Considering how great the handling is the awkward drift events come as quite a shock. Instead of competing against other drivers for the best time or position on the track, drift is all about scoring points by sliding around corners while managing to keep some element of control. After some practice you'll likely get the hang of it and not constantly spin wildly out of control, but these events simply don't fit with the overall feel of the game and for many will be an annoyance to work through. Thankfully these events are dwarfed by proper racing, but we'd have preferred none at all.
When we first saw Shift it looked incredible, and we still think it looks great, but just not as impeccable as we initially thought. It's not until you use the incredible cockpit view, so your vision is fairly limited, that things take off. Sat in the drivers seat, Shift becomes an altogether more thrilling and realistic experience. The sense of speed at times is scary, the head movement as you accelerate and brake puts you in the game like few others have ever managed, and crashes, complete with impact blur, only lack physical pain.
When played using an external camera, however, Shift is an OK game that looks pretty good. Look closer and further afield than the tarmac and blemishes start to appear - and at times the game look rather ugly. In terms of trackside detail Shift is sorely lacking when put up against recent racing hit DIRT 2, and the city tracks look relatively basic when compared to the now fairly old Project Gotham Racing 4. Car Damage is also a little disappointing, falling some way short of what we've come to expect in next-gen racers. Audio is as well done as you'd expect from an EA game, the soundtrack is trendy without being terrible, and there's even a handy voice over man that explains anything new that crops up.
This being a Need for Speed game there are obviously plenty of options for car customisation, from buying new performance upgrades and applying your own designs (making your own graphics is possible by combining primitive shapes), to customising your rims and laying down some paint. Certain tuning options are locked until you've bought the required body kits or upgrades, but assuming you've spent the cash you'll be able to adjust tyre pressure, tweak downforce and more.
Outside of the career mode there's the usual quick race and time trail options, as well as online multiplayer for up to eight players. Our tests have been limited to a maximum of five other players on a closed private network, but performance was excellent. There's nothing too remarkable about the online implementation, but with the driver points carrying through you'll always be working towards the next driver rank and the unlocks that go with it. There's some decent friend integration, with your buddies' best times on tracks appearing throughout the career mode, but there's just nothing here that stands out as anything wholly new. Thankfully the driver AI when you're playing alone is up there with the best we've seen, so the online limitations are certainly forgivable.
Need For Speed: Shift is a brilliant new start for the franchise and has clearly been built by a team that loves racing. It's got shortcomings, as you'd expect from a new entry in the genre (notably a fairly basic online offering and a catch all career mode), but the on-track action is worth the price tag. Shift comes highly recommended to all racing game fans, even if it may well end up serving as a stop gap release until console exclusive heavy hitters Forza 3 and GT5 turn up.