Shift 2: Unleashed

Through the win-shield.

You're probably done with congratulating developers just for sticking an XP system in their game. And with good reason; applauding the insertion of statistical progression is like celebrating the creativity of whoever puts MSG in Pringles.

That said, when it comes to the Shift series, having the persistent points meter ticking upwards throughout each squealing, tarcmac-buckling race has always felt interesting. It creates an elastic tension between the game's lunges at realism and the rambling series' arcade roots. An obvious choice, perhaps, but it works.

The original Shift tried to be a crunchier, bashier kind of simulation racer offering the depth and handling of 'serious' car games like Forza, infused with a touch of Burnout's sideswiping chaos.

The sequel takes things one step further, grabbing hold of the first outing's dynamic interior view and squeezing. The end result rams you right into the juddering crash helmet cam of a professional speedster tooling along at 200mph, in a mission to deliver what the developers are calling the "driver's battle".

While you can still play Shift 2 outside of the car if that's what you're after, I suspect the design team would much rather have you indoors. You should certainly give it a try as it's astonishing what a tweak to the perspective has done.

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Tracks are looking good, with a fictional Shanghai loop through an urban area.

The helmet cam creates a sense that you're seated much higher in your chair. In some car models, your vision is now partially obscured by shiny white roll bars. The smart deployment of depth of field effects as you're knocked back and forth can also blur the windscreen or the dash at crucial moments if you want to get the most visceral Shift 2 experience, you'll be going by the in-car dials rather than a superimposed UI.

At night, your functional visibility can be diminished to a fleeting scrap of road laying somewhere between the harsh bloom of headlights and the murky sodium gloom of an overcast sky. The team has designed nocturnal racing to be terrifying, and it really is.

During the day, you've still got the glare from the sun to take into account, and the sheer detail of the trackside environments as the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps whizzes past on all sides.

Are these visual limitations imposed by the more dynamic presentation annoying? No. Actually, they could just be brilliant. Shift 2 certainly marks a significant step up from the previous game when it comes to delivering an intense driving experience.

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