If you‘re too slow at any point then you can rely on the AI to let you know, usually by blazing past you in a whizz of colour or rubbing your bumper passive-aggressively.
It’s an important facet of Shift 2’s challenge and it’s not something that should go understated; your opponent is relentless. It wants to win. It wants to shame you by covering you in dust and making you limp across the finishing line seconds after its won the race. It will do anything it can to achieve this goal – it will undercut, it will block, it will turn in and knock out your back end and then stream past in a movement that somehow suggests inherent smugness.
Shift 2: Unleashed can transcend the idea of races, if you let it. The game can become a fight where your only goal is to tell that omnipresent, always-pushing robotic intelligence that you will not be crushed. You might choose to restart a race that doesn’t go your way, but you will not surrender.
The photographer is aiming the wrong way
Everything about Shift 2 screams that it's a racing game where you have to race hard and the AI is a massive contributor in that. You’re fending it off, while also looking for an opportunity to get around it without messing up the next corner.
You can help yourself out, of course, but never to the point where winning is easy. The cash you generate throughout your career can be spent on new cars, and there are extensive options for upgrading each car you buy. We don’t know what a ‘Feramic Puck Disk Assembly’ is, or a 'Race differential standard – two-way adjustable' for that matter; but we do know that we can bolt them onto our car and it goes faster. You can also buy new body kits and more standard equipment such as better tyres, revamped interiors for a better racing view, firmer suspension and so on.
You can even tweak the likes of steering wheel responsiveness and tyre pressures which, frankly, put us way out of our depth in terms of mechanics. But it’s there if you want it.
‘There if you want it’ is something that Shift 2 gets perfectly. Very Easy and Very Hard settings are there if you want them. Drift and Muscle car races are there if you want them (you uncivilised brute). Suspension settings are there if you want them. None of it is mandatory. It’s a racing game that you can tailor to be your racing game and it can evolve as you get better at it.
Bring back Carmageddon!
There are some fancy mulitplayer features too, although we sadly haven’t been able to try these out yet thanks to empty servers. Between normal races you can set lap times, recommend tracks to your online friends and be notified through email when your time is beaten. EA is hoping it can spawn communities where this sort of in-competition can take hold. As is always the case with online features, however, only time will tell if it will work or not.
Shift 2 is an unapologetic, highly polished racing sim in a genre that’s gone more than a little soft over the last few years. If you make a mistake you’ll be punished and overtaking isn’t something that just happens - you have to work for it. You can’t really recover from screwing up a corner, your engine will blow up if you push your car too hard around the Nurburgring and the AI wants to win as much as you do. These aren’t faults, however, but strengths – Shift 2 is a great game and it’s great because it does all of the above. Shift 2: Unleashed is a racing game that pushes you to be a better racer, as well as a game for which it's worth learning to be a better racer.