This past Friday, NAG staffers battled their way through peak hour traffic to attend a Need for Speed: Shift media preview evening. Held at Melrose Arch Hotel, we sat through the presentation in which Stephen Viljoen, Chief Operations officer for Slightly Mad Studios, gave us the low-down on the new game and played some very impressive (despite it being pre-alpha) code.
The evening started off much like any other, with Mr Viljoen giving us some background info and impressive figures that serve as a testament to the Need for Speed franchise. As it stands, Shift will be the 13th game in the core Need for Speed series, which has currently sold over half a million copies in South Africa alone. A proven track record, but of late the recent Need for Speed games have felt a bit bland, boring, and were overall really dissapointing. So EA decided a ‘shift’ in focus (mind the pun) was necessary in order to make the world’s best selling racing series into the world’s best racing series, a title it hasn’t worn for many years.
With this shift in focus, EA will release three different NFS titles to satisfy three different markets. There will be an online title, an arcade style title, and the premium title, which is where Shift fits into things. In keeping with the new attitude, EA has also moved the franchise away from Black Box (although they still have some input in various areas) and into the hands of Slightly Mad Studios. This company, which gave us games such as GT Legends and GTR2, has a name in the business for impressive attention to detail, so it seems only fitting that they should be given the premium title’s development, as the presented graphics attested. The game is aimed at high-end hardware, so you won’t be playing this game on a 3 year-old machine, not the way it’s meant to be played at least; and while the engine is scalable, after seeing the game on its maximum detail setting you won’t want to settle for anything less.
What EA wanted to do, according to Viljoen, is move the game back to its roots, away from the whole street racing theme, and the resulting changes are substantial. The game is focussed on driving and racing only; gone are the days of bouncing off walls when going around corners as if you were a ping pong ball. No, now we’re real drivers, and we have cars to meet our needs. Crashes will result in blurred vision (as one would expect after smashing into a wall at over 200km/h), and your car will start to show signs of damage. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff really, until we see that continual damage will lead to a degradation in the car’s performance. The game will never fully disable the car, nor will wheels fly off while drivers are launched through the windscreen, but that was never the focus of Shift to begin with. The game is for racers, and as such keeps things competitive. Other changes include a difficulty level system, aimed at giving each user base a fun challenge. The way the difficulty levels were explained is as follows: Easy is somewhere between the old NFS games and racing games like Gran Turismo; Medium will play like Gran Turismo; and Pro will give the hardcore enthusiasts what they want, as close as it gets to life-like racing. Further features include three separate engines for the three different target platforms, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. While they all look identical, each engine is optimised to take full advantage of the hardware it runs on. Last of the major changes is the visual style, which has shifted from artistic to photo-realistic, which is probably the most noticeable feature of the game.