Reviewed: April 28, 2010
Released: April 1, 2010
App Store Price: $14.99
I’ve been a big fan of the Need for Speed series since the first game released in 1994. Over the past 15 years EA has delivered just as many sequels on a variety of platform including cell phones and now the venerable franchise makes its way to the Apple iPad just in time for launch with a mobile (and I use the term loosely) version of Need for Speed: Shift. I hate to even use the term “mobile” lest I diminish the visual and gameplay splendor of what is easily one of the best iPad titles at launch and certainly one of the top two racing games on the new device.
I had already had the pleasure of playing and reviewing this title on the Xbox 360 so I was keenly aware of what made the port and what was left behind, and actually, it wasn’t that much. NFS: Shift offers something for race fans of all types. You can tweak the seriousness of the racing, not only with the initial difficulty setting but also configuring various driver assists like shifting and braking and traction control. But perhaps the most unique new offering is the Driver Profile, a karma system (for lack of a better word) that tracks how well, or how dangerous you drive.
Throughout the course of the substantial career mode you will slowly earn profile points for driving well (precision) or driving recklessly (aggressive). Both points feed into your sum score that will slowly rank you up through various levels of professional driving, but individually, they will tip the scales of how you are perceived by the competition and just what race events you are able to unlock in current and future cities.
There were a few cuts to fit the console version into a 200mb download starting with the reduction in cars from the 70 on the console to only 28 on the iPad but 8 of those are exclusives. Venues were reduced to a few key areas like London, Chicago, and Tokyo and these cities are host to 18 amazing tracks with gorgeous scenery in both night and day race events.
Along the way you will also be earning stars that mark your progress through the game and serve to unlock new events and tiers. You have three podium stars per race, so placing third or higher will get you anywhere from one to three stars, and then you have bonus stars. These usually involve earning a fixed amount of profile points and some random challenge like hitting a certain speed or driving a perfect lap or knocking four cars out of the race. Star earned are locked in and you can always return later to try for the ones you missed, giving the game some great replayability for perfectionists. NFS: Shift is a collector’s paradise with all sorts of badges you can earn by performing all sorts of various actions from clean passing to perfect starts.
For those who doubt the seriousness of this game when it comes to simulation, one only need attempt to drive from the cockpit view – easily the most accurate and intense camera view to ever grace a racing game on any system, let alone a portable tablet. The dashboard is incredibly detailed with functional instruments and mirrors and even a windshield that cracks when you smack into walls and other cars.
For those who find the cockpit a bit too challenging you can choose from many other views including the chase view, bumper cam, and my personal favorite, the hood view, which puts the polished mirror-like hood of the car at the bottom of the screen giving you a visual indicator of the damage you are taking. You can also cycle through all these views with a quick tap of the camera icon at the top of the screen.
The actual gameplay is pretty slick and admittedly a bit tiresome after a few hours of holding your iPad out at arms length like a steering wheel. I’m sad yet proud to say that I loved this game so much I figured out how to attach my iPad to my Xbox steering wheel for a much more comfortable game experience and smoother, more accurate steering. Even in your hands or perhaps pivoting on your knee, the accelerometer steering is still pretty accurate. A quick jerk in either direction initiates a powerslide then you counter steer to keep it going, especially in the drift challenges. Along the lower left corner in perfect range of your thumb are icons for gas, brake, and nitro, and in the opposite corner is a shift lever should you go with a manual transmission.
Amateur mechanics will find plenty to tinker with in the garage where you have full control over three stages of upgrades that will enhance everything from acceleration and top speed to braking and aerodynamics. You can also customize your car with rims, custom paint, and all sorts of vinyls and take it into the tune-up shop to customize the gearbox for speed vs. acceleration. The more you play the more you unlock, and unlike a lot of games that require you to purchase a new car at every stage, I was able to take my modified Tier 1 vehicle about halfway into Tier 2 before buying a better vehicle.
Visually, NFS: Shift rivals anything on last generation consoles, easily matching the quality we saw in the final days of the original Xbox. This game looks hot from the opening title screen to the car selection and garage menus, to actually climbing into the cockpit or riding along outside. The framerate is silky smooth and the 3D elements of the tracks are nicely integrated into the painted backdrops for each location.
The audio is excellent with a great assortment of license music that gives way to the actual sounds of engines and tires squealing when you start a race. You’ll definitely want some killer headphones to appreciate the more subtle elements of the sound design.
NFS: Shift is surprisingly large for a portable game with multiple modes and numerous race events. While your progress is kept in check by your ability to earn stars, you are free to tackle most events in each tier and revisit previous tiers provided you still have a car that qualifies. You will often get invited to events in tiers you haven’t unlocked in which case a car is provided for you. This is a great way to sample what’s in store later in the game. The only time I really felt forced into buying a car was when it came time to start the Drift challenges.
There is also a substantial multiplayer offering with local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth multiplayer with up to four racers in six various events. This is sure to keep you playing long after the career mode is over assuming you have friends with iPads and a copy of the game. One look at NFS: Shift running on your iPad should make that decision easier.
There is no denying that this latest installment of Need for Speed has some serious thought and design when it came to porting to the iPad. There are only a handful of racing games that can even hope to compete with NFS: Shift, and in my opinion (after playing the top 3), this one beats them all for style, substance, and a quality racing experience. Easily one of my top 5 games of the iPad launch lineup.