A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this racing game, which features professional drivers on closed courses in sanctioned competitions, bears little resemblance to other recent entries in the Need for Speed franchise, which were all about illegal street racing. That means there are no gangs and no civilian traffic. However, like most racing simulators, players can choose to drive aggressively by bumping into competitors and pushing them off the track. Drivers are never injured in these scrapes, and the cars show only minor cosmetic damage. While that is good from the aspect of not seeing violence, it can also be a negative since it leaves the impression that agressive driving has no serious consequences. It’s worth noting as well that consumerism plays a role via the game’s licensed cars and in-game billboard advertising; and that the game has open chat for those playing online so kids may hear things that are inappropriate.
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What's it about?
After years spent exploring the world of illegal street racing, Electronic Arts’ long-lived Need for Speed racing series has taken a detour with NEED FOR SPEED: SHIFT, a fairly authentic racing simulator that leads players through a realistic (but fictional) series of professional racing competitions on closed courses. A hybrid between the arcade-like action of a franchise like Project Gotham Racing and the simulation style made popular by Sony’s Gran Turismo games, Shift allows players to race on real-world tracks using licensed cars that can be upgraded and precisely tuned. Meanwhile, players are awarded points based on their own particular driving style, which in effect encourages players to race either as cleanly or aggressively as possible. The career mode is filled with a wide variety of race types, including straight up races, time attack challenges, eliminator competitions in which the last-place car is ejected at regular intervals, and rivalry contests that see similar cars from different manufacturers squaring off against each other.
Is it any good?
Need for Speed: Shift’s real-world tracks are diverse and beautifully realized, and its licensed cars look and sound just like their real-world counterparts. They handle splendidly, too. Players can choose whether to make the cars feel realistic or arcade-like by altering a huge variety of modifiers, from electronic stability control and anti-lock braking systems to tire grip and steering sensitivity -- and this is before even entering the upgrade or tuning modules.
But the most satisfying part of the game is its rewards system, which sees players earning performance badges, winning money, and gaining in driver levels after almost every race. Indeed, progression is so swift and noticeable throughout the game that it can be difficult to keep from playing “just one more race” to earn enough cash for your next car or upgrade. It’s not quite as polished or epic as other racing simulators -- its collection of licensed cars is relatively low, and car damage appears more realistic in other games -- but Need for Speed: Shift is still a strong and welcome newcomer to a genre with only a few serious contenders.
Online interaction: This game supports open voice chat, which means that players could potentially run into others online who express language and ideas unsuitable for children.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the consequences of vehicular accidents. Shift is a fairly authentic racing game, but only in terms car tuning and handling. Its depiction of crashes suggests that cars can smash into solid barriers at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour with neither the car nor its occupant suffering any sort of serious damage. What do you think would happen to a real-world driver who experienced a similar sort of accident?
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