Is there a racer in you?
That seemed like the central question in Shift 2 Unleashed. With a Need For Speed label acting in a completely secondary fashion, Shift 2 Unleashed is all about carving out a spot in the sim racing genre's fast lane. With Gran Turismo and Forza focused on their respective platforms, Shift 2 Unleashed can really slip through on the inside lane as a third-party racing sim and take first place. But is there a racer in me?
[image1]No. Honestly, racing games aren't my cup of tea, as it is with Game Revolution's Jesse Costantino. So how do I get in that racer mindset? How can I start tracking the best racing line or tuning my vehicle to its utmost performance levels? Shift 2 Unleashed does a great job of introducing the non-racer in you to the hardcore racing sim genre. It does it with a feeling that's brazen, loud, and most importantly, fast.
At its core, Shift 2 Unleashed isn't really about the tuning, the name brands, or even the tracks themselves. Players will get the biggest amount of joy from the experience, from the meticulous interiors, and from the feel of racing each car. It's not as if you'll be able to jump behind the wheel of any single exotic car immediately and excel in real life, but you'll enjoy the time you spend in the cockpit of Shift 2's best autos.
You might argue that in-car views have already been done, like they have in GT5's premium vehicles. You'd be correct, but Shift 2 Unleashed goes further, placing the player in the driver's helmet and adding a ton of effects to make racing from the driver's perspective that much more nerve-wracking. Forza's or GT's cars feel like delicate models. Shift 2's in-the-helmet view made me feel like I was in the cockpit of a 5-year-old's Hot Wheels collection. Playtime was rough and fast.
Shift 2's nighttime races can be particularly visceral experience when raced from the in-helmet view. The game turns the helmet to the inside of corners, as you do when you make a turn in a real car, but with headlights pointed straight forward, turns can be heart-pounding experiences. Just wait to experience an in-helmet car flip.
[image2]Shift 2 Unleashed retains the XP rewards, unlocks, and events from the original and includes Autolog. You might remember Autolog from last year's Hot Pursuit. That game constantly updates you on your friend's latest race times, take-down times, and achievements. Autolog in Shift 2 delves deeper with lap times, track times, unlocks and more. It turns out that one-upping your friends is whether your wrecking them or just racing them.
Shift 2, however, is not for everyone and not without wrong turns. It's still extremely difficult; that's partly the nature of the sim racing genre and partly an issue with difficulty tuning. You can adjust the game's controls so that more of the driving systems, like breaking in corners and accelerating out of them, are controlled by the computer, but that's no magic win button. While Shift 2 doesn't suffer from ridiculous rubber-banding, where an AI racer slingshots to the lead in the last seconds of a race, the computer opponents are a bunch of a-holes. If you get stuck behind the pack it can turn the entire race track into a choke point of three-lane racing. AI racers also tend to shove the player around too much. That wouldn't normally be a problem but XP is doled out for running a clean race as much as winning it.
Despite those shortcomings, I still can't help but think back to the in-helmet view. Who knew that having the frame of my vehicle obscure my view of the racetrack in a corner or that trading the inside lane for the clarity of my headlights during a nighttime race would bring me an enjoyment I've never found in sim racing games before? I kept going back to races despite failing at them so many times. If you're a racing novice like I am, you'll find plenty to like in Shift 2 Unleashed, but noobs and experts alike will probably enjoy this Need For Speed outing as long as it takes Turn 10 or Polyphony Digital to provide more of their respective franchises.