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Need for Speed: Shift

A shift up through the gears?

After two less-than-stellar instalments (ProStreet: a bit dull, Undercover: a bit broken) it's time for the Need for Speed series to make a change. And changed it has.

A shift in developer and a shift in focus has ensured that the aptly titled NFS: Shift is the most promising instalment in EA's racing series for almost as long as we can remember.

Veteran race sim studio Slightly Mad (which houses the core team behind the excellent GTR games - though SimBin disagree) is at the helm, which should mean Shift is a more realistic, all-round polished package.

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With simulation in its blood then Shift expectedly sports all the traits of a Gran Turismo-style driving simulator. Picking up the pad and jumping into as race around a very PGR-style London track reveals a tighter, more demanding driving dynamic with red and green racing lines guiding us around the course with all the safety and efficiency of a trained F1 driver. And there are no spinners on the cars, either.

Virtual Zonda Fs terrorise the track with engine roars recorded from their real-life counterparts, with handling grounded in reality. Make the slightest mistake and your motor veers disastrously off course. A cheeky bump from a rival can also end your race early.

Even at this early stage (the game's only been in development for a year - the technology for longer) Shift is the most technically impressive Need for Speed yet.

Car models, track sides and vehicle interiors are awash with levels of detail most genre entries simply can't afford. Shift's even pushing out some visual techniques such as detailed soft shadows, full-screen anti-aliasing and a rock-solid framerate.

Over 70 cars are promised including high-tuned and exotic super cars, while tracks include both real-world and fictional locales.

Slightly Mad's proprietary engine's pushing a detailed physics system, full vehicle damage and advanced AI that dishes out personality traits to AI drivers, who are said to be capable of developing grudges against you.

But by far the most definitive feature of Shift is found during its in-car view. Unlike the comparatively sterile cockpit of Forza, Shift attempts to emulate the effects of g-force and vision blur.

As your motor accelerates the game recreates the feel of g-force by subtly tilting the camera backwards. Slam on the anchors and your camera 'head' will jolt forward. It's a simple but effective way to further immerse you in the experience. At speed the interior starts to blur out, as your focus sharpens on the road ahead.

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It also looks like the dev is trying to outdo Codemasters in the damage stakes too. Slightly Mad says it's spent a stupid amount of time trying to emulate these realistically and, frankly, it shows.

Steamroll your supercar into the barriers and you'll be rewarded (or punished) with a violent, head-snapping crash. Veering too close to another car will send your vision disco dancing with the impact, while a not-so-subtle motion blur effect simulates the feeling of being "dazed and confused" by a high-speed impact. It's like having a flashbang go off in your helmet.

But not everyone enjoys the interior view so in third-person and bumper cam views g-force and collision cues are applied to the HUD.

The technology behind this new Need for Speed was never in question though. It'll be interesting to see if the London studio can deliver solid online modes and plenty of track variety, areas many would say Need for Speed has been lacking in the past few versions.

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