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Rich McCormick

Mar 29, 2011

Shift 2: Unleashed

I am in favour of the RPG-ification of all things. I want points for successfully waking up in the morning, points for getting my legs through the right holes in my trousers, points for not falling over and voiding my bowels on the way to work. Shift 2 has the right idea: it gives me points for everything.

I overtake another car and the invisible car god of the sky gives me 20 points. I stymie a rival's progression through the pack by weaving my multi-thousand dollar machine in front of his, and he gifts me another ten. All points from my benevolent driving lord go toward Shift 2's career mode, and fuel a healthy and compulsive unlock schedule that makes me want to swear undying fealty to my new car god and kill all unbelievers.

A second later I was rammed off the road.

Points spill forth from all Shift 2's orifices. Winning races or getting the fastest lap on a time attack session will typically give the largest rewards, but they don't satisfy quite like the mid-race prizes. On default settings, Shift 2's tracks are lit up by a racing line of green chevrons: follow them perfectly and you'll tot up XP. Each course has mini achievements – leading for a lap, or following the line through every corner – and the points-haul is chunky.

Connecting solidly with the racing line and sticking to it adds an extra frisson to an already tense game, but the wayward handling model makes the process more complicated than it needs to be. Shift 2's default camera mode is in the racer's helmet. Slightly Mad studios have artfully recreated the sense of climbing into a turbocharged tin can and getting knocked about so hard your vision swims, but in doing so, it feels like they've tied Shift 2's cars too closely to your on-screen hand movements.

The in-helmet view makes for a juddery ride

Let's take turning left as an example. On a Xbox 360 pad (and for the love of new magic sky god, do not attempt to play with a keyboard - controller or wheel only), pushing the stick slowly to the left has one of two outcomes: a yank on the wheel that realigns your car at least ten degrees, or nothing at all. As an experience, the helmet cam is breathtaking – being close to the tarmac with the noise and speed feels properly dangerous. But to win races, I had to switch to the behind-the-car camera, or suffer as my guesses about the way my car was facing were proved wrong. Mastering a race from further out, Shift 2's all-or-nothing handling can be studied, judged, and reasoned with. Car type and quality make a huge difference, necessitating some minor grinding. I was having problems finishing on the podium in one of the game's early C-class races, using a cheapo front-wheel drive Nissan. Much swearing later, I hocked it and used some extra cash to pick up a four-wheel drive Impreza, adding a few technical-sounding tweaks from the garage along the way. Popping back into the same race, I slipped my competitors on the first corner and giggled all the way to the top spot.

Shift 2's sheer weight of stuff – from mud-ring circuits in a VW Golf to Bugatti duels at the Nurburgring – gives it a deep bag of appeal. There's an array of fiddly details for car geeks to poke at, and a range of control-difficulty settings that allow you to tailor races to your ability. The only downside to such a complete package is that it demands so many hours of acclimatisation before the cars start to make sense

Shift 2: Unleashed

A bucket of road racing’s best bits. Stick your hand in and you’ll pull out something fun, if you can handle the handling.

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