As anyone that knows me or that has played online with me can tell, I’m a huge Gran Turismo fan. I have been playing it since its first iteration and continue to do so. It’s one of those games that no matter what my mood or length of gaming time I have available, I always get pulled into it. As a driving game I think that the latest iteration GT5 is one of the best games I have played and although I have tried other driving games, I have always come back to GT5 and given up on the others.
There is a game that I have recently been engaging in a digital driving affair with. I feel wrong and dirty but I secretly keep playing it wanting more. What’s more the affair I’m having is cheap, not just cheap, free! I paid full price for GT5 and this affair with another title hasn’t cost me anything. This title was a freebie with the increasingly PS3 gaming essential accessory: PS Plus.
Shift 2 is the adulterous game in question. It’s a very different animal than GT5 and maybe that is one of the reasons why I like it. It’s a racing sim where the owness is heavy on driving control rather than all out power and performance. In GT5 you can come off the racing line and power slide corners or flat out jump the corners with no ill effect. Doing any of those things in Shift 2 will result in a much reduced chance of making the podium.
Shift 2 makes you want to follow that racing line with pin-point accuracy. You get a sense of pride when you have dominated a circuit and mastered all the corners, got the fastest lap time and beaten all your friends’ times. There are a number of similar tracks between the two games which makes it an interesting comparison. One track in particular that stood out for me showing of each games strengths and weaknesses was the Laguna Seca track. This is an infamous track that demands good car control in real life as well as digitally. The GT5 version feels faster and tight. The corners feel more like I imagine they would and the rises and drops feel more dramatic and makes you feel you have to wrestle your car around it. The track to me feels more lifelike. The Shift 2 version is different. The corners and the track in general feel wider and flatter. The run off areas feel bigger, the track itself feels more muted than I imagine it should. The infamous ‘corkscrew’ corner section held great fear for me in previous GT games. The thought of pushing a Dodge Viper around that corkscrew section used to make me panic. The same feel is mostly there in GT5 but I can control the cars better now due to practice so it doesn’t hold the dread it once did. Driving the corkscrew in Shift 2 held no terror or dread for me. It’s a more difficult section than some but it was doable without much hassle.
This all sounds so negative for Shift 2 and you would be forgiven for wondering why I would choose to have a gaming affair with this title. Well Shift 2 holds a few interesting tricks.
The biggest thing I have found that Shift 2 has over GT5 is the risk of going off the racing line. It’s in a word Dangerous! Shift 2 has added the marbling effect to its race tracks that happens on all race tracks. Marbling for the uninitiated is when the driver’s tyres degrade over time and the rubber falls off and creates little balls of rubber which gets pushed onto the track off the racing line. Driving a car over these ‘marbles’ and in particular cornering at speed over these marbles is incredibly tricky. The car doesn’t want to steer in the way you are used to and needs concentration and control to bring it back onto the racing line. This is hard enough but when you have 8, 11 or 15 other cars chasing you round the track, you feel a much more realistic sense of how a racing driver must feel trying to keep a small lead. You now have to make a conscious decision on where and when to attempt to overtake an opponent and have to learn the tracks to judge your braking distances and what risks you will encounter when coming off the racing line. The fact that not only can you feel the marbling effect while driving but you can also see the build up of rubber on the track and see the marbles off the racing line makes this game feel great.
The next big thing for me is maybe a personal one but all good games need to catch that personal touch with the gamers to make them great. Shift 2 has some of my all time favourite cars included in its line-up. GT5 claims an amazing 1000+ cars to choose from yet somehow they missed out some incredible cars that I have wanted to drive. Shift 2 has some of these cars and for me that is a huge pull. I will forgive a lot in a game if they add something that I want that I can’t get elsewhere.
A personal favourite car for me is the Ford escort Cosworth. This has always been a car I have loved. There’s something about its family natured basis that has been turned into an insane powerhouse of muscle and intimidation. I can honestly say that given the choice between a Ford Escort Cosworth and say a Ferrari 458, I would go with the Cosworth every time! I know it’s crazy but I can’t help myself, sliding that car around a corner or watching it bounce over the curbs is a fantastic sight to see. I could spend hours ignoring the rest of the game and just spend it playing about in this one car, driving it, tweaking it, modifying it, driving it some more and then just staring at it and falling in love with it. I admit it; I am and always will be in love with the Ford Escort Cosworth.
Shift 2 also has other amazing cars in it such as the Lamborghini Reventon, Bentley Continental GT, Pagani Zonda Huayra, Gumpert Apollo etc which I still can’t believe GT5 hasn’t included either at launch or via DLC. As much as I love GT5 I have always complained about the lack of certain cars in the game. Shift 2 seems to have some of these cars that I want to use. That can’t be a bad thing. With all the cars in Shift 2 you can also modify them with paint, graphics and wheels. This is something that GT has lacked and in my opinion is something that has to be added in any next iteration. The option to change the whole colour of your car in GT5 is ok but it’s basic, very basic. Shift 2 allows you to paint every body panel a different colour if you so choose. This combined with the vinals that can be added make for an almost limitless amount of personal customizations that can be created. I can lose hours just painting and creating new liveries for cars that I keep in my garage.
The Autolog feature is also something that keeps me coming back to Shift 2. Autolog is an online scoreboard for lap times. It holds all your friends times for each track and when you manage to beat one of their times, it sends them a message to say that you have overtaking them on the lap time boards. This can cause for some serious racing as while in a race against the AI opponents, you can also see the autolog time for your nearest rival on your friends list so you feel that need to push yourself harder to beat them. It makes the game extremely competitive in its own right. You will spend that extra time working on your car, or learning a track just so you can beat your friends and make it to the top of your Autolog list.
Shift 2 is never going to replace my love for Gran Turismo. I don’t really consider it a big rival to GT in regards to a serious racing title. It’s just not that big a game, it’s got its flaws and hasn’t grabbed my heart in the way that the GT series has but that said, Shift 2 is a great game in its own right. It does a lot of things right and has some aspects that other racing games should look at and wonder why they haven’t thought of those themselves. There is enough in Shift 2 to keep a driving fan interested and with that there will be times that I might be found telling GT5 that I have a headache or I’m too busy to spend time with it and then be caught on someone’s friends list sneaking around with Shift 2, and you know what, I’m not even that sorry.
(PS. A gaming affair is ok as long as you tell your wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend otherwise you could be in for a world of trouble!)