Friday, March 11, 2011

GT5 vs. NFS: Shift

Waging war since before the beginning of time...

For years now, the Gran Turismo series has been known as the pinnacle of racing simulation; the technical turns, drafting and tuning. It certainly isn't the most "simmy" in the world but undoubtedly the most popular and comprehensive. The Need For Speed franchise, however, has been known to the be the pinnacle of arcade racing; taking sharp turns at 150mph, bottomless supplies of NOS, etc. Going into this competition, Need For Speed: Shift is the underdog. It's EA's second (after the forgettable NFS: Pro Street) foray into racing simulation. Gran Turismo also has a head start by being able to port over many cars from the previous generation, pumping the roster up to an unprecedented 1,000+ cars.
That said, this is actually a close race (oh yeah, pun definitely intended).
Let's start with Gran Turismo. While GT can tout its huge roster, it's somewhat misleading. Annoyingly, there are about 15 different Mitsubishi Lancers and another 15 Nissan Skylines. They also added cars like the "Daihatsu Midget" as well as Go-Karts. Who is really going use cars like the latter two for more than just a novelty try-out? Plus, there are no Pontiac Firebirds, for example, but they added the Toyota Prius. The Prius? Really?? Additionally, as mentioned, many cars (most, in fact) have been ported over and did not get the "premium treatment" like others did. They lack in detail, some customization options and an in-cockpit view. Supposedly only 200 of the roster received the premium treatment. You can't blame the developer however. With the axiom of "GT = tons of cars" has been set for years and they had to deliver, you can't simply make 1000+ cars from scratch. So it is what it is, just don't expect your favorite car to be as customizable or as good looking as others. At the end of the day, it's still a thousand freakin' cars!
I hate when they don't signal.
Possibly hand-in-hand with this is the audio. The engine noises are somewhat bland and quite, especially when compared to the competition. It really is not a huge deal, but it certainly doesn't help the sense of speed and overall feeling of "Hey! I'm in a race car!" 
Put simply, it struggles to make you feel like you're going fast.
Then there is the actual physics behind the racing. This is essentially what makes the game simulator-like as opposed to "arcadey". You know, for being considered the best sim out there, its actual simulator properties are rather overrated, to be frank. Crashing into other cars and veering off of the track doesn't penalize you as much as you'd think. For example, you can fly into a sharp turn at 100mph, crash into the cars already in the turn, pushing them out of the way and pushing you into position. It's like bumper cars, really. You can completely bully your way through cars, rear end them, and knock them off the road with little consequence. If you crash into a wall at 200mph, you simply stop. There is no disorientation, nothing. You just backup a couple of feet and keep right on racing.
On the other hand, the tuning feature is top notch; you're able to customize brakes, gearing, transmission and suspension among others. The visual customization of your vehicles is quite lacking, but this has never been the strength of the Gran Turismo franchise. Color and rims is pretty much all you get. 
On side note, I think it's silly that you can only paint a car a color that you've unlocked through purchasing a car of that color and it's limited to only one time. So for example, if you want to paint your car black, you must have purchased a black car previously. Then once you use that black, it's gone until you buy another. You can, however, choose any color for your car when you buy it from the new car dealership.  
Need For Speed: Shift's roster isn't quite there at about 75 or so cars. The selection is equally diverse though.  The game uses a tier system to classify the cars as well as a point rating system to determine the class it falls into online. While on paper this approach seems to work, in practice it veers off course, specifically in online play. There are a handful of classes to race in: 
Cars with no higher a rating than 4, 7, 10, 14 and Unlimited. 
But the way the game was designed, you're rick rolled  into using one car for each class. For example, if you want to race in the 10 class, you must use the 1967 Corvette or, quite simply, you'll lose. Of course, driver skill is always a factor, but even an expert can't defeat a decent racer if they're using the wrong car. This really defeats the spirit of this type of racing game. You would think you'd be able to pick your favorite car and fix it up perfectly to fit your driving style and then take it online and actually stand a chance. Sadly, this is not the case. 
All that being said, the driving experience itself is amazing. The visual nuances are excellent, from the feeling of your head bobbing in discord with the car to the tunnel vision of driving at 200mph. Shift does an excellent job of making you feel like you're a racer in a race car. The engines absolutely scream at you, you'll need to turn Ventrilo up for this one, folks! Not only is it loud, but the audio is dead on accurate, whether your car is stock, modified with forced induction or just completely flat out built for the track. This game knows how to make you feel like you're going FAST. It's a rush!
For being the supposedly more "arcadey" racer, Shift's physics and driving experience are a bit more realistic. When you bump another car or scrape a wall, your vision becomes blurry, and even minor fender benders can become rather disorienting. While obviously in real life your visions doesn't get blurry, this is simply meant to simulate the loss of focus from collision. So needless to say, crashing is a big deal. Going off the track becomes an uncontrollable mess as well.
It's not a perfect system though, there are a few physics glitches, like being able to crash into a concave wall at an angle and riding along it at 150mph.
The performance tuning is on par with GT and the visual customization is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Everything from decals to body kits to rims to the color of each individual fender is customizable. This has been the spirit of the Need For Speed franchise for close to 10 years. 
It really boils down to personal preference as this one is neck and neck (a-thank you!). I give a very slight edge to Shift for being the more exhilarating and realistic driving experience and better customization ability. Both games have excellent graphics and game play. The 1000+ cars seems be a bit of a transparent, double-edged crutch for GT and Shift's multi player experience is a bit restrictive. You just need to ask yourself what kind of gamer you are.

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