Shift 2 doesn’t care about how you feel. Spun out on the last corner? Not cornering quite right? Smashed into the car in front? You lose, friend. If you can’t keep up and adapt with the race then it will chew you up, spit you out, and laugh as you curl into the foetal position clutching a copy of Mario Kart, while sobbing quietly.
This is a long way from the old Need for Speed games. The original arcade style is long gone, the neon lights and spoilers of Underground are put to one side - Shift 2 is a continuation of the not-super-serious racing sim (more GRID than iRacing). Authenticity is key, with a keen eye on track discipline and a combination of the art and science of driving cars very fast around a track.
The career mode is where you spend most of your time. It starts by shoving you into a Nissan GTR and asking you to do your best around a small track. Based on your performance here, Shift 2 takes a stab at picking a handling model: assisted braking on or off? Traction control? Stability control? Damage modelling? It’s a set of options that lets you tailor your experience and, with a bit of tweaking, you’ll get the game set up to suit your requirements.
For example, we want races to be authentic without being frustrating. We don’t want to come first without completely nailing a circuit, and we certainly don’t want to get a massive lead or be stuck at the back all the time. It took about half an hour of races with intermittent tweaking to get our settings right and since then Shift 2 has been a constant, enjoyable challenge.
XP is rewarded after each race based on your performance, and, inevitably, XP means levels. Each level-up works towards getting you into more races, but also unlocks extra stuff for your cars. After your initial spin in the GTR you’re given a choice of ‘D Class Modern’ races; Leon Cupras, Focus ST’s, Golf GTIs, etc; fairly standard road cars with a bit of kick. That’s just for starters, however.
It'll buff out
In fact, it’s not very long at all until you’re getting the really interesting cars – we bagged a Lotus Exige early on, then a Lamborghini Gallardo and then a McLaren MP4. It’s here, with the meatier cars, that Shift 2 really hits its stride - the engines blast through your speakers, the tracks and cars look amazing and you’re banking around corners with reckless abandon. The cars all handle as if they have real weight and momentum to them, so when you get going you can’t help but lean yourself into the arms of your chair as you tackle tight corners, or hold your breath as your back end swings a little bit too wide.
Keeping your cool in those long, breathless, by-a-nose races can be a real struggle sometimes, but it breeds a level of desperation that’s ultimately worthwhile and more-ish.
And you will struggle, because each race in Shift 2 is a vicious battle. When you’ve got the difficulty set up properly you’ll have to push for every single corner just to stay even with the competition. You’ll have to hit the brakes and ease into the corners, you’ll need to keep a level accelerator through the apex and you’ll be required to push hard on the exit. If you don’t do all of these things you’ll either be too slow, or you’ll skid out, throwing your chances out of the window like last week's leftovers onto the compost heap.