When it came out, the original Need for Speed Shift was one of the very best racers on the iPhone. From a developer standpoint, building on such a solid foundation for a sequel is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s not that hard to make another racer that’s just as good, but the audience expects to be blown away again, and that’s no easy task. So does Need for Speed Shift 2 leave the original in its dust?
No, it doesn’t– which isn’t to say that it’s not a good game. In fact, it’s very good. But it’s good in the same ways that the original was good. And since the original came out a year and a half ago (no small amount of time in App Store years), the sequel needed to up the ante more than it does in order to wow gamers.
Keep your hands at two and ten.
Let’s start with the good. Need for Speed Shift 2 is a realistic racing sim with loads of options and tons of depth. The meat of the game is the career mode, where you buy a car and compete in a number of different types of races. The better you perform, the more money you earn and the more tracks and races you unlock. Between races, you can go into the in-game store and spend your money on a wide array of car upgrades (both performance- and looks-based), or– if you’re willing to save up– new cars. And the garage is stocked with plenty of cars to choose from.
There’s an inherent addictive quality here, because the further you progress, the more money you get for doing well in races, and the more cars and upgrades you can afford to buy. And when you go on a shopping spree, the money is well-spent. The next time you race after upgrading your top speed or suspension, you’ll notice the boost in your car’s performance.
Shiny happy carhoods.
Just like in the original, the controls and gameplay feel just right. The tilt steering is nicely responsive, and the HUD contains all the information you’d want while navigating the tracks at high speeds. The graphics are decent, although for some reason the menus haven’t been optimized for retina displays, so if you’re playing on a fourth-generation device, expect the text to look fuzzy.
Another strong point about Shift 2 is that you can play it even if you’re new to the racing genre, because it offers plenty of automatic assistance if you want it. You get turn assist, automatic acceleration and braking, and an optimal path shown on the track by default. All of these handicaps can be toggled off at any time for players who want more of a challenge, but it’s great to see them included for beginners.
Tokyo: a neon wonderland.
In addition to the career mode, you can progress through a number of quick race trials, do single races, or play against friends in multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, the multiplayer mode is local-only, meaning that you can’t race against random opponents online. This is a pretty big let-down, as games like Real Racing 2 allow for full online mulitplayer. And for some reason the leaderboards are limited to your friends on EA’s new Origin social gaming network, so you can’t even compete against the general population through leaderboards.
Another potential downside is the music. It’s cool that it’s always playing, no matter whether you’re in the middle of a race, buying new upgrades for your car, or watching a loading screen. Unfortunately, the songs are all generic rock tunes that repeat too quickly. Thankfully, you can turn down the volume of the music in the options menu.
So yes, Shift 2 Unleashed is a very good single-player racing game. But it’s not all that different from the original, and in order for it to compete with the top-of-the-line racers on iOS, it needs a much beefier multiplayer mode. If online gaming doesn’t interest you, Shift 2 will give you just about everything you could ask for in a racer. But until they give the game some multiplayer love, we can’t call it a Must Have game.