Slightly Mad Studios' Andy Tudor is noticeably annoyed with how Need for Speed: Shift was received by certain members of the press. Need for Speed: Shift was a simulation, especially if you turned off all the assistances and techno music. It wasn't perfect, but it was a great start to important sidetrack for the esteemed racing franchise.
"Taste is taste, but of course we were annoyed when some critics persisted in referring to Shift as an arcade game while their reviews praised Forza and Gran Turismo for incredible realism."
And even if the tire physics of Forza Motorsport 3 outperformed Need for Speed: Shift, the racing was realistic and the physics balanced. Slightly Mad Studios game sold well, and EA quickly gave the go ahead for a sequel. It's still apparent that the studio is hungry and keen on correcting any and all mistakes made with the first game.
"There are lots of good racing games out there. We are almost alone in trying to do what we're doing. We intend to simulate the racing experience as a whole, not just the speed and the feeling of shifting the center of gravity. We want the player to experience what a real driver experiences. Vibrations, intensity, engines roaring, the chaos that is when eight cars trying to push through a tough left-hand curve at the same time."
The ambition must be applauded, even if the sense of chaotic intensity was taken a bit far in the first game. But any way you look at it, the racing experience in both the Forza series and Gran Turismo is too refined, to accurately represent what it's like to tame a one and a half ton GT car at Brands Hatch.
While parts of Need for Speed: Shift were great, other parts were left hanging. And my first question on Shift 2: Unleashed has to do with tire physics and what improvements they have made in this area. EA producer Marcus Nilsson quickly responds:
"Everything has improved in Shift 2. We have worked hard on both graphics and the concept, the amount of content, the online mode and naturally the tire physics. That sense that many described in the first game where you feel like don't have sufficient contact with the surface is gone, and we have yet to enter the alpha stage of development."
I pick a Calsonic sponsored Japan GT-GTR and sit down in the studio's Dbox chair with hydraulics and equipped with Logitech's G27. I ask them to turn all assistance and away I go.
To the surprise of the audience behind me there is no violent crash in the first corner. Perhaps they couldn't tell that I had been spending weeks on end with taming a DBS in the Shift mod Real Mod 2.0 back home. My first lap is good, but not excellent. I know Spa inside and out. I must have spent more than 50 hours on it in GTR 2.
On my sixth lap I break the previous record, according to the somewhat unreliable savefile. I stand up with aching arms and brake foot. The single biggest minus with Need for Speed: Shift was the lacking tire physics that made it difficult to sense the centre of gravity. PC modders quickly mended things with the Tire Mod upgrade and this prompted Slightly Mad Studios to take action. Andy Tudor explains in detail:
"Our physics engine, and our physics simulations in Shift were amazingly advanced, perhaps the most sophisticated physics calculations in a racing game ever. What we did in the final stages of development of the first game was that we balanced the physics so that it would be challenging but not too difficult. It did not sit too well with some players who screamed that it was not challenging enough and not realistic enough. This is something that we have now fixed and something that will be included in Shift 2. "
Twenty minutes later and I have just flipped over my Nissan and one front wheel has come off. Race over. There is no restart, no way of reversing time or pressing select. The Elite mode in Shift 2: Unleashed is unforgiving, brutally difficult and addictive. Andy grins. There is a confidence about Slightly Mad Studios that I like. They know that they have a solid foundation to build on, a foundation that will keep them competitive. The original game sold more copies than Forza Motorsport 3 and despite the fact that Gran Turismo 5 is coming Andy Tudor isn't worried:
"I'm a gamer. I intend to go out and buy Gran Turismo 5 when it is released. With that said, I don't understand why Sony spend time on including small cars, mini buses and such in their games. Who the hell wants to run a Polo 1.1 at Suzuka?"
The presentation is over and it's time to head home. Shift 2: Unleashed will include an advanced online system called Driver Network. It looks remarkably rich with content. The player will be able to play the game using a new perspective called "helmet cam" where you see the visor and where the head will move when the car moves.
We were shown Shanghai, a new track with tight corners and sweeping straights. The damage to the cars looks more realistic, tires come off, metal gets shredded and cars tumble around. The artificial intelligence of your opponents has also been improved.
I feel satisfied with what I've seen and played. I really enjoyed the first game and after experiencing all the improvements made first hand my expectations are even higher.
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