While the One Hour Playtest may be gone for now, I am still willing to offer my opinions on titles without feeling required to complete a whole damn game. This week I am playing Need For Speed: Shift – the first sim type game from the franchise – and WET, the thematically confused title that left me cold with a unbalanced demo, and was clearly conceived during the great Caps Lock attack of 2006. Suffice to say I was expecting little from either game, but will I be proved wrong once again?Need for Speed Shift is the first of a range of titles designed to break the convention of the franchise, which is a good thing based upon the conception that most of the games are as shallow as a kitten’s piss puddle and about as tasty – with the possible exception of Most Wanted naturally. I must confess that when I heard that the franchise was going to make a sim-type title I couldn’t help but think the following:
“But, Forza III…!”
Which summed up all of my early opinions. Why try and compete? Superstars V8 couldn’t compare to it on such a scale that compelled Sinead O’Conn0r to write a song about it in the past. Luckily I was wrong, and amazingly I was VERY wrong. Instead of the shit sandwich I expected, I was treated to a slick and welcoming tunnel of pleasure. Instead of the chavtastic overtones I was treated to a grand set of visuals and an interface that was as welcoming as it was complex.
I am not a simulation driver, I like to drive a fast car – preferably American and from the seventies* – through buildings, hitting pedestrians and barrel rolling through the finish posts. I do not enjoy driving carefully through a carefully designed circuit, trying not to cut corners or hit the other drivers, but Shift has, for want of a better word, shifted my tastes somewhat.
Instead of being a straight up Forza-alike the Shift team have chosen to go down the semi-RPG route. Need for Speed: Fable Edition if you like. Instead of simply progressing through race after race you earn points in two categories, rewarding technical driving and agressive behaviour. If you are a natural born hellraiser you will find yourself with the aggressive tag. This transfers online, matching you up with drivers in your skill bracket AND your gameplay style. So instead of annoying drivers in their perfectly tuned motors by shunting them into a wall, you can irritate another cunt with cuntish behaviour til the finish line! You unlock the usual challenges along the way, as well as upgrades and add-ons for your wheels.
The game even comes with an assessment mode that asks you to drive a lap of a track and then offers the correct settings for your own personal skill level. These are optional and can be changed at any time, but it is a very nice and very welcome option, as is the exceptional in-car view. Offering a level of detail that managed to make my wife go ‘oooh’.
The only criticism I can level at the game is the fact that game supports the option to buy cars with Microsoft points (in the 360 version, not sure if you can use actual money on the PS3 at this moment in time). This is a concept I hate in all games, giving an unfair advantage to those with a deep wallet.
So yeah a great game, welcoming and fun. Not a Forza beater, but definitely a title that can sit in a collection alongside it, and definitely a great entry route to the genre.
WET is a title that I genuinely felt had lost my attention after a demo experience that left me feeling anything but wet. A little like Stranglehold, complete with all that game’s faults, the demo was a mix of different styles that just didn’t flow. Luckily for Bethesda the demo did have a monkey in it, and that made me give it another chance, but not enough has been done to change my mind totally.
The opening of the game – parts of which were in the demo – make up a prologue which introduces us to Eliza Dushku’s Rubi as she shoots, slides and jumps her way to bloody victory, and in the proper order the game does flow a little better. This is not the case for Rubi though, as she is still as awkwardly controllable as ever, often forcing the gamer to resort to simple button bashing with the sword. This is the game’s fatal flaw, which is a real shame, as the game gets an awful lot right. The quick time sequences are great, offering less the frustration of a God of War title, and more a genuine feeling of interaction. The highway chase from the demo is a perfect example of this, blending shooting with button presses in a way that feels smooth.
The plot is as cliched as an episode of My Family, but the decision to shoehorn a Grindhouse look into the game tried to justify this, while ultimately being as successful as Babylon Zoo** Grindhouse works when applied to games like House of the Dead: Overkill, but in WET it feels more pointless than that Concorde that crashed in France. If there is anything that annoys me more than hamsters it is games that stick something where it doesn’t belong – alot like my Uncle Herb actually. The ‘blood on face’ rage sections also look stunning, but ultimately annoy more when you suddenly lose the ‘Rubi-vision’ option, the not at all stolen from Mirror’s Edge option to see vaultable items glow red.
Ultimately WET gives what it promises, just not enough to make this an essential day one purchase, particularly with ODST just around the corner.
So yeah Shift was surprisingly solid while WET was as lacklustre as it had suggested.