While we work fast and furiously to review the latest EA racing game, here’s some video of Shift in action. This skillful driving is actually at the hands of one the producers of the game. Wegue Wegue, everybody!
Need for Speed Shift doesn’t feel like an iPhone game. It feels like a slick, fully-realized AAA game you’d find on a console, albeit a bit shorter. You know the difference: A good iPhone game sometimes feels like a nice little diversion, while a console game feels more like an engrossing experience, something you look forward to coming back to. If all the cute cartoony animals from the two-stick shooters and $1 diversions that are proliferating in the App Store were crossing a highway, NFS Shift would be the roaring Lamborghini running them over.
How does NFS Shift create such deep and nuanced gameplay from the iPhone’s simple tilt-to-steer controls? We really thought using your iPhone as a steering wheel would only lead to casual racing games, but NFS Shift’s cockpit view and sensitive tilting makes you feel like you really are the driver. The controls become even more impressive as you begin to realize how different cars handle speed and steering. You can feel a noticeable difference between the driving capabilities of a tier 1 Mazda and a tier 4 Lamborghini.
To win at NFS Shift you need to learn how to drive like a pro, which means you need to know how to race courses more efficiently. But don’t worry, because NFS Shift pleasantly bridges the gap between arcade and simulation racers. The game provides you with a line on the track which shows you the ideal way to drive the course, and even rewards you with experience points if you stay on the line. The line glows red at turns to signal you to hit the brakes by tapping the screen. It all sounds pretty easy, but you’ll definitely need to know how to use these skills as the cars get faster and the turns get steeper.
You are the wheelman.
You can also drift your car to victory in special drifting challenges. Drifting is the art of applying your emergency brake during turns in order to slide your car around a bend diagonally. What you need to know about drifting is that it takes a completely different skill set than winning races, and once you get a hang of it, you will feel cooler than Steve McQueen.
To initiate a drift, you need to jerk your device sharply in the direction of the turn. Your goal is to keep the drift going for a long time by keeping your car diagonal with the road. If you turn your car perpendicular, you’ll hit the wall, and if you keep it too straight it’ll be completely unimpressive. It’s an art.
The Need For Speed Shift experience is highly focused. Everything makes you want to go fast. The aggressive, screaming music augments the “drive fast, think later” feeling. How can you not want to leave some suckers in the dust when you’re listening to lyrics like “Run with wolves” and “The streets are ours”? All the menus are so touchable, we found ourselves going through upgrade and car selection screens like we raced the races: fast, with a devil-may-care attitude.
It also helps that the cars are so unbelievably sexy. From the retro badassed Dodge Challenger prototype to the hot as fire Porsche 911 GT2, we never want to go back to Burnout or GTA’s fictionalized cars ever again.
We’ve got more like it in the garage.
There are also driving levels to progress through, achievements to earn for feats such as drifting and overtaking other cars, and two sides to align yourself with. Are you a precise driver or an aggressive driver? Do you like running other drivers into walls or getting around them without a scratch? The game will analyze how you drive and assign you to one category. See you on the dark side.
NFS Shift is a tough game, but it’s a good tough, a tough you’ll want to push through. Sometimes the nitro button will get stuck, though, or you’ll miss a turn because of some small frame rate issues, but honestly, these are pebbles which the game crushes under its 150 mph wheels.
Even if you’re not a fan of racing games, or don’t drive to work in a Formula 1 car every day, it’s hard to not get caught up in Need For Speed Shift’s exhilarating pace.
When we originally heard that the latest game in the Need For Speed franchise was coming to the iPhone, we were pumped for a couple of reasons. One, Need For Speed: Shift was a great kick in the pants that the brand really needed on traditional consoles. Besides bringing that trademark style and speed you’d expect, there were several simulation ingredients that gave the game a more measured and less extreme feel.
Our other cause for excitement was based on the excellent, yet too short, Need For Speed Undercover, which significantly raised the bar for all other racers on the iPhone. EA could have easily reskinned Undercover to match Shift’s branding and called it a day, but after our visit to EA’s Playa Vista campus, it was immediately clear that the status quo isn’t an option.
To start, EA is promising a gaudy set of features that any racing fan should be excited about. Not only are there 20 licensed cars that are usable on 18 different courses across locales like Chicago, Tokyo, and London, there’s a ton of customization that permeates nearly every aspect of the game. Whether you’re buying cosmetic or performance enhancements for your vehicles, or selecting unique racing constraints, there’s a lot of leeway to play how you want.
Shift follows the excellent blueprint that made the console editions so addictive and replayable. Using a ubiquitous persistent user profile, everything you do earns you cash and stars to unlock cars and tracks. If driving with restraint by following racing lines and avoid vehicular contact is your preference, you can have success doing that. On the flip side, if driving like an tool by cutting off vehicles and causing crashes is more desirable, you can earn points with that driving style as well. No matter how you win, the game rewards you and labels you as either a ‘Precision’ or ‘Aggressive’ driver, with a badass emblem to match.
Actual gameplay feels very different from the unapologetic arcade oriented Undercover. Shift infuses some realism by really requiring you to brake to consistently grab the checkered flag. Driving like a bat out of hell will get you nowhere, and it’s a refreshing change of pace to have to think about approach and racing lines.
Also new are difficulty levels which determine how many elements of the vehicle you have to control. So while the cars essentially drive themselves on the easiest level thanks to driving assists, you’ll have to manually control gear shifts and the full range of braking on the highest level. Playing on the highest difficulty level using the new cockpit view was quite a challenge, even for enthusiasts like us.
The real focus of Shift lies in its Career Mode. Like the console game, the goal is to work towards winning the big championship racing event. Winning in tiers featuring race events like Circuit Race, Sprint, Driver Duel, Eliminator, Time Trial, and Drift are designed to keep things from getting monotonous. We didn’t get much time to really dive in here, but expect a full synopsis on this aspect in the full review.
EA is very proud of the multiplayer options that are included as well. Shift will have multiplayer that supports Bluetooth and local wi-fi. Many of the single player racing types are selectable, and from our short demo of a head to head Bluetooth race, there wasn’t any meaningful lag that got in the way. Local wi-fi supports up to four players, and we’re looking forward to seeing how things hold up there.
The sweetest music to our ears was hearing about the 3GS enhancements that made the cut. Put simply, if you have an iPhone 3GS or the latest iPod Touch, the game will detect it and give you a graphical upgrade. What that means is better textures, more effects, smoother performance, and what is arguably one of the best looking games on the iPhone. We hear that folks stuck on the older hardware will have a great experience as well, but it just won’t be the best one.
Obviously we need to really dig in to see if our glowing first impression holds up over the long haul, but we’re very excited by the sneak peek we saw. Assuming it all comes together as planned, this will be an essential purchase for racing fans of every ilk.