Gaming & Technology

'Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed' is a gas

Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed has dazzling graphics that make the tricked-out cars look great.
Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed has dazzling graphics that make the tricked-out cars look great. Photo courtesy Games Press

There's just something entertaining about going 190 mph on the highway or through the city, trying to lose a throng of cops in a high-speed chase.

That seems far more appealing than driving in circles at those speeds. That's largely why, unless you count Mario Kart, I have never been a big fan of simulated-racing games. To keep playing, either you have to be a fan of NASCAR or the developers have to inject the game with enough doodads to get through a bunch of races with some desire to keep playing it.

Long-term playability can be an elusive task for sim racing, but Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed keeps your interest using a good balance between simulation and arcade. And even though you're not being chased by the cops, it works pretty well — even for someone like me.

There's a lot that Slightly Mad Studios did right with Shift 2, the second of its Shift sim-racing franchise. The first thing you will notice is that the game has stunning graphics — from the level of detail applied to all of the vehicles to the way their headlights illuminate the night. Even the roar of the engines in Shift 2 is amazing.

Shift 2 starts with a trial race, and that's a good way to ease into the game. Shift 2 doesn't offer the more than 1,000 cars that Gran Turismo 5 has, but its car selection is solid. There are 145 cars from 37 manufacturers, including BMW, Audi, Mazda and Ford. And the game offers a ridiculous amount of options for customizing them.

Each car has an authentic feel. The Mazda RX8, for example, is a peppy little car that will hold its own against most cars if it's souped up right. And a Porsche hugs corners like, well, I can only imagine it would.

Shift 2's formula for success is similar to that of Need for Speed. You win races, you get money. And then you use that money to trick out your car. In addition to the cash, you can open up other events or tracks.

The game embraces an experience point leveling system that offers rewards in five categories: cash, vinyls, cars, rims and paint. Racing is similar to any other race game being played these days. The left and right trigger buttons function as the brake and gas.

There is a slight learning curve, but the game is simple enough for anyone to jump in. It uses a concept of corner mastering, which is integrated into the heads-up display map and lets you know how well you're doing in handling the corners. That's a good way to pace yourself and improve your racing skills. Oh, and you get more experience for mastering all the corners of a track.

The helmet cam, which bobs around as you hit corners and decelerate, is a pretty cool way to play. And Shift 2 has a good variety of challenges to keep you interested. There are race variants including duel, elimination and time attack.

Electronic Arts' Need for Speed franchise has been successful, but that repeated success didn't translate too well when the company dove into the sim-racing business with its first incarnation of Shift nearly two years ago. This version is not quite as good as the Gran Turismo series, but it is an improvement over the first effort. And it has potential to give games like Turismo a good run in the future.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader