Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Video game review - Need for Speed Shift for PS3

I've rarely written about video games. Usually, I just like to play them, experience them and just enjoy it. However, there's this one game I recently bought that haven't met my expectations, and I'm ready to return it to the store. Electronic Arts just released Need for Speed: Shift. It was a big deal in the E3 gamers expo with better graphics and supposed better gameplay. It was suppose to match the caliber of Gran Turismo 5, GRID and Dirt. Let me just say - it doesn't. NFS:Shift follows the formula that the Gran Turismo series uses. Beautiful graphics and theatrics in the beginning so that the petrolheads of the world can salivate over, awesome music and even more awesome exotic, high-performance cars. NFS:Shift even has features to modify your vehicle so you can go with any kind of paint scheme you want and upgrade your car to perform better. Sound familiar?

Where NFS:Shift fails is in several areas:

1. From the start when the game is trying to determine the level of play and control settings, you are sent through a trial by driving a car on a course. If you do well, they may increase your level by reducing the number of computer nannies controlling your car and set the artificial intelligence engine to a higher level. If you do poorly, the game piles on the computer controls to a point where you don't actually drive your car anymore. Guess how I did? And this was very disconcerting because I had played driving games since Gran Turismo 2 (GT2).

For a good 15 to 30 minutes I was looking for the settings to change the level of play and rid myself of most of the computer nannies.
As for the cause of this poor performance? The controller settings forced me to use a specific set of buttons for certain controls instead those I was acclimated to on Gran Turismo. Perhaps this is their way of forcing gamers to buy the overpriced steering wheel control that has a flimsy ergonomic infrastructure to support it. (Yes, I know I'm not being nice.)

2. EA put what's called, "EA Messenger" in a horrible place where it can be easily pressed by accident and pause the game. This feature is activated by the same mechanism as the accelerator (the right thumbstick) by pressing on it (R3). Unfortunately, because of this new paradigm forced upon me on the controller settings, I've actually crashed my car because of where this function is located. Obviously, there wasn't enough usability research done to foresee such an instance. 3. Loading the game is an extremely boring process. I've counted that I had to press the "O" button ("X" on NA consoles since, mine is a Japan console) 5 times to load the game all the while watching different progress bars do their thing.

Why couldn't these processes be done automatically and without my knowing? Wow me with your car graphics and not your system messages.

All in all, I really wanted to love this game, I really did. Driving the new cars make this game addictive - but each and every time, it also makes me wince because of the lack of respect of these three crucial things in the user experience. Back to GT5 for me.

Here are my recommendations for racing games for the Playstation console, best user experience listed first:
2. GT5 Prologue
3. GT4
4. GT3
5. Colin McRae 2
6. Colin McRae 1
7. WRC
8. DiRT
9. Ridge Racer 5
Dead last perhaps umpteenth million NFS:Shift

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