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Back in 2009 the long-running Need For Speed series took a sharp turn off its usual arcade course for a trip into simulation territory.

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Although at the time it was a weird departure for the franchise, the game was still very good and established itself as one of the best racing sims on console.

Since then NFS has sped back on to more familiar terrain in the form of the excellent Hot Pursuit, but EA clearly wasn’t ready to put the brakes on Shift and so got Slightly Mad Studios back in to do a sequel.

That follow-up is Shift 2: Unleashed.

Unleashed is a stupid name for a racing game, but that’s what they went with.

The other thing about the game which feels off is the car handling.

Although Shift 2 is still a decent outing, it feels like it’s got a slightly sick engine since it doesn’t seem to run as smoothly as the first game.

I no longer own the earlier Shift game so I can’t make a direct comparison but it feels like the quality of the car handling has gone into reverse. It may actually be exactly the same but it feels inferior.

In a straight line the cars are too floaty and bouncy, whereas the steering seems very heavy and unresponsive. It’s an odd combination.

Cornering in particular can take a Herculean effort. At times it’s like trying to turn a dustcart in a swamp, with a punishing yank of the analogue stick needed to get around a bend.

Fiddling around with car set-up and game options improves things, and I have adjusted to the handling simply by playing the game more, but not to the point of being completely comfortable.

Despite positioning itself as a simulation, Shift 2 still has strong arcade leanings. The racing is very exaggerated and unrealistic, but even allowing for this the handling is still a bit rough.

Another issue I’ve come up against is how the game seems to very slightly judder and jump when driving at slow speeds. When you put your foot down (or finger in this case) the game gets back to running smoothly and provides the sense of speed and exhilaration you’d expect from a premier racing game.

The problems I’ve had with Shift 2 are far from rendering the game unplayable but they have affected my overall enjoyment.

It’s a shame the game doesn’t deliver a truly top-spec performance on the track because in other areas the quality is plain to see.

Although their handling isn’t perfect, the cars are satisfyingly growly and look very good. All the superstar names you’d expect to be present are, including Lamborghini, Mercedes, Porsche, Lotus and Bugatti, and the customisation options are vast.

There is a good variety and amount of tracks to race on, featuring a mix of real life such as Brands Hatch and fictional such as the tight street circuit around London.

Shift 2: Unleashed

Developer: Slightly Mad Studios

Publisher: EA

Formats: PS3, Xbox, PC (PS3 reviewed)

Verdict: 7 out of 10 – Some vroom for improvement in this racing sequel which looks great but doesn’t handle so hot.

Though not quite up to the standards of F1 2010 or NFS Hot Pursuit, the tracks do still look excellent. The track surfaces as well as the detailed scenery are very impressive.

The blurry black and white effect created when hitting a wall hard is a bit weird but it doesn’t stop the crashes being right up there with the most shudderingly stomach-churning and violent crashes I’ve seen in a racing game. The car damage system is also severe, in a good way. This is one game in which you’ll want to protect your car as much as possible to have any chance of winning.

If you want a really frightening and disorientating ride, try the new helmet cam. It’s a clever gimmick but I can’t see many players sticking with it since it is a bit too severe.

I’ve crashed quite a bit while playing Shift 2, partly thanks to the aforementioned steering issues but also because the AI is very aggressive. Opponents don’t appreciate you going past, and they’re also not afraid to let you know when they’re around.

Something annoying which I’ve noticed is that computer cars cheat. They often manage to drive off the track without crashing and then carry on racing at top speed.

For its content, Shift 2 stays firmly on the tried and tested racing line.

So the career mode presents the standard mix of events to work through, each offering a test of your driving skills and setting performance objectives for completing it. You’ll gain XP for unlocking new events while you’ll also earn cash to go towards purchasing new cars and upgrades.

There is also a quick race option which allows you to set up your own races featuring up to 15 opponents.

Online racing is available, and one of the strongest features of the game is Autolog which was first seen in Hot Pursuit. Part leaderboard system, part social network, this system allows players to share photos, post messages and set challenges. It’s basically a bragging tool to make the game more competitive. If you’ve got at least a few friends playing the game, Autolog enhances the experience.

Overall, Shift 2: Unleashed is a good game but not a great one.

I’ve played most of the racing games available for PS3 and they range from the superb down to the real stinkers.

There are many times when Shift 2 is as thrilling as the very best racing games, and if it wasn’t for the slightly problematic handling it would be a contender for a podium position.

As it stands though, Unleashed only makes it into the top 10 at best.

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