Through a haze of petrol fumes and the din of high powered engines being pushed to their extremes, we arrived at Silverstone.
I was expecting two things to come out of our day out at Silverstone. The first would be some hands on time with Shift 2: Unleashed, the new racing title from EA and the next installment in the Need For Speed franchise. The second thing to come would be a high speed, after dark racing experience around the track in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Exciting stuff.
Shift 2: Unleashed is, this time around at least, gunning for the driving simulator crown, competing with both Forza 3 and the mighty Gran Turismo 5. This may appear to be a bold quest for the sequel to a game that got such mixed reviews last time around. But Shift 2 comes armed not only with a high level of realism, finely modeled cars and well tuned physics, but it also has two secret weapons – Night Racing and Helmet Cam.
The night racing is a unique experience, and the reason why we were driven around the Silverstone track at such high speed after dark. I was ushered into one of the Aston Martins with a professional driver and we set off at speed. The experience was quite breathtaking and the drivers reactions have to be razor sharp as, without the aid of light, corners appeared out of nowhere and brakes has to be sharply administered. The car slid around corners with such force that I found myself being flung around like a rag doll.
Everything is pitch black and the only warning that you get of an upcoming corner or obstacle is when your cars headlights hit the notices, generally a split second before the hazard in question.
This is the effect that Slightly Mad Studios have tried to replicate in Shift 2. The adrenaline rush of not being able to plan ahead any further than the range of your headlights. Having to rely on the tail lights of the car in front whilst all the time trying to get past them. It is an exhilarating experience.
The other secret weapon is the helmet cam – a new viewpoint that allows players to see the game from the point of view of the driver. Unlike other views that have come before, such as windscreen view and even the static drivers view, players are able to take advantage of the helmet cams maneuverability to turn and look out of side windows and such. The helmet cam is also affected by outside force, meaning that a nudge from a competitor will see the drivers helmet view change, or slamming the brakes will cause helmet cam to thrust forward. This gives the viewpoint an incredibly realistic feel and attempts to emulate the real feeling of racing at high speed.
When it comes to driving games, I have the driving equivalent of two left feet. Also, my love of speed has me feeling that braking is for wimps (a view I obviously don’t apply to the real world – or maybe that is why they wouldn’t let me take the Aston Martin for a spin myself). Before heading up to Silverstone, I spent some time playing the first Shift game, Forza 3 and Gran Tursimo 5 in preparation for trying to stay on the track in Shift 2. I needn’t have bothered. Trying out the Xbox360 version of the game, I found that the cars were surprisingly easy to handle. Admittedly, I had all of the assists on, which is not very hardcore, but it allowed me to play the game at my level and actually enjoy it.
I spent a little time with the helmet cam viewpoint, but my default view for driving games is behind and above the car, so this view was a little distracting. That being said, it certainly offered a more realistic experience and, much like any big changes to the way we are used to doing things, it will take a bit of getting used to. I also had a bash at the night driving. This offered real edge of the seat excitement and a high level of concentration. The result was amazing and something that I highly recommend any racing fan should try.
Shift 2: Unleashed is due to hit the stores on 1st April. Whether or not it will be able to compete with the other racing simulators on the market, I will leave for the petrol heads to decide. But as a gamer, I found Shift 2 to be easy to get engrossed in and offer just the right amount of fun with the simulating. The night driving and helmet cam are both interesting additions and offer something new. If you enjoy driving games, then Shift 2: Unleashed is certainly worth checking out.