Forza 5 is the racer I really want to play but this game is scratching that itch for me at the moment on PC.
The handling is very sensitive and each car takes some getting used to but is eventually very satisfying to drive. A good range of difficulty settings and driver assists which you can switch off means you can give yourself a fair challenge and feel satisfied when you drive well. The helmet camera and head physics were my favourite feature from the first Shift game and they return in Shift 2 to make the sensation of racing at speed only just in control of your car, really engaging. Unfortunately the immersion for me goes no further as there is no support for the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel which is my wheel of choice on PC, although in fairness plenty of Logitech wheels are supported. This limitation plus the distinctly floaty nature of the cars' handling causes me to play this game as more of an arcade racer than I do a game like Forza 4, but it is still enjoyable when played with the right expectation. The trusty 360 gamepad is supported and works very well for racing as you would expect. The menus are mostly easy to navigate with the 360 pad but all the on-screen button prompts are for the keyboard. It took me a while to work out how to save settings with the controller (press start) but after some trial and error I can deal with the menus well enough.
Shift 2 has a wide selection of real cars and tracks plus a smattering of fictional courses, some of which return from the first game. Full car customisation is provided allowing you to upgrade the performance and customise the appearance of the vehicles quite dramatically. Cars are given an overall performance rating and using this are separated into categories A, B, C, D just as in the original Shift game and familiar to players of other racing sims such as Forza Motosport.
The game looks pretty good in 1080p and on my machine (i5, 7850, 8GB RAM) with all presets set to High runs at 50-70 frames per second on the whole, though on certain corners of certain tracks framerate drops into the high 30s. I would like to tweak my settings a bit more to achieve a minimum of 60 but the game offers no benchmark mode so checking the effect of a graphics setting takes a long time - many changes even require you to restart the game. It is also disappointing that the low resolution cutscenes were clearly pre-rendered with consoles in mind which makes the unskippable cinematics during the career mode look very out-dated - cinematics should be used to flatter a game, but in the case of Shift 2 it's a relief to get past them and into the game which itself looks very attractive.
The Autolog and Online play require an EA Origin account (though the game does not require the Origin client). Unlike some players on the community hub I had no trouble at all activating the game or fighting with any DRM. The game installed and played easily from Steam just like any other game. Steam Overlay popped up showing me the product key when I first launched the game but I dismissed that as I have never had to type it in yet. I have tried to get an online match on two occassions and both times I was the only player online and had to create a lobby. Hopefully the sale weekend will get some new players lobbying up but I would not recommend this title if you are looking for multiplayer racing. It does provide a satisfying single player experience for players who enjoy racing against AI and testing themselves on simulations of the best cars and circuits in motorsport.
To my mind this game was a good buy at the recent sale price of £4.99 but I would hesitate to recommend it at the current full price of £19.99. It is true there are not a lot of other games of this type available on the PC which have the same degree of polish as Shift 2 Unleashed, but there are definitely better experiences out there on Steam for your hard-earned £20.
Posted: November 25th, 2013