Shift 2 Unleashed Hands-On - The Feel of the Race

Shift 2 keeps us on the edge of our seats during Microsoft's February Games Showcase

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High-speed auto racing is not a passive experience. When you're flying down the track at speeds well over 100mph, your heart is racing, the tension is building, and all of your senses are keyed up for the slightest hint of danger. And at these speeds, a hint is all you're going to get. Shift 2 Unleashed wants to bottle some of that intensity to help set it apart from the competition. We got the chance to go a few laps around the track ourselves at Microsoft's February Games Showcase.

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Now, if you're like us, you will probably skid into a wall right at the first turn. To help simulate some of the gut-wrenching terror that is involved in a moment such as this, Shift 2 has made several tweaks to the first-person cockpit view. In this case, the glass on our windshield cracked, our vision became blurry and desaturated, and there was a constant ringing in our ears from when our giant hunk of metal slammed into that giant hunk of concrete. This intermittent point of view also played with depth and perspective by slightly bluing out the vehicle's console and drawing our eye to the crisp, clear road ahead.

When we approached a bend or turn in the road, our driver would turn his head automatically and shift his perspective to look into the turn so that we could actually see where we were headed--not unlike how a real driver would act. These little touches are the product of two years of research with actual auto racers to help build a sense of immersion. Before we knew it, we were gripping the controller in a vice, unable to peel our gaze away from the high-speed action onscreen. That is, until we missed another turn.

Driving at night has also been given the same level of attention to more accurately reflect some of the hazards of driving in the dark. For starters, when another racer pulled up right behind us, his headlights would at times catch in our mirrors and shine right in our digital eyes. Thankfully, the driver didn't start flashing his virtual high beams as well. And when one of our lights got knocked out, which was possible because we had damage modeling enabled, our vision became a little one-sided without the use of the other light.

The autolog also makes a return and was integrated both on and off the racetrack. It constantly recorded our lap times, what car we were using, and what objectives we had completed. When we were racing, the best time on our friends list was displayed in the corner of our screen--or it would have been if we had access to the Internet (and if we had any friends). All of the information collected by the autolog could also be compared to other players across numerous regional and global leaderboards.

Completing various races and other challenges also awarded us with experience points. If you earn enough experience, you can start tricking out your car and competing in new events. And even if you don't make it to the podium every time you race, there are still plenty of reasons to finish it out. These mini-objectives award you for everything from staying in the guide line to pulling off an impressive drift. Once you reach the end of the event, you can face that event's boss driver, and should you win, you take possession of his car.

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Shift 2 Unleashed is one for the fans. From what we saw, it has added some fire and intensity to the sometimes-clinical genre of racing simulation while offering up all the tweaking and customization one expects. Gear up for Shift 2 on March 29 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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