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Need for Speed SHIFT: A Sim (If you want it to be)!
Preview of Need for Speed SHIFT from Gamescom 2009

Having visited the Gamescom 2009 event in Cologne, Germany I had a chance of playing two upcoming Need for Speed games, SHIFT and NITRO and for something to compare it to, I also tried out SHIFT's two main competitors in this year's fall season: Forza Motorsports 3 and Gran Turismo 5. And what's unbelievable is that SHIFT in my opinion tops them both. You might say I'm crazy for saying that out loud, but read on to find out why.


The BMW M3 GT2 at the SHIFT stand

Need for Speed going sim?

Need for Speed SHIFT is a game made by Slightly Mad Studios who have team members who worked on highly acclaimed sim racing titles like GT Legends and GTR2 and are known for they highly realistic approach to racing games. With SHIFT they didn't make the engine less realistic but in fact they say it's their most accurate engine to date. But since Need for Speed has never been about the hardcore realism, they made the game accessible by adding assists, similar as in ProStreet. Assists start with the most basic ABS system, then with traction control which has several levels to it and the final assist level is the auto brake feature which makes the game drivable for the most easy going "floor the gas all the time" players. And while a Maserati MC12 with all assists turned on feels really easy to drive, you'll struggle with no assists even on a stock Honda S2000.


The triple view dbox setup

SHIFT vs. Forza 3 vs Gran Turismo 5

So how does SHIFT stand up to the major sim titles like Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5? I drove several laps in Forza 3 in an “all assists off” (except the braking line) Audi R8 and Porsche GT2. Both cars felt heavy, error margin was quite big - you really had to floor it in the middle of a turn to lose control of the car. In fact Forza 3's driving model felt a lot like Forza 2's. I must say I didn't race much in Gran Turismo, except for a few laps with a Subaru Impreza WRX and again like in Forza the car felt heavy and the error margin again being large. In SHIFT, on the other hand, the cars felt lighter, more responsive and, on the other hand, also more prone to error. Apply too much throttle in a turn and you'll have a hard time catching the car. Drifting through corners is a common practice and catching the car afterwards does require a bit of practice.

So the physics model is definitely comparable Forza and GT5 (and in my opinion better and even more fun) but where SHIFT stands out is the visual side. The rich smoke effects, best looking interiors and the driver experience features like interior blurring at large speeds and crash effects make the game the best looking out of the three. Great news for the PC players: game looks best on the PC especially on a three monitor setup!


NFSUnlimited in SHIFT!

Drift in SHIFT!

Drifting in SHIFT has a slightly different physics model meaning that the cars have less grip which results in some cars being incredibly hard to control compared to others. Great precision is required to have the car remain in a continuous drift and having a wheel will certainly help. However once you get used to your car (or sell it for one that handles better) performing long drifts is really satisfying. The arrows on the road will help you know where you should start and take your drifts. As it's a pretty hard mode, turning on the assists should be helpful.


Earn stars to unlock events

Career in SHIFT is comprised of race events which range from classic events where you bring your own cars to rival races (Driver Duels, where you have to win 2 times in 3 attempts, starting first, last or even), manufacturer races (drive a preselected car against cars of the same type), drifts and more. You progress by collecting stars which you get with a podium finish (3 for win, 1 for 3rd place) or by completing certain challenges related to your driver profile, like getting a certain amount of driver points (which you get for good driving), mastering a certain amount of corners or spinning AI cars if you're an aggressive driver. Collecting stars will unlock more career events but will not unlock game features which are only unlockable by improving your driver skills. After completing any race (career, quick race or online) you will get a certain amount of points for good (precision) and aggressive driving. Points relate to driver levels which unlock new cars, parts and give you money. The good thing about this system is that you don't have to win to collect the points, but simply be a good (or agressive) driver and race as much as you can.


8 play LAN racing on the SHIFT stand at Gamescom

SHIFT rocks!

Now I may sound like a fanboy (which to be honest I am!), but for me SHIFT is a clear winner in the best racing title at this year's gamescom and this year I'm really looking forward to the September 17th release! I'm getting my racing wheel ready and so should you!

I haven't covered many of SHIFT's features and if you want to know more about it, just ask in the comments or contact me directly in the website's chat and I'll answers as many questions as I can.


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Bojan Slovenia
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by Bojan on 25. August 2009 03:08
I drove GT5 the least of the three and that's also why I mentioned it the least. In SHIFT I tried both stock cars (low and and higher end) and fully tuned cars. In Forza I drove the R8 and the Porsche GT2.
It could be that in Forza and GT5 the steering sensitivity was set to too low. I'm not sure if it's possible in the two, but in shift you can adjust steering sensitivity.
I'm not saying they were nervous, but responsive, and in the other two they felt lazy.

But my point was that SHIFT is in no way arcade, but fully up to par with the other two and in my opinion actually felt better to drive.
TheStig
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by TheStig on 25. August 2009 03:27
Bojan I really wonder how it plays for people on the PC with a keyboard.. cause if the cars act nervous you could very well be screwed, since the keyboard doesn't really work with throttle control and steering precision.
Sure you could go and play it on kiddie mode but I doubt you want that.

I sure hope for those who play it on the PC that you don't need a expensive steering wheel etc to play it cause that would be sad for them.

But he nice review btw.


OOh how long is the careermode? and in terms of replay-a-bility?
Cause the 60ish cars doesn't give you that much choice to try and race and tune etc.

The gfx does look very decent and indeed the interior view looks good... but then I will never use it cause I don't like the view of it...blocks way to much information.
We just have to wait and see....
Last edited: 2009-08-24 20:08:41. Edited 1 time(s) in total.
Hydro_PT Portugal
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by Hydro_PT on 25. August 2009 03:30
I was looking forward to read your article Bojan. But (and after what happened last year when you "previewed" Undercover), I can't actually trust what you say.

I know you're a big fan of the NFS series, so it's normal that you tend to make the game look better than it actually does. But that leads us (at least me) to think that the game is really good (like Undercover) and it turns out a piece of shit. So I cannot really trust your words... I would like too, believe me, I want NFS to be a great game again, to be back to the spotlight and make us, long time fans, proud.

As for the visuals, are you sure you played the real Forza 3 and GT5? The graphics are much better than the ones in SHIFT. I'm not saying that SHIFT has bad graphics or that it looks bad: in fact the game looks very good, no doubt the best NFS in terms of aspect that we've seen. But both Forza 3 and GT5 have better graphics... only someone that is a fan(boy) or blind can't see that. Since you're not blind ( ), I can only assume you're writing what the NFS fan(boy) inside you is saying.

Don't take this personally please. I'm not trying to offend you, I'm just trying to see through this article if this is really what SHIFT is all about, or if once again, you're exaggerating things...
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Bojan Slovenia
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by Bojan on 25. August 2009 03:48
I'm not sure about the keyboard because I haven't tried it, but I do hope that the sensitivity settings apply to the keyboard too and that you can set it to be less sensitive. The default x360 setting was imo too sensitive. On the wheels it worked fine.

Lenght of career, tbh I have no idea, I haven't really paid attention to it

Regarding my comparisons, one thing I'll admit - of all the playtime I had I played shift for about 95% of the time, Forza 3% and GT5 2%. While GT5 and Forza only had very limited demos, I had access to an all open near final build of shift - I could mess with shift all I wanted, but was very limited in the other two (probably to what the devs wanted us to see). That's why I could get only a surface feel of the other two and a detailed feel of shift. That's why I focused my article on shift and only mentioned my quick thoughts about the other two.

Regarding visuals: SHIFT was the PC version running high res on a triple monitor set up. GT5 was a PS3 single tv setup and forza am Xbox360 triple monitor. One thing is looking at the screenshots and the other seeing it in action - and with all the smoke and other visual effects shift did look the most lifelike. Unfortunately GT5 was on an all tarmac track in a rally race (meaning opponents were far apart) meaning I got the least look of it. Forza however had nice track design (I love the exotic looking tracks), but very little extra effects. Like GT5 it looked very static. Also the driver effects imo make the game look very good in more of a subtle way at least for me. When going really fast you don't really notice how the interior blurs out (as you're paying attention to the road), but you know it looks right as it should.
My opinion is that in action shift feels most lifelike and thus best.
Summ
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by Summ on 25. August 2009 04:22
I appreciate your honesty and openness around the subject of comparisons. I can't talk about Forza, but I can easily compare Prologue's graphics with SHIFT's. Prologue looks glorious in full HD (1080p). The car models are extremely accurate and the lighting effects/high contrast make the whole thing very realistic. It doesn't aim to be fancy and full of special effects, but rather at delivering a lifelike experience.. and that it really does. Are its graphics better than SHIFT's, as Hydro would have us believe? That is up to debate. Personally, I'm not convinced. Shift's graphics are amazing, albeit a bit heavy on the special effects end. Yet the car models are extremely detailed as well and the lighting in general appears quite solid. I do believe that because of the lighting GT5 is more realistic, but SHIFT is probably the more beautiful - what with the sunsets and everything =). Only thing against GT5 is really just that it doesn't have Anti Aliasing on, which makes for a few shimmerings and some staircase effects here and there.. the tracks are a bit static as well, but other than that it looks amazing. Finally, I don't get where they got this idea that when you go fast things blur out.. probably from the various Fast and the Furious.. but it has nothing to do with reality. Perhaps once you fly at mach1 at 30m of above ground level you get a blur, but the way it's implemented in recent racing games is absolutely ridiculous and over the top! It's special effects for the sake of special effects. Period.

As for GT5/Forza handling - Bojan, what kind of controller did you use, when you tried those games? Cause my G25 goes a full 900 degrees in GT5, so if you were on a 900 degree wheel and thought it was only 180 or 270, obviously you're only getting a fraction of the entire turn radius. On a controller it's basically the opposite - you get the full turn radius but no finesse in the minor adjustments. The control interface makes a tremendous difference in that game.. as well as in Forza, I believe.. and in SHIFT.

I have a question about the auditory aspect of the immersion in the game. Forgive me for once again drawing parallel to GT5, but that game works a lot on convincing you that you are travelling at high speed by increasing the wind noise considerably - to the point that, at 250 km/h the sound of the engine is down to half of what you hear at, say, 100 km/h. The second you enter the draft of another car you can immediately hear the difference - the wind noise dies out very fast and your engine revs faster; you pick up speed. Nothing new about how it works, but the amount of wind noise and the auditory cue that you are in a draft are really quite good. Does SHIFT have subtle effects like that as well?

Likewise, in GTR Evolution there is a strong sound of road dirt and gravel hitting up against the bottom of the car. This sound increases the faster you travel, as the rate of stuff being thrown up by the tires increases pr second, obviously. Does SHIFT have that?

Finally, what about tire squeals? Do tires sound different depending on the severeness of the pressure they are under?
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