I’ve been meaning to write a post about Need For Speed: Shift all week, but I never find the time and stamina to write everything I have to say about it. So I’ve decided to break it up across several posts. Today I just want to give an overview of the game.
Need for Speed was born on the 3D0 system 15 years ago. It was one of the best racing games I remember for that platform. (The best? Road Rash…when is EA bringing that one back!?) Since then, the series has definitely had its ups and downs, but the last few years the franchise seems to have stumbled a bit.
This year EA decided to try something new. They’re doing two different Need For Speed games with different emphases and seeing which one sticks. Need For Speed: Nitro is their upcoming arcade racer for the Nintendo Wii and DS. Need For Speed: Shift is their “sim” game, out on PS3 & XBox 360. I’m playing the PS3 version.
When I say Shift is a “sim” I mean that relatively. It’s much closer to a simulation than previous Need For Speed games have been, but it isn’t as densely realistic as a Gran Turismo or a Forza Motorsport. In some ways, this ‘middle ground’ is a dangerous place for Shift to inhabit. Arcade racing fans will find it inaccessible and sim fans will find it too fluffy. Logic suggests that there are gamers looking for something in-between the two extremes, but getting them interested in Shift is going to be a challenge for EA.
Shift has a strong CaRPG factor going on. The basic structure of the “Career Mode” is that you have to progress through 4 Racing Tiers before you access the Need For Speed Championship. You progress through Tiers by accumulating Stars. Every race has a fixed number of possible Stars that you can earn. Generally you can earn 3 Stars for podium placement (3 for coming in 1st, 2 for coming in 2nd, 1 for coming in 3rd), 2 Stars for hitting points thresholds (more about points in a moment) and 1 Star for gaining some special objective, which varies from race to race. It might be hitting a specific top speed, or holding the proper racing line for a fixed distance, or even spinning out other racers.
You can participate in each race as often as you want, but you can only earn each Star once. You can earn cash and points over and over again in a given race. Cash is spent on purchasing upgrade parts and new cars.
Now let’s talk about Points. In addition to the Tier you’re racing in, you have a Driver Level, which caps out at 50. Every time you race you’ll earn points. You can earn 2 kinds of points: Precision and Aggression points. Precision points come from holding a racing line, coming off the starting line perfectly, clean overtakes and things of that nature. Aggression points come from bumping other cars off the road, drafting (drafting is aggressive?) and ‘dirty’ overtakes, where you scrape the sides of another car.
At the end of a race, both kinds of points are added to your accumulated total, and if you’ve hit a pre-set threshold, you’ll level up your driver level (basically these points are exp in RPG terms). While both kinds of points go into the same pool, you’ll be tagged as an Aggressive or Precision driver based on which kind of points you’re getting more of.
As you level up your Driver Level, you’ll earn cash prizes, garage slots (allowing you to own more cars) and invitations to special events.
So you’ve got Stars to earn to gain access to higher Tiers, cash to earn to buy cars and parts with, and Points to earn to level up your Driver Level. And yet there’s more! There’re in-game Badges to earn, too. All kinds of them. Badges for driving 10 miles in a Japanese car. For overtaking 25 cars. For trading paint with 100 cars. Etc, etc. Badges come in Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum (I think?) varieties, but you only seem to earn the Bronze ones. So if you earn 5 Bronze Badges for Trading Paint, they’ll get upgraded to a Silver Trading Paint Badge. Five Silver will be traded for a Gold, and so on. At least, I think that’s what’s going on.
As far as I can tell, these Badges are just for bragging rights (and aren’t directly connected to PSN Trophies or XBL Gamerscore).
Need For Speed: Shift ties in with your EA Account, and every player can have a page of his or her own at needforspeed.com. Here’s mine.
Point is, if you’re a progression fan like I am, Need For Speed:Shift will constantly scratch your itch. Even if you totally screw up a race, you’ll wind up finishing just to get the points and some cash. You gain *something* in just about every race, which makes the game pretty compelling for an old RPGer like me.
To give you an idea of how much I’ve played so far, I’ve done 90 races (I only know that from my NFS page). I believe my driver level is 16, and I’ve unlocked Tiers 2 & 3, though I haven’t done any Tier 3 races yet. I was a completionist in Tier 1 and got every Star. Tier 2 is much more challenging, so far.
I think that’s enough for Part 1 (ie, my lunch hour is over!). Next time I’ll talk about the types of races on offer and start looking at the good and bad aspects of Shift.