Need for Speed ‘Shift 2: Unleashed’ Hands-On Preview

Published 4 years ago by

Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed Preview Game Rant

The word ‘Visceral’ is often abused in the games industry. Used to describe every realistic experience in a video game since the advent of 3D gaming in 1997, it’s a term that I often attempt to sidestep when writing a preview.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Shift 2: Unleashed, there’s only one way to describe it: Unleashed is brilliantly, horrifyingly, brutally visceral.

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat. I’m not a fan of simulation racing games. Forza, Gran Turismo 5, Colin McRae Rally… they simply don’t appeal to me — I’m always the guy who prefers arcade-racing series. As evidenced by my love-letter to Burnout: Paradise and my review of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, I love the impossible feeling of driving at ridiculous speeds, and achieving insane drifts around corners that are a mile long. If I wanted to know what a real car feels like to drive, I’d go out and apply for my driver’s license.

So when EA invited me down to their Guildford HQ last week, I was a little apprehensive. The original Need for Speed: Shift was billed as a title that would drag the arcade racing franchise kicking and screaming into the simulation genre – and, subsequently, was a title I missed out on as a result. Would Shift 2: Unleashed convince me of the series’ worth?

Shift 2: Unleashed does a brilliant job of straddling the line between hardcore-simulation and just-for-fun arcade racing. For those who are so inclined, there are mountains of menus, each allowing you to tune your car to the infinite degree, and for those who simply want to race? Well, there’s nothing stopping you. Pick a cool-looking ride, decide your track, and hit ‘Go.’ If you’re part of the latter group, Shift 2 also does a great job of teaching you what each of the customizable qualities will mean for your racing time. You might have no clue why it would be a good idea to relieve pressure in your tires, but glance over to the right-hand side of the screen, and the game will tell you in a clear, concise manner exactly why it is an option to consider.

Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed Cars

This helpful hand is not to say that Shift 2 is an easy game, however. During my first thirty minutes with the title, I consistently found myself in last place, wondering what on Earth was going wrong. No matter which line I took, no matter which car I chose, nothing seemed to be going my way. I wasn’t deterred, however. There was something intriguing about the game that left me wanting more, even if I couldn’t quite place my finger on it.

“Try using the Helmet-cam,” A friend and fellow journalist suggested. “it’s the way the game is supposed to be played.” Moments later, my mind was blown. As suggested by the name, Shift 2‘s ‘Helmet-cam’ places the camera inside your driver’s helmet, and you see the world as a real racer would. The engine’s roar becomes a muffled haze, the visibility of the road is hampered slightly by the outer edges of your protective headgear, and Shift 2: Unleashed suddenly becomes a stirring, ferocious, wonderful experience.

As you begin to approach corners, your driver instinctively begins to look in the right direction, aiding your ability to handle the turn. It’s an interesting, and incredibly well-implemented, dynamic. No longer is your viewpoint static, perpetually facing forward – now your driver begins to react naturally, as a human being — when the speeds begin to creep over the threshold known as ‘Insanely Fast’, the rest of the world becomes a blur, and only the center of the screen is in focus. It’s a small touch, but a believable one that truly adds to the experience.

Shift 2 Unleashed Helmet Cam

Taking advantage of the driver’s instincts is a useful skill to learn, too. As you progress through the campaign, Shift 2 awards bonus experience for certain goals achieved in game. Master every perilous corner, accelerate down every straight, and smash/crash/bash your way into first place for the extra XP. Experience will level up your driver, and with that comes access to more tracks, more cars, and an overall better playing experience. When wandering around the press room, I was surprised at the handsomeness and large variety of different tracks on offer: whether it was a night race through the rain-trodden streets of central London, or a sun-baked drive through the roads of sunny San Francisco, the game (as evidenced by the screens littered throughout this preview) was a beauty to behold.

While I was thoroughly impressed with the majority of Shift 2: Unleashed, that’s not to say that it is a game without fault. When attempting to race with extreme precision on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the title, it seemed that the analogue control wasn’t quite up to the task. Incredibly minor adjustments to the racing line were handled fine, as were extreme, last-second “Oh-blast!” swerves to either side, but anything in-between simply wasn’t as precise as one would hope in a racing simulation.

Shift 2 may straddle the line between Sim and Arcade-Racer, but it’s definitely a title that leans toward the former, and sadly felt lacking when it came to the finer details. When playing with a racing wheel however, almost every problem I had with the game’s steering was evaporated, and all the blame passed onto me. The poor times and low podium positions were down to my own terrible-ness, as opposed to any fault within the game build itself.

Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed Car Screenshot

By the time it came to the end of our preview session, I’ll admit that I was hooked. Playing Shift 2 was the first time I had ever actually enjoyed playing a sim-racer, and while it wasn’t perfect, it felt like a truly nice car: it had soul. Sure, I found it difficult at first and, yes, the drifting was nigh-on-impossible and, hey, it didn’t use any rubber-banding techniques to help me catch up when playing terribly, but it played brilliantly. Trading paint with a rival driver, cutting him off on the inside-lane, before finally pulling ahead on the final stretch of a 4-lap track… Hey, I felt like a racing driver, and it felt damn good.

Shift 2: Unleashed will be satisfying your need for speed on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on March 29, 2011.

TAGS: Electronic Arts, Need for Speed, PC, PS3, Shift 2 Unleashed

  • Anthony

    Great preview but seems too “simmy” for my tastes.

  • Terry Lucy

    I’m a big fan of racing games in general, and since Gran Turismo 5 failed to capture my imagination, mainly due to the loading times, I hope this is a more enjoyable “simmy” racer.

  • AC360

    Ok, this preview was a waste of time for me.”If I wanted to know what its like to drive I’d get a license” is an opinion of someone I’m not interested in hearing from in a shift 2 preview. You sent the wrong guy. Says hes not interested in sims like gt5 + forza yet that’s who the games makers are goin after! And to top it off he hasn’t got experience with shift either! I am eagerly counting down the days but am still on the fence as to whether this will be a day 1 release. I am yet to play a nfs with truly decent handling and desperately want to be proved wrong……shame I won’t be taking too much to settle my curiosity from this write up! Rant over

    • Phillipe Bosher

      Hey guy,

      There are a million websites on the internet where you’ll be able to find information about Shift 2. Every person is subjective, and will have their own opinions about a piece of media, which are shaped by their real life experiences. I explained where I was coming from, and you, as a reader, can decide how to interpret what I’ve said.

      At the base level, I tried to explain some of the core game mechanics, as well as emphasising the look/feel of the title. If you’re after a straight-up sim, akin to GT5, you’ve got the wrong game. S2:U is a nice mixture of arcade and sim racing genres — one that I particularly happened to enjoy.

      Thanks for reading, though!

      • AC360

        Phil mate, thanks for the response but I hope you can see where I’m coming from. Your writing style and descriptions are good but I still feel like someone with a deeper passion for all types of racers could of offered a more insightful picture to people who are genuinely excited about the game. I’ve exhausted most sites for info already but was particularly lookin forward to game rants heads up… won’t stop me from coming back in future though, cheers!


      you are a tossa mate. i loved the review and agree with every word witten.

  • Miths

    “When attempting to race with extreme precision on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the title, it seemed that the analogue control wasn’t quite up to the task. Incredibly minor adjustments to the racing line were handled fine, as were extreme, last-second “Oh-blast!” swerves to either side, but anything in-between simply wasn’t as precise as one would hope in a racing simulation.”

    Anyone planning to play this game as a “semi-sim” (I am) will surely be using a force feedback wheel and not a gamepad?
    Shift 1 played quite well with wheel and pedals (the best cars at least, it was a very uneven game with many cars that felt terrible and some that handled great), so I’m expecting the same from Shift 2.

    • Phillipe Bosher

      “When playing with a racing wheel however, almost every problem I had with the game’s steering was evaporated, and all the blame passed onto me. The poor times and low podium positions were down to my own terrible-ness, as opposed to any fault within the game build itself.”


  • Miths

    Oops, my bad. Looks like I missed a paragraph :).

  • chris

    what circuits did you race on when you played it? the only thing im worried about is the controls with the controller, but apart from that im really excited, nice peice thank you for telling me that while in the helmet view the sounds of the cars is muffled i thought it would be since a helmet reduces the sound of a engine by around half

  • Brian Dyce


    great preview of the title. Ive been patiently waiting for this game since i saw the first trailer, and it looks like it wont disappoint.

    As a HUGE fan of all things racing, its tough for me to take someone who isnt into sim racers as serious as a gamer who is, i really appreciate the perspective, and the honety in the fact that the results of your races were probably due to your racing, more than the controls.

    I fear that Shift 2 will have the same control issues that the first one did, and it seems like your explanation of the analog sticks proves me right. As long as the option to adjust dead spots, sensitivity, and % is there, hopefully it will help correct the responsiveness of most flicks of the stick.

    How was it with the camera view adjusting into the turns? while i look forward to the advancement, it seems like for an avid race fan, (of sims as well), it might be a bit too far from what i am used to to actually enjoy.

    All in all, great preview! This seems to cover the gap between arcade and sim rather nicely, with the options available for the gamer to stray closer to sim, or arcade, depending on their preference.

    the 29th will be a tough day or racing with Nascar and shift2, to say the least.

    • Phillipe Bosher

      Hey thanks Brian! It’s always nice to hear someone appreciate one’s writing :)

      The camera shift is only very slight, and not intrusive at all. Before I began to look for it, I hardly even noticed it was happening! It’s a subtle change in perspective that, instead of leaving the corner taking visual space on the left of the screen, slowly shifts it into the centre. When coming up to a hairpin turn, it’s not as though your driver cranes his neck all the way around! I wouldn’t worry too much :)

      • Brian Dyce

        awesome to hear. Dug the review, and will definitely be giving this one a shot.

  • Travis

    Thanks for a great preview Phil. I actually appreciate your perspective and respect the fact you were honest about not being a fan of racing sims. That said, your preview has solidified my anticipation that this will be a excellent racing game. I will be picking up my copy in roughly 12 hours and really can’t wait. I am however a bit concerned about what was said about using a controller as apposed to a wheel, as I have never been an avid racing game fan and do not own a wheel. I really do not know what to do with myself lately, between Crysis 2, Socom 4 beta, Dragon Age 2, and Homefront I am simply swamped with games! Time to make room for Shift 2!

    • Brian Dyce

      Travis, as i said in the weekly release list article:

      If anyone is a fan of Shift2, but has problems with the control layout and/or calibrations, get a hold of me. I have a great set up that allows the cars to handle very similar to those in forza. Slightly more realistic, still very snappy, but there is a definite weight to them, with minimal over/under steer.

      • Ivan


        I’ve been playing Shift 2 for 2 days and I find the handling abysmal. Cars just wouldn’t handle properly like they used to in games past, or even GT series. I always use the d-pad and never owned a steering wheel setup. I tried with the analog but that proved nothing, as well.

        • Brian Dyce

          it definitely is something to get used to, ill give you that. I found that turning the steering assistance down and putting the dead zone down helped alot. i guess its just something that some can get used to, and some cant.

          • Ivan

            Steering assistance, do you mean the steering sensitivity by chance?

  • jared

    I dont like shift 2 at all ive owned it for a week now and i hate it, the handling is so crap wtf were they thinking im use to GT5 but this is just stupid my supra i did up just drifts around corners


      you just dont know how to work your car properly, i have cars that i have preped so well they handle like on rails. GT5, is an overated joke, looks great, but is still the same old boring drive like the 1st, 2nd 3rd…. and so on. Use the test tracks and keep on tinkering with them cars and watch the magic of NFS shift 2 unfold.


    i love nfs shift, nfs shift 2 has turned my love into obsession, what a game… So many people write it off too early! its all about working them cars in the garage and using the right set up on every track. If you want too race me anyone, just add me as a friend on playstation network user name is racrule See ya’s on the track of the best racing game in the history of gaming. Thanks EA and Slightly Mad studios.

  • Chris

    Can you say suck. You can’t control the cars at all. I want my money back. 1-10 in my book for that reason it’s a 0…zerooo


    go to tuning and set your car up properly for each track. yes if you just hop straight into your car and race it without tunning it and testing it for each track, well it would seem very hard to control. the car set up is not just there for you, you have to do it your self,hence the game being a sim not an arcade racer. if you you want to play mindless racers where the cars all handle the same and are pre tuned for you and bouncing off of the walls and other cars help you to get further in front, well go and buy burnout or one of those no brainer arcade racers like that. But if you want real console racing at its very best, plug shift 2 back in, select one of the awesome cars and tune test tune, set it up right and kick some butt.

  • Puneet

    Hey, there sounds some improvements from the original game. May be it is worth giving a try. By the way you added a nice personal touch in your writeup