“Shift 2: Unleashed” is a byproduct of the popular arcade-racing franchise “Need for Speed.” When publisher EA noticed that sales were dwindling year to year for the “Need for Speed” games, it decided to change the franchise’s focus to a more simulation-style racing game with “Need for Speed: Shift.” Apparently the shift in focus (forgive the pun) did well enough to warrant a sequel, so here we are.

Shift 2: Unleashed

Xbox 360, Play Station 3 and PC
Electronic Arts

The campaign consists of numerous race events, ranging from drift courses, city racing, time trials on famous tracks and racing with old-school cars. Players start with a modest car — after a certain number of races, faster, more exotic automobiles are unlocked or can be bought.

Though definitely not an arcade game, “Shift 2” never fully commits to realism, so the gameplay is caught in a weird middle ground. It still requires players to slow down cautiously on turns, but it’s less realistic about braking time or momentum physics when steering around corners.

Even with the driving assists the game provides on the normal difficulty level, the races can get pretty challenging. One accidental move off the track can ruin the player’s chances of placing well. As a result, the pressure to stay on the right track often takes away from the fun of the racing. Though it’s thrilling to pass opponents at high speeds, these moments don’t happen often enough.

The online play is functional, but not especially engaging. Races are set up in a lobby system with race parameters that other players create or that can be set up and created by oneself. Racing with other players is often smooth, but connection issues do pop up from time to time. Most races that people play let any car race, so it’s best to go through the single player and get a fast car before jumping online.

Despite its shortcomings, and though it may not add to the experience in any dramatic way, “Shift 2” is a sleek, well-produced game. The menus are slick and stylish, the graphics are polished and the attention to detail in the sound design is noticeable. When the player is driving, “Shift 2” encourages an in-car camera angle because each car has a uniquely modeled interior and dashboard. Driving from the driver seat’s perspective further adds a sense of immersion.

On paper, this should be a great game: There’s a sufficient amount of difficulty, a lot of content and the driving handles fine. But just like the unoriginality of its subtitle, “Shift 2: Unleashed” does nothing to differentiate itself from other driving games. It doesn’t try anything new and is content to simply iterate on an established formula. For those really into cars or interested in a new racing game, “Shift 2: Unleashed” will scratch that itch, but it certainly won’t blow any socks off.

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