Need for Speed: Shift doesn't feel like an iPhone game. It feels like a slick, fully realized, high-end console game that is just 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 something you look forward to coming back to--an engrossing experience. If all the cute cartoony animals from the two-stick shooters and $1 diversions that are proliferating in the App Store were chugging down the highway, NFS: Shift would be the roaring Lamborghini that screams past them.
How does Shift create such deep and nuanced gameplay from the iPhone's simple tilt-to-steer controls? You may have thought only casual racing games would use the iPhone's accelerometer feature to simulate a steering wheel, but Shift's cockpit view and precise tilting controls make you feel like you really are behind the wheel. And the controls become even more impressive once you experiment with the game's different cars, which all have different speed and handling properties. For instance, a tier-one Mazda feels noticeably different from a tier-four Lamborghini.
To win races in Shift, you need to drive like a pro, which means you need to know how to race courses more efficiently. But don't worry--Shift bridges the gap between arcade and simulation racers by providing you with a line indicator on the actual track that shows you the ideal way to drive the course. It even rewards you with experience points if you stay on the line. The line indicator glows red at turns to signal that you should hit the brakes by tapping the screen. It sounds easy in theory, but you'll definitely need these skills as the cars get faster and the turns get steeper.
You can also drift your car to victory in special drifting challenges. Drifting occurs when you apply your emergency brake in a turn to slide your car around a bend diagonally. To initiate a drift, you need to pull your device sharply in the direction of the turn. Your goal is to keep the drift going for as long as possible by keeping your car diagonal with the road. If you turn your car perpendicularly, you'll hit the wall, and if you keep it too straight, you'll barely drift at all. In Shift, drifting is a useful skill that's very, very satisfying once you master it.
Otherwise, races in Need for Speed: Shift are highly focused. Everything makes you want to go fast. The aggressive, screaming soundtrack will push you to drive fast and think later. The in-game menus for car selection and upgrades work so easily with the touch screen that you'll find yourself speeding through those as well. And, of course, the cars themselves are built for speed, from the retro Dodge Challenger prototype to the powerful Porsche 911 GT2. You may never want to go back to other arcade-style racers with fictionalized cars again.
Then again, the game offers progression in the form of successive racing levels, gameplay-based achievements, and two different sides with which to align yourself. Are you a precise driver or an aggressive driver? Do you like running other drivers into walls or getting around them without a scratch? Interestingly, the game analyzes how you drive and assigns you to one category.
Need for Speed: Shift is a challenging game, but the challenge is enjoyable and rewarding enough to get you to push through it. The game has some minor issues, such as the nitro button occasionally getting stuck and infrequent frame rate slowdowns that may cause you to miss a turn, but the rest of the game is excellent. It's hard to not get caught up in Need for Speed: Shift's exhilarating pace.
This review was provided by GameSpot mobile content partner SlideToPlay.com.