In Shift 2, your experience is measure by XP, or experience points. Once you meet certain thresholds of experience, you are allowed to move into higher class races. Experience in real life can take many forms. You don’t need to win a race, or even place very well, to gain experience. But while the experience gained by trailing around at the back of the pack will teach how how to be passed, the experience of leading a race is critical as well. Passing a slower car and being passed by a faster car are both things that require experience to do well and safely, but obviously they are not the same thing at all. This fact is modeled well in Shift 2. You will gain XP for leading a lap, for driving a precise and well controlled race line, for driving in traffic without hitting anyone, and, of course, for placing well in a race. The fact that you can gain XP in a race where you have a mediocre finish is helpful too, in that it provides an incentive to keep racing after that first unfortunate spin. I found that my XP account grew satisfyingly quickly and that I was often promoted to the next higher level without having finished every possible event in the preceding level.
As the racing gets tougher, so too does the need to own quality racing equipment. This is where winning races comes in. Nothing in racing is cheap; if you want to go faster, you need to either become a better driver or buy a better car. The higher you place in the races, the more money you earn. That money can be applied to buying performance enhancing upgrades to your current car, or it can be used to buy a better car as you work your way up in the event hierarchy. The resale value of the cars you own is extremely good as there does not appear to be any kind of depreciation cost (another nod to fun versus realism), so it doesn't hurt to option up a car even if you know that you’re going to eventually have to sell it to progress in your career.
In the lower brackets, winning can be tough. The races are short and you nearly always start back in the pack. With only two or three lap races, there’s not a lot of time to spare if you want to get to the front. In other words, leave your sensitivity at home; you’re going to have to drive pretty aggressively in these early races. You’d better develop a thick skin, too, because the AI cars have the same challenge. They often aren't shy about moving you out of their way with whatever means at their disposal. Which, you know, Kyle Busch.
There are other options for earning money, though. The Hot Lap Challenges are great money makers. In these events, you are loaned a car (usually something nicer than what you can afford to buy) and race a few laps against the clock. There are dollar prizes for beating any of three assigned times. While they pay less than the normal races, they are easier to win in that you don’t have to worry about being knocked out of the race by another car or, as in my case, damaging your own car by knocking others out of your way. I found the Retro Hot Lap Challenges to be my favorite mode. In these races, you are loaned a car of historical significance, typically from the 1980’s or early 90’s. As with all of the other cars in Shift 2, each requires a different driving style depending on its weight, suspension, and engine power. For example, with the Volkswagon GTI I found that I had to preserve as much speed as possible through the turns of Catalunya because there was so little engine available to get back up to speed, but with the BMW M3 I had to brake much earlier and harder for the turns because of its higher weight.
As much as I liked the Hot Lap races, I despised the Elimination races. In these races, the car currently in last place is eliminated every 30 seconds until only the leader remains. I thought that I’d like that racing style because it meant that I wouldn’t have to worry as much about the car behind me passing me, but that ended up only being true if I was consistently running second to last. That wasn’t that big of a problem, as it turns out. The bigger problem was the beeping of the countdown timer. For some reason, that caused me to stress out whenever it got close to the 30 second mark. I would make for a horrible bomb-defusing James Bond, I guess.
As I was working my way through race after race, Shift 2 was dutifully recording my best times to the global Autolog system. Autolog is EA’s hybrid social networking / multiplayer hosting mechanism that acts like a big, mechanical eye looking over your shoulder and recording everything you do on publicly accessible boards so both friends and enemies can openly mock you and heap derision on your pitiful lap times. Which is not exactly how EA describes it, mind you; it’s really just my perception of it. This kind of overt, never-ending communication seems to be the wave of the future now that we’re fully immersed in the Facebook/Twitter era; it seems that no one can try to check-in an overweight bag at the airport or get stuck in the drive-thru behind the idiot that seems to have never seen a McDonald’s menu before without the world knowing about it. So it is with Autolog. That having been said, I fully recognize that I am the product of a generation that grew up playing games against the AI and never really developed a taste for “community” when it comes to gaming. I’m fine with multiplayer racing on those occasions when I choose to suffer a little public humiliation voluntarily, but I don’t see the need to have the results of my private games broadcast to a disinterested world. As always, your mileage will vary.
Page 2 of 3