Not only is Shift free from all the B-movie storylines, wooden acting and crass 'street' trappings that dragged the more recent games into their own shiny neon hell, it's simply a damn good racing game.
Anyone of any skill level can get something out of it as soon as you boot it up. You won't even have a moment to start pining for the police pursuits of old, as the Career mode immediately drops you into a test lap that sets up all the recommended difficulty levels and driver aids based on your performance.
Your path to the elite NFS World Tour is split into several tiers, each housing a number of themed events such as a drifting series, and within these events are a collection of races.
A set number of gold stars are needed to unlock the next tier, and you earn these stars by attaining podium finishes, completing mini-objectives like racing a clean lap, and getting a set number of profile points.
Earning profile points to build a driver profile is a gem of a feature. Points are divided into 'aggression' and 'precision' and are based purely on your driving moves.
Every time you race they tot up, whether it's for keeping to the driving line or overtaking an opponent cleanly on the precision side of things, or aggressive moves such as trading paint with another car or drafting behind a rival.
Profile points also unlock badges - not essential in the grand scheme of things, but another extra that makes your driver profile unique by the time you're ready to take your skills online. You also get an icon to go with your profile that keeps changing as you improve your driver level all the way to level 50. It's a really substantial single-player game, and one in which you're constantly unlocking stuff and making progress even if you aren't really much cop. It's even possible to unlock tier four without gaining every star in tier one.
Head to head
Driver Duel is the major new race type, and it's probably the most fun and frustrating time you'll have playing Shift. These one-on-one battles are a best-of-three event in which the 'leader' starts about ten yards ahead of the 'chaser', and must either stay in first place at the end of the lap or manage to pull five seconds ahead at any point during it.
The roles are reversed for the second round, and should there be a third round the two cars begin side-by-side. It's the sort of competition where just one mistake or miscalculation leads to your downfall, and the AI is pretty merciless when it comes to taking advantage of any slip-up.
On the flipside, it's so satisfying to spin out your opponent on the final corner after only just about managing to hang on in there for the rest of the race. It's a mode that's going to prove extremely popular online.
Befitting the more 'serious' racing experience on offer, the handling has been brought into line.
Cars feel weightier, bulkier and less forgiving overall, but you're still able to pull off slick corner slides and tap out opponents like in the best arcade racers. With the racing aids turned off, we found it almost impossible to keep the car pointing in the right direction, so genuine petrolheads should find Shift a decent challenge.
It's this balance between arcade and sim racing - two apparently conflicting styles - that gives Shift its edge. While it doesn't quite hit the heights of Project Gotham Racing 4 or even RACE Pro, it's a huge leap forward for a series that had definitely lost its way. We're feeling the need for speed all over again.
All the better for being gimmick-free
- Back to pure racing
- Loads to unlock
- Fiercely contested Driver Duels
- Not enough tracks
- Half-hearted damage model