A look at Need For Speed: Shift – Part 3

In part 1 of this series, we looked at the progression aspects of Need For Speed: Shift. In part 2 we looked at the actual races. Today we’ll talk about controls and try to finish things up.

The truth is, Need For Speed: Shift did not make a good first impression on me. I started the game, jumped into career mode, started playing from my habitual behind and above the car view, and spun out all over the place for a few laps. Honestly if this had been a rental I would’ve returned it right there. Let me help you avoid this bad first experience.

First of all, play from the in-car view. It makes the game orders of magnitude more interesting (which is not to say easier, but more interesting). When you’re outside the car, the camera feels like it is bolted onto an invisible arm coming off the car. This makes everything feel stiff, and makes the car feel like it is pivoting around a central axis rather than turning.

The interior view doesn’t feel bolted on (whereas it does in most racing games). Your view will shift slightly as you drive. Slam on the breaks and the view will move forward a bit. Hit the accelerator and it moves back. It’s subtle, but it makes a lot of difference in the ‘feel’ of the game. When using the in-car view the game feels alive and real. From outside it feels like you’re steering a Matchbox car around the track.

Second, tweak the controls. The devs have done a great job of letting us adjust game controls to suit our needs. However the defaults felt awful to me; I was constantly over-steering.

To tweak the controls, hit Options from the Main Menu, then Gameplay, then Adjust Control down at the bottom. The options & their default settings are:

Steering Dead Zone: 29%
Accelerator Dead Zone: 10%
Break Dead Zone: 10%
Steering Sensitivity: 16%
Acceleration Sensitivity: 50%
Breaking Sensitivity: 50%
Speed Steering Sensitivity: 100%

Even after all the time I’ve been playing, I continue to tweak the controls, but the defaults had me way over-steering thanks to a too large dead zone and too sensitive steering. So I’d push the stick, nothing would happen, then too much would happen. Ditto acceleration: I was constantly over-accelerating coming out of corners and breaking the wheels free (btw I’m playing using a standard DualShock 3 controller).

My current setup is:

Steering Dead Zone: 12%
Accelerator Dead Zone: 10%
Break Dead Zone: 10%
Steering Sensitivity: 10%
Acceleration Sensitivity: 30%
Breaking Sensitivity: 50%
Speed Steering Sensitivity: 80%

This is another place where the in-car view helps. I’ve learned to watch the steering wheel rather than think about how far I’m pushing the stick.

Here’s a tip: there’s no “Practice Track” to learn the controls on. But you can fake it easily enough. Pick the Quick Race option, then set the number of opponents to zero and the number of laps as high as you like. Then you can practice driving with your tweaked controls without the outside influence of other racers bumping you off the track. Weirdly, you’ll even earn prize money for coming in first this way.

Third: learn to accept that this isn’t real life. The physics here are…otherworldly in some ways. Smash into another car and 9 times out of 10 you’ll wind up going *under* that car, with it flipping up and over your car. Also these cars handle worse at low speeds than real life cars do. You can spin out taking a banked turn at 40-50 MPH pretty easily: turns that you could probably take easily in whatever is sitting out in your driveway right now. You have to learn the rules of physics in this game if you’re going to get the most enjoyment out of it.

Pop-up cars:
popupcars
Once you get the controls dialed in and get used to the physics, Need For Speed: Shift can be a very rewarding game.

Let’s wrap this series up with a look at some pros and cons. On the negative side, two things stand out. First, load times are long, even with a mandatory installation on the PS3 version. Ditto save times. The game saves after every race and you’ll spend too much time watching that Saving icon float in the middle of your screen.

Second, the replay system has one crucial flaw. There’s no good “TV view” (as I call it). No good camera setting that shows the race from a removed 3rd person view. You’ll want to watch the replay of some races to see what you did wrong, and theres no good way to do that consistently. There’s a cinematic camera that includes *some* good angles, but it also includes way, way too many “cool” shots of the front of your car from a foot in front of it, or a camera point of view right beside a tire, or something equally pointless. There’s also no way to connect the view to a car other than yours.

So please, for Need For Speed: Shift 2, cut loading and saving times, and give us a full-feature replay ability.

On the positive side. other than the basic fact that the game is fun and rewarding, there’s some neat extra features. You can take a screenshot from the replay feature and upload it directly to your NeedForSpeed.com page (the images in these articles are all taken via that feature). This is one thing the replay system does well (but a video clip would be even nicer!).

Second, this game has the best ‘death penalty’ (my MMO roots are showing) of any racing game I’ve played. When you crash badly, your vision dims or goes all blurry for a few seconds, making a second crash pretty damned likely if you’re still moving at speed. Plus even with damage turned to visual only, if you’re playing from inside the car, the windshield will crack, obscuring your view and making the rest of the race a real challenge. I love this ‘crash vision’ idea and hope other racing game devs borrow it.

Crash-vision:
crashvision

And cracked windshield:
crackedwindscreen

So should you buy Need For Speed: Shift? Hard to say. If you’re a PS3 owner, you don’t have a lot of options right now. Blur has been delayed to 2010, Gran Turismo 5 is still a ways off — if you’re hungry for a road racing game, NFS: Shift is probably a safe bet. For 360 owners, you’ve got Forza a few weeks away, so for you I think Shift is a much tougher sell. Forza is a bit more hard-core than Shift is, but you can tone that down by turning on various helper functions.

Again I should stress you shouldn’t take any of this as a definitive review: I haven’t ‘completed’ the game yet. I’m racing in Tier 3 (of 5) at driver level 20 (of 50) and have 135 or so races under my belt. I’m really enjoying myself, but the game could totally implode at Tier 5 and I wouldn’t know. But hopefully this series of posts will at least give you some idea of what you’re getting into if you consider purchasing Need For Speed:Shift.

Honest, I had nothing to do with this. I barely tapped him!
turtle

5 thoughts on “A look at Need For Speed: Shift – Part 3

  1. I tried to enjoy Forza 2 recently. I tried to enjoy Gran Turismo 1 through 3 on the PS1 and PS2. I just can’t do it. I’m just not a racing sim kinda guy. I want to mix it up, not just stay on the tracks like a good little boy. I played one of the Need For Speeds somewhere, probably on the PS2, but obviously since I can barely remember that it didn’t make the greatest impression either.

    Might be embarrassing to admit but the absolute most fun I ever had in any racing game of any type EVER was Monster Truck Madness back in the day. MTM2 as well, but the first one, whoah that was something else! There was a dedicated community making brand new tracks but the great thing about the game was you’re racing monster trucks — you’re SUPPOSED to go off the tracks! Usually there were some hidden shortcuts or secret routes built into the tracks, otherwise you could just try to navigate the terrain on your own. All the bouncing offroad, the jumps and stunts… so many “oh my gawd, that’ll never happen again” type of unique moments that I just don’t see in normal racing games.

    However I’ll say that if I was still a kid, this looks like a damn sweet setup… But as an adult? No way am I having that contraption taking up space in my home! LOL

    Did you ever try Test Drive Unlimited? It’s like 3 years old now, but it’s the only game of its kind. They call it a Massively Open Online Racing (MOOR) game. I’m guessing it has a persistant (ish?) world and you just play and other people are there doing their thing (or griefing you… grr…) at the same time.

  2. Monster Truck Madness! Wow, I haven’t thought of that game in a while. Wasn’t that the one that had a giant soccer field and you played by ramming your truck into a giant soccer ball?

    I do have Test Drive Unlimited, in fact. It didn’t have the greatest graphics but was fun. You’d see other players driving around and if you go near one you could challenge them to a race. The challenged party, if I’m remembering right, got to determine the course for the race.

    It was apparently an accurate representation of one of the Hawaiian Islands, which was kind of cool. Like if I played enough I could go to Hawaii (or at least, 1 island of Hawaii) and find my way around. 🙂

    I do like that Shift almost encourages ‘bumping’ other cars off the road, and if you cut a corner it means you can’t set a lap time record, but you can still win. I think if you cut 3 corners you get disqualified. But at least you can mix it up a bit, while not being a complete arcade game, if you know what I mean.

  3. NFS Carbon had a significant “freeform” feel to it, considering it was effectively “NFS: Midnight Club”. I’m more of a Mario Kart/Burnout kind of guy, but Carbon really was fun for having a bit more plausible physics. (Nowhere near a real sim, but certainly more “tangible” than the arcadey games I typically play.)

    Those control tuning settings look like something I’ve wanted in *every* racing game. Now I’m jealous. 🙂 (The crash effects look pretty awesome, too. Very cool ideas.)

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