The iTunes app store has consistently had a solid amount of racing games right from day 1. It began with more simple cart racers and has since advanced to full 3d games, with graphics that often times make me forget that I am playing on a portable device. In terms of console racers, Need for Speed has had a rather up and down history, so I was interested to see which side of the spectrum the iPad version would fall on.
NFS Shift falls into the more sim side of racing games, where the goal is stay on the proper racing line and get around the track before your opponents. Generally, these are my favorite racers, with the Forza games being some of my favorite games ever made. Shift does a good job of making the game feel realistic, without necessarily crossing into the Gran Turismo level of sim-ness. It doesn’t feel like you are driving some super powered car that is incapable of crashing, yet, it also doesn’t feel like trying to drive a Ferrari when you are used to driving a Hyundai.
There is essentially 3 modes in Shift; the career, the free race and of course the multiplayer. Within the three modes there a few different types of races. There is the straight up race, where you have to finish a number of laps faster then everyone else, the drift mode, where you score points for sliding around corners and the one on one battle, where you have to get a certain distance between you and your opponent within a set number of laps. There are special modifiers to the races such as aggression, where you want to take out your opponents, precision and racing line, where the goal is to stay on the line as much as possible to rack up points. All of these modes are available in the online multiplayer, so there is plenty of ways to race with your friends.
For me, the bread and butter of any racing game is the career mode. Shift does a pretty good job of delivering, even though it is a little bit on the linear side. Basically, you compete in a whole bunch of races in various locations to earn money and experience. As you level up you unlock new cars for purchase from the garage. You can trade in your old car towards the purchase of a new one, or save up enough to buy it outright. The trade in system is kind of flawed because it just asks if you would like to trade in your car, but it doesn’t tell you how much you will receive for it. It would be nice to know how much I am going to have left over after the trade, so I know if I am going to have enough to upgrade my new car once I get it. Of course, the career mode sees you playing through all the different race types as you progress, so there is a good amount of variety.
Playing races in the career mode earns you stars, and you can’t progress to the next stage until you earn a certain number or stars. You earn 3 stars for a first place finish, 2 for a second place finish, and so on. You also earn bonus stars for getting a high enough score and other parameters, depending on the level. It’s a well implemented system, but as I said before, it is very linear, so you don’t really have any choice in what race you want to do next.
There is a great deal of cars in the game, and they are all real licensed cars. They also look incredible, so when you hop into a Lancer Evolution, it looks like a real life Lancer Evolution. Of course, you don’t want to race a stock car, so there are upgrades to spend your money on. The upgrade system is very streamlined, so if you are a gear head, you might find it disappointing. Basically, you just choose a category such as top speed and level it up to different tiers. It would be nice to be able to choose different specific parts, but I’m not a huge car guy, so this really isn’t a big deal for me.
The actually racing feel really good. When you start the game it will ask what level of difficulty you want, and this determines the level of assists in the controls. You can opt for rookie, which gives you auto accelerate, and braking assist or advanced, which forces you to do a little more yourself or the hardest, which leaves everything up to you. The steering is all accelerometer based, and it is very accurate. You can adjust how sensitive it is based on much you want to have to tilt the device to make steering happen. Overall, it’s a very well implemented control method that makes driving feel very natural.
The visuals are off the charts beautiful. If you want a pretty looking iPad game to show your friends the this is one to look for. The car models are among the best I have seen on any portable device. The tracks and backgrounds also look amazing, but most of them do feel a little closed in. The menus look clean and are easy to navigate. Going into your garage and swiping the camera around to look at the fine details of your cars really let’s you get a feel for how much work was put into making the cars look super authentic.
The racing sounds are also superb. The cars sound like real cars and it really immerses you into the experience of driving a high performance race car. Playing with head phones really helps make you feel like you are in the car, but it still sounds great through the iPad speaker. The sound track is good, but it’s not really my taste in music.
Overall, Need for Speed Shift is a really good racer with a lot of variety. The only things that keep it from being perfect are the really linear career mode, and the limited upgrade system. The buying and selling cars could also be better but it’s not really a deal breaker. It looks and sounds incredible and has a ton of game life with all the different race modes and multiplayer. If you are looking for a racing game, I would definitely recommend checking out Shift, because there is a ton of game play for the money.