Need for Speed is a spectacular racing series known for its high octane thrills. With the series' latest release - Need for Speed: SHIFT - the popular franchise doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon.
Obviously, simulation racing isn't the most organic evolution for the series. Sure, ProStreet had a dose of realism injected into it, but it wavered indecisively between circuit sim and arcade racer. So it's appropriate that the latest NFS title is called SHIFT because it's obviously trying to "shift" the franchise in a new direction.
Need for Speed: SHIFT is executed so effectively that it will grab Forza fans without alienating its speed obsessed audience. True to tradition, SHIFT is incredibly accessible. For example, if you don't ace the corners during your evaluation race the game will automatically regulate your speed around tight bends. Driver assist and AI difficulty settings are all adjustable, of course, so hardcore players can tone down the hand-holding helpers to better reflect a realistic racing experience while newcomers can up them to compensate for their lack of skills. I wound up somewhere in the middle and it was a near-perfect fit.
Thanks to the brilliant new experience and leveling system I found myself obsessing over my races. Whether you're drafting, blocking or smashing into opponents, you're always earning experience which, when combined with podium finishes, earns you higher ranks and stars. Stars unlock access to higher tiers, better cars, and profitable invitational events. The standard pyramid structure is saved by the RPG elements and rapid stream of rewards, though, and it's a gratifying pyramid to climb - for a while, anyway.
Unfortunately, I eventually hit a wall with my leveling that seriously took the air out of my tires. As in an RPG, you're going to have to suffer through some grinding and from time to time, the excitement of collecting stars begins to wane. One-on-one races and drift events became soul-crushingly frustrating, and difficult objectives demanded perfect driving. The uneven difficulty is made worse by the occasional rubber-band AI problems. Even after lowering the difficulty to easy I still found myself struggling to gain levels.
It's not the difficulty that bums me out as much as it's the change in pace. I got so used to blindly blowing oodles of money on upgrades - performance, mostly, since the aesthetic customisation is limited to body kits rather than individual parts - that it was a jarring buzz-kill when leveling up came to a screeching halt. The time you'll spend before that dip, and after you conquer it, however, totally rock.
The multiplayer ain't too shabby either: experience points and cash seamlessly tie to your offline career, and there's plenty of both to be earned in the stellar ladder tourneys and regular races.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>