Shift 2: Unleashed • Page 2

Through the win-shield.

The series' trademark throaty, rumbling audio blends perfectly with the jarring camera wobble as your head is bashed about by G-force. Sailing into a corner with five other cars, sending out sparks as metal grinds against metal, brings back all the wrong memories of going for Sunday drives with my dad before we'd finally cottoned on to the fact he wasn't just extremely short-sighted anymore.

Speaking of nasty crashes, Shift 2's procedural damage is looking smarter than ever. Bonnets rupture, little cracks skid across glass. The sense of feedback during a collision, as the screen splinters into shards of light and your skull lunges towards the dash, marks yet another mighty improvement on the first game. Dad would be proud.

The XP meter at the top of the screen builds up throughout each race. Sharp injections of points are awarded for sticking to the racing line, overtaking or putting out that little red triangle when you change a tyre (maybe not the last one).

Knitting the whole experience together is Autolog. If Need for Speed stands for anything these days, beyond "It's an EA game and it has cars in it", let it be Autolog. An attractively narrow sliver of social networking software, it turns each race into a grudge match as you see who's better than you and who's getting better. It also fills out your downtime as you browse through galleries of other peoples' photos and videos.

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Autolog may prove a better means of seeing what Shift 2 has to offer than merely plodding through the campaign.

By offering constant notifications of which acquaintance has just beaten you in a specific event, Autolog transforms every single part of Shift 2 into a gleaming chunk of social competition.

Single-player jaunts start to feel like multiplayer challenges when you're conscious you could be toppled from the summit of the leaderboard. There's always an extra incentive to go back and really master a track when you know people on your wall are doing just that.

According to EA, Shift 2 will try to take on Forza and Gran Turismo when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of a certain kind of racer. How successful it is will depend on factors such as the car list and the way the developer blends together a selection of real and imaginary tracks.

However, it may also come down to the series' jarring freshness: the nasty, intoxicating impact that lurks at each tricky bend, and the chummy rivalry that might erupt over the simplest of time trials.

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