Perhaps this review isn't the timeliest out there, but I just got my copy of this game yesterday- I won it in EA's M3 Missions Twitter contest. A nice suprise to come home to after a shitty day at work. I had me some road rage all pent up and this was a perfect way to unleash it.
Now maybe it's from watching too much Speed Racer as a kid (I grew up in the 70s), but for me, racing and wrecking go hand in hand. And Shift does not disapoint in this area. In fact, you are rewarded for "aggressive" driving, and score points for smashing, spinning and otherwise muscling the other cars out of your way. Or, if if you go for the kindler, gentler, Speed Racer approach, you also get points for precision driving...
Let me back up a sec (heh, heh). The game has AMAZING graphics. They accomplish this by not letting you free roam. That's right, this is a track-to-track game, like most of the other Need For Speed series. NFS: Most Wanted is going to stay my favorite in the series, precisely because it does let you roam a whole city: street racing, eluding the police, or in my twisted case, ramming hapless motorists on their daily commutes- when I'm not driving through gas pumps or buildings, that is.
The cars, and enviroment in SHIFT are near-photo realistic. And yes, the cars take damage, but not very realistically. Yes, you can peel off your fenders, and apparently warp your frame, and yes, your car will pull one way or the other after major collisions, but really, I'm unimpressed. I want to see glass exploding out of the windows on impact. I want to see liquids spray out from the cars, like blood in a FPS. Dammit, I want to see a stray wheel rolling down the course. Flat Out: Ultimate Carnage has all that, but with crappy graphics and arcade car handling.
I will say there is one impact-feature of SHIFT that's fairly cool; on really, really hard collisions, your vision blurs and you hear your heartbeat and it takes a few seconds to recover (your vision, not the car). This is like so many FPS shooters where you take damage and have to pause to "heal". I take it this is to reinforce that they want you to drive these cars First Person, in the cockpit, not 3rd person, R/C style like I do.
The game starts with a practice race- you get one test lap in a souped up BMW, and the game judges your skill based on your performance. You can choose to override the skill level the game selects for you, or "lock in" your settings. Then it's on to a real race in your loaner car. How well you finish determines the amount of cash prize you get to buy your first car and any mods to it. And thankfully you don't get docked for repairs on the loaner. I messed that sucker up.
The goal of SHIFT is to race your way through the brackets, and four "tiers" (classes) of races, until you enter the big race at the end- a storyline that is right out of the Speed Racer movie.
An interesting thing I should note is that you can buy any car in the game with MS Points- rather than unlock and earn cars later. However, to not let people (like myself) get too carried away, you have to earn money for car improvements. So no buying a Bugatti $1.2 million car and smashing your opponents in the dust. Nope, they can spend the MS Points and buy the same car. Or soup it up better than your stock, cheater car. This is a great feature for casual gamers like me that don't have the time to unlock all the cars the first week after the game is released.
With this feature then, it is advisable that when you earn your starter money, the smart move is to buy your chosen Tier 1 car, then use all those funds to jack it up. It made quite a difference for me.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, when you race, you get points for driving precisely, or aggressively. These points count toward your Driver Level. Driver Levels unlock car enhancements and tracks. In one hour of Racer X car smashing last night (4 races) I easily made it to Level 3.
Oh, and your car is repaired between races, free of charge.
Car customizing is a little on the ignorant side in this game. You can paint the car any color you like, but you get very limited vinyl application choices. Making my Honda the Shooting Star was a challenge until I reached Level 3 and unlocked Primitive Vinyl shapes (squares, circles and so far). By using the stretch, move, resize tools, i was able to do a passable job on the 'Star. Alas, I haven't earned number decals yet, so I have big yellow Xs on the doors right now instead of Rex Racer's 9.
I was hoping this game would allow custom painting- where instead of filling body panels with a chosen color, I could use airbrushing tools and paint it truly however I wanted. So much for my dream of a camoflage car to park across the track sideways for spectacular collisions.
As for the collisions, I got to enjoy some pretty cool ones. Sideswipes lifted several opponents up on two wheels, but I was never quite able to flip anyone like the start up animation sequences show. PITT moves didn't work so well either. However one impact, I slammed on the brakes and watched the other car spin out of control down the track ahead of me. Gunning it, I was able to t-bone him right off the track as the AI driver recovered. Very satsifying.
Hopefully, the Multiplayer mode will be just as satisfying, and people won't bitch about me ramming them. It is a major component of the game to drive aggressively.
All in all, I'd say this is a pretty good game. I wish it had the Pursuit modes of some prior NFS games. Or pedestrians I could send flying. And while this is clearly a game for Racers, not Wreckers, I'm going to enjoy it quite a bit. I mean, geez, it was free.