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Shift 2 Unleashed

Shift 2 Unleashed Review

Recently we were able to attend a community day in Guildford UK and played Slightly Mad Studios' Shift 2 Unleashed!



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Graphics

As you will notice very quickly, Shift 2 Unleashed is using the graphics engine of its predecessor, which caught us with its high detail level (especially on the cars), amazing sense of speed and beautifully modeled cockpits two years ago and is in still on par with its competitors. Accordingly you have to pay close attention to find differences and enhancements of the engine. As of now, you will notice the dust and dirt raised by cars running ahead or splatter effects caused by dead insects to be smashed on your windscreen.

The improved lighting effects or also eye-catching: racing in the dawn, one is virtually blinded by the low sun, especially when going uphill on new tracks like Bathurst, causing a partially very poor visibility of the road.

Night Racing

But even without the sun it doesn't get easier. During night racing, one of the new features of the game, you will get to know the race tracks from a new totally new perspective. The ambience is, depending on the scenery, pitch-black apart from a couple of sparely positioned light sources. Objects at the side of the track are – if at all – remotely perceivable, and most of the time you will recognize your car just by its taillights or illuminated gauges. The rest of the screen is plainly black, creating a very sinister and threatening atmosphere, particularly when you get targeted by your pursuers' headlights and are hunted into the darkness. Only the light cones of your own front lamps let you sense the upcoming routing, but especially with the race line indicator turned off they don't suffice to master more difficult tracks like the Nordschleife at high speeds. You will definitely need perfect knowledge of the track and a lot of exercise in order to do that.

Helmkamera

For those of you who aren't challenged enough by the night races themselves, you might want to try the new helmet camera. In principle based on the well-known cockpit perspective, an additional shape of a helmet is rendered at the edges of the screen and the position of the camera is adjusted according to the driver's position in the car. Additionally the head movement is simulated – approaching a corner the camera is automatically turning towards the apex and tilting to counter the centrifugal forces – just like "real" race car drivers would do it.

Although this sounds pretty useful in theory, it is rather irritating: when you approach a corner in a straight line, the camera starts rotating towards the corner making you feel the car is already turning in. Because of the fact that the camera is pointing rather stiff to the apex, there is almost no feedback about how far the wheels have actually turned, likely causing an impact into the guard railings on city tracks.

Using the standard cockpit view, you can choose to look at the apex on your own, but here you are rather forced to look at where the game wants you to – admittedly, the camera movement feels very realistic but requires a lot of familiarization. In any case, the helmet cam feels the most helpful in drift mode where it's automatically orientated towards the driving direction making the in-car perspective finally "driftable".

Physics / Damage Model

Still not difficult enough? Then you might be looking forward to test Shift 2 Unleashed's brand new physics engine. With it the game does another step towards realism and gets closer to its main competitors Forza Motorsport 3 and Gran Turismo 5, especially when the new elite handling mode is enabled.

Veterans from Shift 1 will also notice that the sliding of the cars was distinctly reduced. In general, the driving physics feels very well implemented since differences between car layouts are apparent and perceivable through the game. In particular, mastering the higher-performance cars (partially mobilizing over 1000 hp) is pretty difficult, even with activated driving assists, and challenging enough even for experienced simulation gamers.

Needless to say, the damage model has impact on the driving physics as well. Flying car parts is something we are already used to from the predecessor, but this time they are even accompanied by ripped off wheels. Since driving on brake discs doesn't work that well, you can put your tires back on by pressing the reset button. Additionally, tire wear is also simulated – unfortunately you cannot pit stop in the game, so your tires always degrade proportionally to the race length (the longer a race, the slower the wear). Barrel rolls are another new, very spectacular "feature": if you get off the track sideways, your car starts tilting very quickly, and especially at high speeds a flip can't be avoided anymore.

A further possibility to wreck your car is to blow your engine – just keep the RPM at a critical speed for some time and your race is over. Sadly this is only indicated by a rather dry and unimpressive on-screen message saying "Engine blown".

Career

Your career path is pretty standard, you will start with comparatively slow cars like a Honda Civic which can be further upgraded after each race. By and by, you will unlock more events, leagues and up to 100 cars until you make it to the final FIA GT1 series. With each step on the career ladder another "boss" is introduced, most of the time a driver from Team Need for Speed, such as Chris Rado or Mad Mike Whiddett. Beating those guys will get you their drive, but apart from that there is no storyline in the game.

Additionally you get accompanied by the reigning Formula D champion Vaughn Gittin Jr through your whole career. In tons of videos he is introducing you to new events or race modes and keeps you motivated over radio at start and end of each race. Admittedly this gets pretty annoying in the long run – in particular, when you start the drift mode for the first time, a lot of intros and training videos are played that can't be aborted.

If racing just one rival at a time is too boring for you, you can battle up to 15 CPU controlled cars on the track. Apparently the AI was also improved. While trying to achieve fast lap times, it isn't strictly following the race line and even doing some driving mistakes at times.
As long as you don't provoke a rival (e.g. by knocking its rear bumper), he is acting fair and attempting to avoid collisions. This feels enjoyably realistic.

However, the AI drivers are able to adjust very rapidly to the player's skill level: Even on the lower difficulty settings, you are only able to win two up to three consecutive races. By then, your competitors have adapted insofar as your next podium finish will require hard work. Furthermore, the collision system is clearly designed to the disadvantage of an initiator. After a heavy impact, the bad guy is very likely to fly off the track just as the innocent one.

Especially in multiplayer races it can be very satisfying to see the rowdy getting even more stuck in the gravel pit than oneself. For this reason brake-check maneuvers are anything but promising in this case. Beyond that, aggressive players get grouped amongst each other via a new matchmaking system and by that, they will be split from rather reasonable drivers.

Besides, Shift 2 Unleashed includes the Autolog functionality already known from Hot Pursuit. Anyways, it feels better integrated here, for example, in addition to the familiar recommendations, the lap times of your friends, people in your region and worldwide standings are shown in every loading screen.

Game modes

The game features the following race modes: lap/time eliminator, driver duel, standard races, time attack and drift. Additionally there is "old vs. new" which is pretty similar to manufacturer duels but all about "vintage model vs. current one" and Catchup Pack as well as Catchup Duel. In these modes, one player is driving a way superior car and has to overtake all (or respectively just the one) rivals ahead. For fairness, the latter ones get a head start which the pursuer has to catch up first. In practice, those modes felt rather half-baked since the head start advantage of the hunted was oversized in most cases or their cars were just too strong, respectively.

Tuning / Replays

The game gains additional depth through the enhanced tuning possibilities. On the one hand there are simply more tuning options (that are explained in more detail) to tune your car according to the track conditions. Moreover, multiple settings can be saved concurrently which means you can create and load an individual setup for each track. On the other hand it is possible to modify your car on the fly during a race. Together with a new telemetry HUD you can directly determine the impact of the changes without having to leave the race track back to the main menu.

The pause menu also allows you easy access to the replay mode. This way the last couple of minutes of the race are always available. Additional features here are a save and upload to YouTube function.

Conclusion

Shift 2 Unleashed is the forceful, further development of its predecessor. There is almost no item where the game wasn't enhanced. However, don't expect any outstanding innovations – the game is rather an evolution of Shift 1. Some apparent flaws, which Shift 1 already got criticized for, like no dynamic daylight change, weather effects or pit stops haven't been addressed and stand out negatively. All in all, Shift 2 Unleashed feels more realistic, but less accessible for simulation rookies as well, and gets closer to its established competition, namely Forza Motorsport 3 and Gran Turismo 5. The latter ones might be more substantial as to content (but that's nothing a DLC can't repair) and more realistic, but in terms of driving experience and presentation, Shift 2 remains unbeaten and particularly on PC, it is almost unrivaled. Although it might be no quantum leap compared to its predecessor, Shift 2 Unleashed received improvements in virtually every aspect and has what it takes to compete with its rivals and put its own stamp on the racing game genre.

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- Junkie



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