That’s a small thing, though, and does nothing to detract from what is actually a well-crafted and enjoyable game. The graphics and sounds are as exceptional as we have come to expect from modern games of this nature; it’s de rigueur to mention those aspects, but it seems to be becoming wholly unnecessary to do so except in the rare cases where the highest standards are not met. Even in light of that (so to speak), the lighting effects bear mentioning. The most obvious case is the night races where your useful view of the track is limited to what is illuminated by your headlights and track side lighting acts only as a distraction. As you can imagine, those are difficult races. Surprisingly, even daytime races could be just as difficult. Some of the races are scheduled for late in the day and the setting sun can be blinding when heading toward the west. Even in bright daylight, areas of shadow can cause visibility problems. This is a case when full realism makes the game harder, but in a good way.
Beyond the superlative visuals is the advent of the helmet cam. This feature is, in a word, superb! When driving in the first-person view (and I don’t know why anyone would choose not to), the view is exactly what a real driver would see. The helmet cam shows the distracting and disorienting bouncing around that comes from racing on a bumpy track, but also helps the driver find the optimum driving line by “looking” to the apex when approaching and entering turns. I can’t attest to the realism of this, but the drivers-eye view goes to black & white if/when you slam into a wall. Do retinal cones really shut down with impacts like that? I don’t know, but it’s still a cool effect. Between the excellent quality of the graphics, the helmet cam, and the realistic light effects, Shift 2 puts on a show that approaches live racing viewed on an HDTV.
More importantly than the eye candy, the handling of the cars is excellent, albeit limited by the innate weaknesses inherent in the standard hand controller. This game screams at the top of its lungs for Logitech and Microsoft to work out whatever the differences are that cause superior controllers like the Logitech G25 to not work with the Xbox 360. I initially struggled mightily with just keeping the car on the road (and I have to say, the crash effects of a rolling, cartwheeling Aston-Martin DB9 are spectacular!) until I swallowed my pride and turned on stability assistance. That tamed down the mechanical steering of the car to the degree that I was able to use the weight shift provided by working the much less sensitive throttle and break to steer the cars through turns. As impressed as I was by the way I was able to leverage the shifting weight of the car to get through turns, I often frustrated myself by mismanaging it to the degree that I would spin, or worse. See the parenthetical DB9 comment above.
As is the norm with Need for Speed titles, the improvements in Shift 2 are somewhat more evolutionary than revolutionary. That having been said, the addition of the Helmet Cam view alone adds tremendous value in realism and playability. The not overly burdensome career model is enjoyable and strikes a great balance between incentivizing the player to strive to improve in each and every race and rewarding nearly all effort with its generous doling out of XP and virtual money. The view out the window from the driver’s seat is nothing short of spectacular and the sounds provide a visceral sense of the power of the finely tuned, premium racing machines available to the player. Slightly Mad Studios and Electronic Arts have unquestionably raised the bar for console-based racing sims with Shift 2.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Shift 2 is not quite a full-realism simulator, but it's not exactly an arcade game either. The Xbox controller makes precise control difficult at best, but configuration settings and driving aids can help tame the unruly driving quirks. The evolutionary Helmet Cam provides a nice boost of realism. This reviewer wasn't thrilled with the Big Brother nature of the Autolog system, but he is a self-admitted curmudgeon practicing to be a hermit, so take that into account.
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