Well, I don’t know quite what to think about this one. To be sure, the writing and acting is gonna be worth the price of the game, and there’s no contest that you’ll mostly be enjoying going through the game, so that’s not where the question lies.
What I’m not sure about, though, is gameplay. The God of War clone parts are more competent and pleasant than I expected (although the enemies feel a little too easy in medium difficulty — even for a first level) but the vehicle part felt superfluous and pointless, and the boss fight was really more annoying than anything else. Then, there’s the Overlord/Pikmin bits that seems to take a lot of importance later in the game, and isn’t in the demo at all, so it’s hard to get an idea of how it all really plays. Ah, and it feels a little too linear, but that may be because it’s the beginning of the game (although I’m not so sure — the feeling mostly stems from the fact that it all takes place in narrow corridors through wide open spaces, instead of God of War’s closed kill-rooms, which aren’t conceptually much better but feel more natural). Finally, the graphics would for the most part look better on a standard-definition TV.
And yet I think it’s a buy. Well, probably. Maybe a pool-with-a-couple-friends buy. (I don’t expect much replayability, and I can’t believe the multiplayer mode will have so much legs — but I could be completely wrong on that one.)
I was all prepared to bury this game, despite the mostly good reviews that I’d seen, and here I am having to rewrite it all from scratch: this game should really be called I Can’t Believe It’s Need For Speed.™
It’s getting pretty hard at this point to decide which is prettier, of Forza 3 or Shift, but here’s something I can tell: for whatever reason(s), the new Need for Speed feels much more immersive than its direct competitor, and gives a better sense of speed (although that one’s hard to say for sure, because the Forza demo offers a slower track). I still think blurring the inside view’s dashboard when you’re driving fast is stupid (turns out that it doesn’t actually bother you while you’re focusing on your driving, but it makes the dials unusable and forces you to rely on the HUD, which proves that it’s an absurd gimmick), but everything else works better, and I’m not sure why — there’s some video effects there (does Forza even have motion blur at all? maybe that’s why it feels so sterile), and the camera placement is clearly much better, both in cockpit and outside views. That may only be a case of Shift handling my 1280x1024 aspect ratio better than Forza, and maybe they’re more similar in widescreen, but that wouldn’t make the point any less relevant for my personal case.
But Forza never really won on its visuals. The real surprise is, I can’t particularly fault Need for Speed’s physics model — it all seems perfectly realistic. And the assists work as well as, or possibly better than, in Forza, although it pains me that, in both games, auto-braking is enabled by default — what the hell happened to racing games? But here’s where Forza gets the advantage back, and ultimately wins the match for me: when you’re playing with a pad (and Microsoft’s wheel is crap, so I wouldn’t buy it even if I could afford to), Forza does some magic on the stick’s input to smoothen it out — because that thing is physically imprecise and hard to control exactly with your thumb, when twisting it a few degrees is supposed to emulate a whole turn or two of a car’s wheel. In Need for Speed, however, you’ve got a choice between enabling steering assist, which is insufferable because you can actually feel it driving for you, or disabling it and having each little nudge of the left stick be transmitted live to your front wheels, making the car much harder to control than it should. It may be that Shift is the better game of the two when you have a wheel, I don’t know — but if you’re going to get a cross-platform game with a wheel, you’d be much better off playing it on the PS3 with a Logitech wheel anyway, instead of going with the Xbox version.
Before I finish, two quick observations since I’m not going to buy the game and write a review: The pre-race briefing is definitely a fantastic idea that all racing games should implement (although Shift’s briefing isn’t linear enough to properly memorize the advice; they should just show a run of the whole track rather than a fancy highlight reel… that’s certainly more fun to watch, but less efficient for learning). And the game does the rather common, but increasingly unacceptable mistake of going straight from a longish load screen to the race start — where Forza inserts a confirmation screen so that you can go pee while the track loads.
EA was really close to a miracle here — it’s both a pity, and an impressive feat in itself that they came so close to an actually great racing game — but, despite its advantages, I just can’t put Need for Speed: Shift ahead of Forza 3. It’s a little less precise for simulation drivers, and not that much more approachable for the general public (the assits work very much the same way, and they don’t make Shift a Project Gotham Racing replacement any more than they do on Forza — they’re just driving in your place, instead of “just” simplifying the physics). And it obviously wouldn’t make much sense for anyone to buy both. (Although I’m sure some car fanatics will.)
On the PS3 however, if you’ve got a wheel and can’t wait for Gran Turismo, I’d say it’s an acceptable purchase.
The worst part about this is that I can’t figure out what the hell that ad is supposed to mean. Or why the Corvette turns into a Lotus. Those japan people, they’re weird, huh, what about those talking toilets they have, amirite?