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.