The competitive online mode contains a selection of traditional race types. The new race type is Catchup, where one player is given a head start in a slow car while the rest of the field chases him or her down in more powerful supercars. If one of the supercars beats the slower car to the finish, that participant becomes the slow car in the next round. This cat-and-mouse style of gameplay was actually created by the community in the original Shift, but it's now an official mode in Shift 2, meaning you can now earn experience and money from it. Your progress is also unified across online and offline game modes, so however you're racing, you're always earning experience and cash.
Shift 2 notably includes the magnificent AutoLog feature, which was first introduced in last year's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. AutoLog tracks a friend's best time across every event in the game and sends you an in-game alert whenever one of your own times is beaten. As in Hot Pursuit, this can create some fierce leaderboard competition and is often even more compelling than the online racing. Shift 2 also displays a friend's lap time on the heads-up display while you're racing in single-player. You can always see the next time to beat, thus adding great incentive to keep pushing yourself, even if you're way ahead of the AI cars.
Graphical detail is much improved over the first Shift.
The graphics in Shift 2 have undergone a significant overhaul. Car models are much more detailed, while the circuits look a lot better than before. The tracks get dirtier and dirtier as races progress, with rubber marbles, leaves, and debris littering the side of the circuit off the racing line. However, driving over the dirty parts of the track has no noticeable effect on the car's handling. Trackside detail is terrific for the most part, with plenty of grandstands, billboards, animated marshals, and helicopters flying overhead. Unfortunately, on some circuits, there is a little bit too much detail, with advertising that hangs dangerously close to the circuit in locations where it would never be placed in real life. It feels as if the placement of advertising was designed to be in your face while driving, rather than for realistic purposes.
One of the biggest new presentational features is the helmet cam. In this view, you can see the normal cockpit camera through your driver's visor, with the inside of your helmet silhouetting the edges of the screen. Like many first-person shooters, the screen will desaturate if you're caught in a big enough collision, which makes it feel disorienting and violent. Helmet cam is an interesting idea, and it has been used to great effect in some PC driving simulations, but it hasn't been executed as well on consoles. In Shift 2 it provides an incredible sense of immersion as your head bounces with the bumps and the screen blurs at high speed to draw your focus into the road ahead and away from the car's interior. The camera also moves while going around corners to focus your view toward the apex of the turn, rather than straight out of the windscreen. While this provides a deep sense of what it is like to sit in a racing car, it can hinder your ability to drive fast laps in the game environment. The extra screen space taken up by the helmet reduces your view of the road, and the look-to-apex feature can feel very unnatural. Most people will probably still revert to the normal cockpit camera or hood camera to set their fastest lap times. However, the helmet camera definitely offers a more exciting way to play Shift 2.
The handling does little to help you predict the car's behavior.
The cars in Shift 2 sound great. Engine noises are loud and convincing, while the sounds of metal and carbon fiber smashing during accidents are downright brutal. Unfortunately, some of the voice-overs from real drivers are poorly delivered and often end up becoming irritating and a little condescending. The soundtrack is also poor. It uses orchestral remixes of tracks by modern bands, such as Biffy Clyro and Rise Against, but they sound out of place and give the impression that Shift 2 takes itself a little too seriously.
Shift 2: Unleashed is a racing game that turns sitting behind the wheel into a roller-coaster ride. It offers a compelling single-player Career mode and great online features, allowing you to progress while playing through both. The return of the superb AutoLog feature furthers the replay value by creating a streamlined leaderboard competition that's focused on your friends. While the game has improved over the first Shift, fans of simulation racing may find that such new features as the helmet cam feel like gimmicks. They will also be disappointed by the sometimes unpredictable car behavior and the ridiculously aggressive AI. Shift 2: Unleashed is a good sequel that will serve as an enjoyable entry point to serious racing; however, more experienced racing game players should stick to Shift's more realistic rivals.