E3 Hands On – Need for Speed: Shift

June 14, 2009 Written by Draisey

This is not a Need for Speed game. There’s no lingerie models, cheesy cutscenes, or horrifically bad story to help ruin the mood. EA and developer Slightly Mad Studios are out for blood, and they’ve set their sights on giving Gran Turismo some unexpected competition, a far cry from the arcade-like nature of past NFS titles released during the past decade.

This is probably the biggest reboot of series I’ve seen in a long while, and playing the game at first was both confusing and frustrating. This is because I treated it like an NFS title, slamming on the brakes, charging through corners, and flooring the gas at every opportunity. The game immediately punishes this behavior, and instead rewards finesse, strategy, and constant fear of collisions.


The E3 demo, as noted by the EA representative, shows the game in Alpha state, which the team had just accomplished prior to the conference. What’s great is that this game will focus entirely on circuit racing, rather than an open world setup. And though I saw a lot of potential with the fairly realistic controls, the developer’s decision to simulate what happens to the driver during collisions was taken a little too far.

Because racing games require split-second timing and accuracy, the three to four second blur-outs that occur after collisions with other drivers and the environment essentially become crippling and tend to lead to further collisions. Though this feature does encourage better driving, it can also create a domino effect when collisions do happen. Because the director of NFS: Shift is a professional race car driver, I understand why the simulation of the driver’s vision was added in, but it needs to be toned down.


The EA representative who showed me the ropes agreed that the collision punishment should be shortened and possibly decreased in intensity. The cockpit view is very realistic, and the movement of the driver acts as a good visual cue of whether or not you’re turning too hard through a corner. What Slightly Mad Studios seems to be aiming for is an accessible racing simulator. Not quite as realistic as Gran Turismo in terms of overall car handling, but more kinetic and easier to get a handle on. And the advantage it has right now over GT is the cockpit simulation.

Despite how different it is from past NFS title, fans of the series will definitely appreciate the advances that SM Studios and EA are bringing to the racing genre. The game will have an extensive customization feature that will cover everything from the car body to the tires, and has a dynamic reward system that keeps track of, for example, how many cars the play passes, how many vehicles they take out, and how good their driving performance was. The demo was a lot of fun, and we can’t wait to see how the final product turns out.