Need for Speed: Shift Hands-On

We check out the two extremes of EA's upcoming change in direction for the Need for Speed series.

At EA's recent spring press event in San Francisco, the company had two stations running builds of its upcoming Need for Speed: Shift, the latest in the long-running racing series. Depending on which version you sat down to play, you got a very different picture of what the upcoming game is all about. The developers at Slightly Mad Studios are focused on making this perhaps the most realistic and true-to-life driving experience ever seen in a Need for Speed game, while still maintaining the approachable learning curve that has always been a part of the series. Both aspects of this intriguing racing game were on display at the press event and, in certain ways, the differences between the two couldn't have been starker.

The Need for Speed series takes a dramatic turn with Shift.

First, the similarities. Although both stations on hand featured different cars and different tracks to drive on, the focus on enhancing the driver experience was in full effect in both. The game was running at a mostly rock-solid 30 frames per second, but the pace of the cars on display didn't feel sluggish in the least. This is partially due to the steady frame rate but also due to some clever visual tricks--most noticeable in the cockpit view--that really help you sink in behind the virtual wheel. First there are the small camera movements when you brake or accelerate--subtle shifts to emulate your head being jerked back and forth. This hyperactive camera also spells out the bumps and hills of the various tracks, as well as any damage you take when running into other cars (or stationary objects).

Though that dynamic cockpit camera isn't exactly new for racing games, the game also makes use of some blurring effects in ways that we haven't seen before in the genre. When you're driving at high speeds while in cockpit view, your view will automatically begin to blur out the interior of the car, while the road and your competitors ahead of you will stay in focus. The effect looks to emulate the focus of real drivers as they concentrate on the road ahead of them, blocking out the rest of their peripheral vision. It's a novel visual technique, though we found it a bit unnecessary. After all, when playing a racing game, your eyes will naturally focus on the things that matters on the track, blocking out the things on which you don't really need to concentrate. In addition, given that the rear-view mirror is blurred too, cars behind you are blurry and unfocused, which we found extremely annoying, especially in tight races. Here's hoping that the developers include the option to toggle this blurring effect on or off, depending on individual player preference.

So, though slick graphics were on display in both version of Need for Speed: Shift, the contrast between the two games was felt in the cars and on the road. One version of the game featured a three-lap race at Willow Springs raceway in the central California desert. Unlike such tracks as Laguna Seca and Road America, Willow Springs is a lesser-known American racing gem full of twisting turns, some high-speed corners, and fun elevation changes. The car on-hand was a race-trim McLaren F1, one of the more powerful cars in Shift, with a beastly amount of power and tight, responsive steering. Despite its power, the car wasn't a complete nightmare to handle thanks to a ton of driving assists toggled on to help contain the mighty McLaren. Traction control, braking assist, and the now-standard color-coded dynamic driving line made completing the three-lap race fairly easy, and some low-end AI racers were of very little challenge.

Compare that to the other station running the game, which featured a race full of 1970s-model Nissan Skylines running a street race in Tokyo. In contrast to the McLaren race at Willow Springs, nearly every assist seemed to be toggled off in this version of the game, resulting in a Need for Speed game that felt completely unlike any other, save maybe for the classic Porsche Unleashed. Here was a car that was slow off the line, loose in the corners, prone to drift at the drop of a hat, and completely uninterested in making up for your driving mistakes should you lose momentum through a turn. Here, too, were unforgiving and demanding race opponents, not at all afraid of bullying you in corners or ashamed of leaving you in the dust if you couldn't keep up. This was about as far from traditional rubber-band Need for Speed-style racing as can be imagined, and it felt very good, even if we did get our proverbial butts handed to us.

The car lineup in Shift will include present day and classic models.

It's between these two extremes that Need for Speed: Shift finds itself: a console racing sim looking to go after the Forza and Gran Turismo fan base, and a Need for Speed game that needs to be friendly enough to more-casual racing fans to keep the dollars rolling in. It's a somewhat risky gamble, it seems, considering that there's a portion of the NFS crowd that will surely expect yet another series of uninspiring races cast between cheesy cutscenes. Nevertheless, if Shift opens up to a new crowd and (vocal) fan base by establishing itself as a credible racing sim, it just might be a gamble worth taking. Look for more on the game in the months leading up to its fall 2009 release.

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Discussion

102 comments
floomoo2003
floomoo2003

Realistic street racing with greater car customization is where the next game should have gone. Instead it's like a baby version of Forza 3.

MikeHawke
MikeHawke

dont know what their thinking, with forza and gt5, they should be sticking with the arcade style. No ones going to change their mind and buy this over Forza 3

raptorf_22
raptorf_22

I think that they really should stick with the NFS street racing style, that's what makes NFS games unique, that's the spirit of NFS! I think that MW was the best NFS ever made, and i think you should stick to what made MW great. Maybe a new MW with a remodeled story, some hot babes and kick ass cars would be a good idea!

theslimdavylp
theslimdavylp

I love NFS but they need to stick with the Arcade style street racing instead of doing these simulation type... Underground 3 or Most Wanted 2 would be a good idea! Listen to the fans EA FFS!

deathstar111
deathstar111

I agree with fireinthelol. If i want a good sim racer i would buy Forza 3. Ever since nfs underground the series has been going downhill. EA should go back to games like hot pursuit and hot pursuit 2 those were the best!

raidenishere
raidenishere

what a diserpiontment the last 3 need 4 speed where ok but this is a total u turn and a major head on crash

squaredude44
squaredude44

The games are just getting worse and worse. Face it EA, you're running out of ideas!!!

ENIGMAXX2
ENIGMAXX2

Need for Speed: SHlT -- is a best name for it

Vimanesba
Vimanesba

meh... another racing simulator... dunno about you, but I prefer arcade racing, far more entertaining and fun, like Burnout. If I wanted to know how it feels to race with a real car, I would take my car to the streets and race. This is unnecessary. NFS died long ago. Don't murder the name.

asscraks
asscraks

Car simulations can drift you just need to know how and then master it :)

killakomando
killakomando

Where in the !@#$ is most wanted 2, or underground 3? Prostreet sucked hard, and now pro street 2? omfg

gnrlstuart
gnrlstuart

so its prostreet done right? you see slightly mad studios are basically simbin, so you know its gonna be good.

shani_boy101
shani_boy101

ehsanlove is right, this is basically a reskinned Prostreet with immersion features.

ehsanlove
ehsanlove

Sorry for this game !!! better name for this game ==> NFS Pro Street 2 :(

smashingpunk007
smashingpunk007

This is a good preview fellas, I think you should have made a point that this game is not being made by the devs of previous NFS. And should have stated the history of the Development team with GTLegends and GTR2 under their belt which are 100% Pure Sims. SHIFT is GTR meets NFS its going to be solid GOLD!!!

Anayalator408
Anayalator408

to mslug8: they already have that in NFS Undercover, its called cops and robbers. Im definetely getting Shift, I'm probly gonna get Nitro and World Online once more info comes out

mslug8
mslug8

hey wotever99, i beat need for speed most wanted, smd it certainly isn't the hardest game ive ever played. Games that are too easy are boring, and games that are too hard are frustrating, its all about getting that balance right. I dont know about nfs shift, but i do think they should make a game like nfs mostwanted with a multiplayer option where you get to be the police cars and capture criminals. And they should make it 4 player on one xbox.

wotever99
wotever99

wtf u dumbasses, nfs most wanted was an absolute piece of shyte it was a waste of time, i can gaurantee that 90% of people that bought this game(espiecialy cos nfs is aimed at kids) will never ever ever get anywhere near the end of the game. it is too hard and you cant escape the police and collect all the bounty, it has potential i must admit but it is just too hard and i am sick of games being too hard, they have difficulty levels and the lowest is always too hard, the lowest(easy) should be easy, kids play alot of games and i cant see how they could ever get far in them. why put all that effort/money into a game that 90% of people will ever see the second half of because they wont be able to get that far. i must also agree with the others that hot pursuit and high stakes were the best. all games these days focus too much on realism, which is cool if its the graphics but the gameplay is just boring and hard, if we want to drive a car realisticly then we can grab our keys and go for a drive. dont get me wrong i like the realistic games, but they shouldnt ALL be realistic games, the key word here is GAMES, they are meant for entertainment, not frustration and anger/boredom. but overall the games these days are pretty awesome, sorry heaps about my winge.

Kris024
Kris024

This looks better than Pro Street which was a poor attempt at closed course racing. It just doesn't seem like NFS. It looks like GRID or Gran Turismo or Forza. This new NFS game is everything that NFS hasn't been before.

abualwa
abualwa

Posted Apr 30, 2009 7:21 pm GMT Maybe it's just me, but does anybody remember the good days of NFS? I'm not talking about Underground or Most Wanted, or any of the recent iterations. I'm talking about the original NFS, 2, 3: Hot Pursuit -- the games that made the franchise famous. I can still remember sitting down at my Windows 98 PC with joystick in hand, playing Outback on NFS2. Or starting up a run through Hometown against my dad on the PS1 version of NFS3. You know what made these games fun? The racing. It was cool to grab an exotic car that I would probably never see in person, pick an over-the-top track of some pre-designed theme, and just duke it out with the AI to see who would make it to the finish line first. It just doesn't exist in most racing games today. They're either packed with cheesy cutscenes and storylines (as if I needed extra motivation to beat the guy next to me on the starting line), or trying to push the standard for realism. Hey, here's a novel idea -- stop worrying about "why the player wants revenge on this particular driver" or "what would the car do if the player brakes a little too abruptly on the S turn at Laguna Seca", and just focus on the fun! Bring back tracks that are fun to race. Bring back the simplicity that made NFS a name worth buying! agree 0 disagree 0 = 0 (select an action below) ______________ Report Abuse To Moderator

abualwa
abualwa

It's good for WII, but for Dead Space - we will see!

abualwa
abualwa

It's good for WII, but for Dead Space - we will see!

mercypoo
mercypoo

Maybe it's just me, but does anybody remember the good days of NFS? I'm not talking about Underground or Most Wanted, or any of the recent iterations. I'm talking about the original NFS, 2, 3: Hot Pursuit -- the games that made the franchise famous. I can still remember sitting down at my Windows 98 PC with joystick in hand, playing Outback on NFS2. Or starting up a run through Hometown against my dad on the PS1 version of NFS3. You know what made these games fun? The racing. It was cool to grab an exotic car that I would probably never see in person, pick an over-the-top track of some pre-designed theme, and just duke it out with the AI to see who would make it to the finish line first. It just doesn't exist in most racing games today. They're either packed with cheesy cutscenes and storylines (as if I needed extra motivation to beat the guy next to me on the starting line), or trying to push the standard for realism. Hey, here's a novel idea -- stop worrying about "why the player wants revenge on this particular driver" or "what would the car do if the player brakes a little too abruptly on the S turn at Laguna Seca", and just focus on the fun! Bring back tracks that are fun to race. Bring back the simplicity that made NFS a name worth buying!

e1337prodigy
e1337prodigy

Sounds like it is going more after Codemasters racing games rather than Forza and Gran Turismo. Still nice to see EA finally making a change to their NFS games as they were getting very repetitive.

davidsivill
davidsivill

I think EA should go back to the underground series. All the games after Underground 2 have been terrible. I want to be able to put 20" rims on a Hummer, put Speakers in the boot, I want REAL bodykits and parts, not that terrible custom moulding thing in the new ones, which means all custom bodykits on cars look almost the same. I want a good proper Car Pimping game. Sort it out EA. Stop pumping out crappy games just for the money. We want a proper game worth the £40/$60 we are paying for them!

fps_d0minat0r
fps_d0minat0r

why cant they just bring back the underground series? nfs underground 2 is the best street racing game ever. WE WANT NEED FOR SPEED UNDERGROUND 3!!!!!

Smoov_B
Smoov_B

Need for Speed needs to find an identity. It's one of the longest running racing games and each time out it seems they try to reinvent themselves. It's focused on realism in the past so trying to take on the sim racers isn't anything new but it's also gone on strange tangents with rally and especially street racing. Personally, I wouldn't mind this new take on realistic driving but they should focus on a theme that distinguishes them from others. The sim world is already too crowded and they all do the same thing. Bring back the hallmark police chases and incorporate the underground customization. Then do realism.

Untouchable_Dra
Untouchable_Dra

why do i get the feeling this is going to be such a s**t game...EA need to get back to making NFS how it was in the old days...I.E. NFS 4 - High Stakes/Road Challenge, NFS Hot Pursuit, NFS Hot Pursuit 2, NFS Most wanted was a sick game too...EA really f**ked up!

SadPSPAddict
SadPSPAddict

Get this right and it will be awesome - can't wait!!

Aero_X360
Aero_X360

I hope this NFS will have the Nissan GTR R35! I love the GTR. Hell,I'm gonna buy one one day.

maawal
maawal

NFS is getting dumber and dumber day by day.....i want illegal street racing back....there are a lot of games in this category and they are damn good.... EA come on....stop acting like such a fool...after NFS MW, every NFS is getting on my nerves...

xtoda7
xtoda7

N4S just keeps pooping out games..perhaps they should take their time,save it up for a couple years then drop something decent - Gran Turismo style

beekayjay
beekayjay

"It's a somewhat risky gamble, it seems, considering that there's a portion of the NFS crowd that will surely expect yet another series of uninspiring races cast between cheesy cutscenes." YES! Gamespot, I'm so glad you called this crowd out! Ballsy but I love it! I am looking forward to Shift, and regardless of what some people might be saying, it was definitely time for a radical change in the NFS franchise.

ellbanks
ellbanks

I miss most wanted....the other titles are ok, but they lack depth and creativity that most wanted offered.

Petercairns
Petercairns

Im was a big fan of nfs but the last fu havnt done the game very much justice, lets hope this is good..

jarlie
jarlie

i dont know guys, i was a fan of pro street but only because i love race games that dont deal with cheezy scenes. The cops i use to like but then it all fell apart when gta came out, if you wanna race cops play gta. Im thinking this game is going to be awesome, a little forza mixed in with nfs, cant go wrong with that.

-Near-
-Near-

You can just restart out of nowhere when sim racing has never been your forte and hope to catch Forza or GT, to me this series is almost dead. It lost terribly to Midnight Club in it's last edition and hasn't been good since Most Wanted/Carbon for some and now they want to challenge the greats? Yet it's still in my heart. I've played and still play NFS, especially Most Wanted with my gf. So if they convince me who knows!

ZedX-14Pilot
ZedX-14Pilot

Crossing fingers hoping this one can get turned around!

QTR69
QTR69

WOOOOOOW GOOOOOOD

BigzyBigz
BigzyBigz

Can you mod your cars in this? both internally and visually? I've been dying for a decent car customization game and i hoped this was the one but it doesnt look like it. But hey any racing developers out there please combine Grid physics, Gran Turismo 4 content and Need for Speed Underground modding for me!

Spybreak
Spybreak

Ah I'll have to see more to sway my original idea of they've forgot what a NFS game is.

pilot_riaz
pilot_riaz

Better graphics yep because the Grid game engine has been enhanced and is now pushing the 360 graphics card to it's limits

nwo22
nwo22

This game looks just like GRiD (probably with better graphics and the same damage engine of Pro street?!?) but im guessing u will need a massive rig to play this on the PC. Lets just wait and see....