SHIFT 2: Unleashed – Review

Title   Shift 2: Unleashed
Developer  Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher  Electronic Arts
Platform  PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows PC
Genre  Racing
Release Date  31 March 2011

There’s what looks like a canyon in the apex as the camera slowly pans across the ground, then up the door of a car to the window where, inside, there’s a driver who’s clearly looking a little worried about something. It’s probably the big crash that’s taken place right in front of him; sparks of light and bits of car debris litter the air, brake discs glow red hot from behind the alloy wheels and the camera pans around the car. Finally the camera pulls out to reveal your car and the others around it coming up the first hill in the dark at Spa, all of you just frozen in a single moment in time, and that’s just the intro to the menu screen. Seriously.

So here you are, welcome to the hub of SHIFT 2: Unleashed. You’ll find all the standard options floating around your Nissan GTR: career, options, garage, online etc as you swish around your car. From the menu alone you can’t help but feel that this game is going to contain that something special that’s been missing from racing sims for the last few years. Don’t be put off by the words “racing” and “sim” next to each other in the same sentence though; while it is what can be considered a core game in a very core genre, it’s still very accessible to gamers of any age or skill level. At the start of your career SHIFT 2 will ask you to complete a hot lap of a circuit on your own and will then assess your driving skill based on how you performed before suggesting settings on things such as brake assist, traction control, vehicle damage and racing line. I’d recommend hitting retry after finishing this the first time around just because it’s bound to set you on numpty mode (or ‘novice’, as the game prefers to call it) as getting used to how the game handles takes an attempt or three. Once you’re happy with that you’ll move on to the next race where the game will do exactly as before, but this time it will assess you against how well you perform with other cars on the track and set your future rivals’ difficulty level. You can change any of these options at a later time, so don’t sulk if the game still says you’re a novice.

With the tests now over, you’re able to purchase yourself a set of wheels and, as you’d expect, you start off with very little in the way of cash so a class D car it is for you. My advice here isn’t to go for the most expensive car you can buy, go for one of the cheapest and tune it up that way you shouldn’t have any problems in winning any of these early races. As you progress through your career you’ll gain access to bigger, better cars, of which there are many, and there’s plenty of time to try them all before deciding on your vehicle of choice. That said, SHIFT 2 doesn’t have a obscene amount of cars like other racing sims but it still contains a large enough collection to keep any car nut happy, as well as a wide range of cars from your dad’s Ford Focus to the not-actually-in-production-yet hyper car, the Pagani Huayra. Basically every road car that any racing game fan would expect to see plus a few they didn’t and, on top of that, a full set of GT series cars that become available near the final steps of your career.

Every racing sim on the market likes to make a fuss out of how accurate everything is, from the car models to the air speed over the rear spoiler to the friction on the tyres at different pressures; lets be honest, it got a little boring when all you wanted to do was race. Thankfully SHIFT 2 just lets you get on with it; pick a car, choose an event, pull right trigger and you’re off… it can be that simple. Although, if you’re the type of racer who likes to fiddle with your tyre pressures, caster angles and visco electronic locks (whatever the hell they are) then you’ll be pleased to hear that you can mess around with over thirty different settings to get your ride so finely tuned that you could drive over an apple on the apex without breaking a sweat.

As for the game’s graphics and car models, I honestly can’t think of a better looking racer and that includes Gran Turismo 5. It’s hard to take in at speed just how good it all looks, but if you pause your game then hit “photo mode” and take a look around outside your car you’ll see cracks in the concrete side barriers, white paint that’s rubbing off the track, imperfections in the tarmac and actual 3D people in the crowds! Granted they look a bit ropey, but I’m glad racing game technology has moved on to a point where we can throw away the virtual cardboard cutout crowd and replace them with mannequins. We really do live in the future.

If you’re anything like me, then most of your time in SHIFT 2 will be spent using the excellent helmet cam, which is the perfect evolution of the bog standard (and also an option) cockpit view. Rather than have the camera fixed inside the car with a pair of arms twitching about on the wheel, you’re treated to a driver’s eye view from (as the name suggests) inside the helmet; you’ll notice the very subtle framing of your view with the padding of the inside of the helmet, and when I say subtle I mean subtle; it must have taken me a good four or five hours before I even noticed it was there. For me, helmet cam is what really makes this game; I love the way the driver’s head moves just slightly in the direction of the next corner, tugs forward when you slam on the brakes and gets planted in the back of the headrest when you hammer down on the accelerator. It’s a very immersive experience and I found myself using it as my default view for every race event, whereas with other racing games I’d normally be found using the third person behind-the-car aspect.

While the helmet cam feature is what makes Shift 2 stand out above a lot of the other racers out there, for some it could actually be its biggest problem. Should you not be lucky enough to have a reasonably large TV, you might find your view of the road a little limited as a fair portion of the screen is taken up with the interior of the car and, as you upgrade your car and eventually move on to the faster GT racing cars, you’ll start to find that you can see even less of the road thanks to their tiny windows and roll cages obscuring the view. The helmet cam is, admittedly, incredibly realistic with regards to what you see from the driver’s point of view, but from a gamer’s point of view it can get frustrating, especially during some of the night races where you can’t see a bloody thing. Eventually, through sheer frustration at missing turns or not seeing other cars around you, it may push you to the outside third person view and it’s at this point where it all goes to shit.

You see, in helmet cam or even the fixed cockpit view, all the cars feel right; the Aston Martins are graceful around the corners and remain refined without having crazy fast acceleration or wanting to constantly turn themselves inside out at every opportunity like the Dodge Vipers do. Each and every car has its own feel to it, so you don’t need to worry about not being able to find a car that you really enjoy driving. The driving experience from outside the car, however, is a very different one and it feels as though your car turns on some invisible point at its centre and it just looks disconnected from the road at times, it can make cornering and finding your line a real pain in the arse and will often lead to a swear inducing spin across a gravel trap. All that said though, it’s only a problem if you need or prefer to venture outside the car. I did, however, find that using the helmet cam in drift events was so tricky that I had to shift position to outside the car, and drifting in third person was actually a hell of a lot easier.

Events wise, you’re spoiled for choice with SHIFT 2 and as you level up you’ll be granted access to higher class events – night races, drift events, time trials, championships, boss battles against real life professional racers, classic car racing and new vs old to name just a few, right up to a full GT1 season (which you could argue is a full game’s worth racing on its own). The action takes place on fictional tracks like the streets of London and Shanghai as well as real life courses such as Silverstone and Dubai. While you might not like every event the game has to offer, there are so many to choose from that it won’t really be an issue.

None of the events are required to progress to the next stage of races and are instead unlocked by your driver level, which is determined by experience points that you’ll earn across the game. This experience is earned in a number of ways; you’ll get bonuses for things like clean overtaking, sticking to the racing line, winning races etc but you will also earn extra points for mastering a track and performing to set criteria listed at the start of every event. These are normally things like completing a lap in under 1:10 and performing a clean lap; they make for an enjoyable meta game and give the perfectionists out there an extra little challenge if they want it. There are twenty levels in total and you’ll need to hit this magic number to gain access to all of the game’s events, which may seem like a daunting task at first but I’d have thought that most players would have hit level twenty by the time they hit the twenty-five or maybe thirty percent career completion stat. You really can play it your way though, and your driver level isn’t just based on experience you earn in the career mode, it also gets counted during online play.

Regardless of your gaming platform, the online mode offers a wealth of options from the rather standard races to a frankly brilliant mode called Driver Duel Championship, in which you compete in a series of events against random drivers (both in the same car). If you win, you’ll move on to the next round to race against another driver who also passed his last round and this, in theory, will go on for a total of six rounds before you are crowned the champion. If you drive like me though you’ll keep reaching the quarter finals, have your arse handed to you, and end up knocked out of the championship. Catchup Duel and Catchup Pack are both pretty similar to the cat and mouse mode that appeared in Project Gotham Racing 4 and involve the leader (or leaders) starting in a lower class car like a Volkswagen Golf and the player who needs to catch up in something like a Nissan GTR or a Lamborghini. Should the lower class car reach the end in first position, it wins, and if the more powerful car overtakes then they win; it’s good fun with a bunch of mates and can be a welcome break from the serious racing.

Bizarrely, an eliminator type event was missing from the online mode yet appears in the main career game, and the same goes for anything resembling a drift event, which seemed like an odd omission. Overall, however, online play can be a lot of fun and I can’t say that I experienced any kind of lag during a race or the type of connection problems that can destroy a racing game (or any, I suppose). I do have a bone to pick with the online play though, and that’s that you can’t invite your friends into a ranked game, and there’s no kind of party system that keeps you all together as you jump in and out of different lobbies for the unranked games. Sounds daft, I know, but when you are used to it with every other type of game you play, fannying about with your xbox live friends list trying to keep everyone together is a bit of a pain.

  • Simply gorgeous graphics and attention to detail.
  • Accessible for the most casual of players right up to the Top Gear repeat watching crazies
  • The helmet cam is spot on
  • Massive choice of cars, tracks and event types
  • Autolog returns from Hot Pursuit and has some added depth.
  • Racing at night on the tight city tracks will make you want to twist your pad in half
  • Something unnatural about the third person view
  • At times the A.I. drives like a prick
  • The man who shouts at you at the start of every race gets a little annoying
  • No rewind time button

SHIFT 2 Unleashed is a bloody good game, I know I've moaned about a few little things but that's all they are - little. I won't lie to you though, parts of this game will frustrate the hell out of you but it's ultimately forgiveable because SHIFT 2 is big enough that you can skip straight past the bits you don't like and just pick and choose between the events that you do enjoy. If you’re more of a Split Second, Blur or Hot Pursuit kind of gamer then I think you'll also enjoy SHIFT 2, but it's not as forgiving as what you’re used to so be prepared for a learning curve and to be punished for errors. If you’re the kind of gamer who enjoys games like Forza, Gran Turisimo and GRID then I'd have no hesitation in recommending this game to you; it's a good challenge, fun, and my god is it fast. It's a shame they decided to drop the words "Need for Speed" from the box because it's the game that the Underground-tarnished name needed to put it back up on top of the podium.

Last five articles by Lee



  1. Ben Ben says:

    As much as I want to like it me and more realistic racers just don’t mix it’s either full arcade or I end up spending my entirety driving around grinding alongside the tyre wall =/

    Helmet cam is interesting and I’m curious to see where the auto log goes from here.

  2. Dom DomPeppiatt says:

    From what I played at Silverstone, this game seems very good. As I’m not really a fan of racers, I don’t know if i’d pick this up yet. Maybe when it comes down a bit in price, but I’m not sure. Still it plays well – more like a sim than a game, though, I think.

    Good review Lee; balanced, clear-eyed and well observed.

  3. Edward Edward says:

    Great review, Lee :)
    I wasn’t sure about the game but the annoying thing is you’ve made me think about it, and I’m not big on Sim racers at all. Having to brake is for pussies!

  4. Pete Pete says:

    I’m still kinda intrigued by the game, and may get hold of it at some point, but my driving style in games means I’m shit at these more full on racing sims! The original Shift game confused me because I’d been used to NFS Underground and Carbon! I didn’t know it was a proper sim lol

    All good though! Think by the time I get there I won’t know anyone left playing it online lol

  5. Samuel Samuel says:

    Guh. I love the way you make this game sound, but I’ve just been burnt too many times by the Need for Speed franchise in the past. I only gave Hot Pursuit a punt because it was made by the Burnout team and I enjoyed the demo. Apart from Hot Pursuit the last good NfS game in my opinion was Porsche Unleashed, and that game is bloody ancient.

    I’m not going to jump for Shift 2 yet, I’m just too leery of the franchise. Maybe when it comes down in price, significantly down in price, I’ll give it another look. Or maybe if they put out a demo on Live that impresses me.

    Good review though mate. You very nearly made me buy the thing, which sounds like a backhanded compliment but really it’s impressive considering the massive resistance I have to NfS games these days. I just don’t trust them the way I do the Forza series.

  6. Adam says:

    Besides my play of the game at the Guardian event and a few press pieces I picked up on I really wasn’t clear on just how big the game was. Now I’ve (finally) read this I’m more inclined to make more time for it :)

    I like just how much value for money you get with it, throwing in plenty of different events, styles and modes but it does seem a shame that the game can’t emulate a MP friends lobby, something they can do in HP but not their other franchise though.

    Bitchin review though :)

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    Enjoyed the review, but this one isn’t really for me. As a rule, I’ve avoided racing games in the past as they don’t float my boat, but Burnout Paradise actually yanked me in. As far as sims go though, as stunning as this one looks and sounds, I don’t think it suits my play style (crashing a lot and dicking around, exploring, etc). Also heard that Auto Log isn’t as good with this title as it was with NFS: HP?

  8. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I hate track racing. I know, I know… it’s possibly NO different from driving around streets or some beautiful mountainside but, for me, it’s the ambience that makes the driving game more accessible and I can’t be arsed looking at crowds or concrete walls the entire time. I want vistas. I want waterfalls, undulating roads that snake around mountains… I just hate track racing.

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