My black BMW M3 rips through the carnage of smoke, debris, and overturned vehicles, barely missing the barrier wall, all the while skidding through the tight turn in perfect drifting form. As I escape unharmed, my adrenaline dissipates and the satisfaction of seeing my score bar light up with hundreds of points makes the situation all the more classic. This is what racing should be like, and yet it comes from the most unlikely racing series of all time: Need for Speed.
While the Need for Speed franchise has morphed multiple times over the past 15 years, touching on everything from traditional arcade racing to mod culture, from hot pursuit situations to open world environments. But circuit racing is something that has typically been reserved for the Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport franchises as of late. This is why the approach employed by EA and series newcomer Slightly Mad Studios is so daring; it takes the franchise into a completely new direction. Gone are the open world settings of Pro Street and Underground, or even the fantasy settings of prior titles like Hot Pursuit 2. The focus of Shift is circuit racing, and the developers were savvy enough to make the game very accessible and easy to pick up, despite the more realistic approach.
The presentation quality of this game is absolutely spectacular. The menus are slick, the layout is stylish, and even the loading screens are exciting to sit through due to the incredible audio work going on. There’s really never a dull moment in this game, and that’s outside of the actual gameplay. The game is split up into separate tiers, which contain specific ranks of cars to purchase and racing challenges to choose from. The first tier acts as a great warm up, with low horsepower rides and races that only ask for the bare minimum of your racing skills (or lack thereof). But NFS: Shift quickly ratches up the speed, intensity, and difficulty level afterwards. And thankfully, the team had enough forsight to make the challenges fairly easy to complete, despite the steady increase in difficulty.
Every race has a core set of stars to earn, which depend on your placement within the race. For instance, earning 3rd place will score you one star, second place two stars, and first place three stars. And on top of that, the game throws secondary goals to complete within every race, which range from racking up a certain amount of points to spinning out opponents. The stars you earn are permanent, which means that races can be completed multiple times if you got all the secondary goals, but didn’t quite make first place. Or worse yet, got third place and scored absolutely no secondary goals. It’s a brilliant system that allows skilled drivers to quickly advance, but manages to not punish those who are still getting used to the game.