admitting that he couldn’t match Forza’s 60fps, then said that their game would look a lot better as a result. “You have to make a choice with today’s tech. Either you go for – and this is harsh but it’s what I think – the bland graphics of GT and Forza, or you try to push the bar for what consoles can do.” said Nilsson.
Further to that, the addition of Autolog to the game was touted as bringing a breath of fresh air to the sim racing genre. I remember at the time, as each new announcement came out that this had better be good, the way they are hyping it up… so, when the game finally came out, was it as good as the people paid to promote the game would have us believe?
Well, no is the short answer.
Shift 2: Unleashed was better than the first Shift, that’s true enough, but it wasn’t up to the standard of Forza – Autolog or no Autolog.
The developers did get some big names to take part in the game and act as mentors though, and also included a lot of different disciplines for players to get used to. Vaughn Gittin, a Formula D racer from the US of A, guides you through the beginning of the career, showing you how to customise the car, how to drift, and also how to use the Autolog function. After this, the career moves on to the FIA GT3 championships, the Muscle car Championships, and there were also the Retro series, Time Attack and Drag Series, all the way right up to the GT1 championship. Each series has a professional driver associated with it, and if you win the championship, you can actually win their personal cars.
In keeping with the shade that the team were throwing before launch, the amount of cars in Shift 2 is somewhat smaller than the other entries in the genre, with slightly more than 140 fully licenced cars available to drive; all described as “Essential Speedsters”. And in terms of the tracks, these were split between the real and the fictional, with tracks like Bathurst and Spa accompanied by fictional circuits in places like London and Shanghai.
Now, the main thing about a game of this style is in the way that it drives; it has to be fun to compete in and have a credible upgrade system for the cars. And luckily, the actual driving, the practicing and learning of the tracks is a great deal of fun. A nice addition was the way that Unleashed could be played from a “helmet cam” viewpoint, looking out through the driver’s visor, which made for interesting driving. If you had a crash in this mode the view jerked about, as if the driver was being tossed about in the car.
The other thing that made Shift 2: Unleashed harder was the inclusion of night races; if your car got damaged, the lights get dimmer or go out altogether, making the race next to impossible. Overall though, the actual racing was just the right side of hard, and I thoroughly enjoyed tearing around the tracks. I can even remember that my first car was a bright yellow Nissan Silvia S15, and I spent many happy hours swapping times with a friend via the Autolog system, which incidentally in this game was called Need for Speed DNA, featuring extra functions despite looking the same as the old version. Seeing that a friend has beaten your time does give you a spur to go back and try harder, and this drags you back into the game. As a concept, Autolog is probably one of the best innovations of the Need for Speed franchise.
So, the driving was fun, and the competing with friends was nailed on, but how about the actual car upgrading and tuning? Well, I have lost count of the amount of hours I have spent creating tunes in the Forza series of games, whether it be converting a car to four wheel drive or tweaking the tire pressure in the rear tires to give more traction off the line. Teaching myself what changes do what, how to get maximum grip, and how weight transfer works has meant I’ve been able to get a proper nerd on over the years. And while the system in Shift 2: Unleashed was pretty good, it was never as in-depth as its competitors. Being able to nail on a nice body kit was a good start, and adding parts to the mix was decent enough when you needed to go faster, but the actual tuning was not as detailed.
The game kind of fell between two stools if I’m honest: it was too serious to be a Need for Speed game, but it wasn’t detailed enough to make it with the dedicated sim crowd either. The resulting game, while fun to play, was neither one thing or the other, and suffered in comparison. Still, the learning experience couldn’t have been all bad, as the original Project CARS, when it came out, quickly found favour with a lot of serious sim racing fans.
So, all in all, Shift 2: Unleashed from way back in 2011 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC was a good game, but not quite as good as the marketing hype may have had you believe. Autolog and racing with friends was fun, the upgrading of the cars and the gradual unlocking of the new series made for an addictive play, and the game looked the part as well. But it failed to reach the heights many predicted.
Now, these are what I remember about playing this game, late into the night as a time was beaten and I got a notification, what are yours? Did you play Shift 2: Unleashed back in the day, and do you think it bettered Forza or GT5? Let us know in the comments. If you haven’t yet played the game and wish to do so, the Xbox Store or Amazon will sort you out.