Need for Speed shifts onto the iPhone, again

EA Mobile has released the second iPhone game in the Need for Speed series: Need for Speed SHIFT.

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Aston Martin DB9 in NFS:Shift
The Need for Speed series returns to the iPhone with NFS:Shift. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

EA Mobile has released the second iPhone game in the Need for Speed series: Need for Speed Shift.

You may remember that we took a look at Need for Speed Undercover not too long ago and found it was a fun, arcadelike take on racing with a decent number of fully customizable vehicles. Shift is an evolution of that game but with more realistic racing physics in place of the hokey storyline. Also new to Shift are customizable racing views. Users can now select between chase-cam, hood-cam, bumper-cam, and cockpit views. The cockpit view is unique to the vehicle you're driving, but unfortunately there are no working gauges. The cockpit view is also the only view that features damage modeling in the form of a windshield that gets more messed up the as you hit things.

Nissan Z interior in NFS:Shift
This Nissan Z features an accurate interior, but no working gauges. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

On your first outing with Shift, you'll be treated to a quick tutorial that teaches you how to drive with an iPhone. Shift pretty much plays like Undercover, but with a few key differences. Its steering is still controlled by tilting. The vehicles still auto-accelerate and brake when the screen is tapped. However, the race-breaker, slow-motion feature is gone and the controls are supposedly more realistic. In practice, this means that you can no longer win races without touching the brakes and that the transmission is now manual, which can be frustrating for novice users who just want to drive.

Fortunately, there are driver aids that can be activated that automatically brake and shift for you and assist steering that make your ham-fisted inputs smoother and more accurate. Users who want an easy to play, arcade-style racer can turn on the driving aids and win a few medals on the bus ride to work; and users who want more of a racing-sim experience can set all systems to manual for more control over the game. Driving aids or not, drifting is maddeningly difficult this time around. I prefer the drifting mechanics of Undercover.

Shift features 20 vehicles and 28 events spread across four tiers. Users start out at Tier 1: Chicago that can be raced using the Volkswagen GTI, the Mazda RX-8, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, or the Subaru WRX STI. As you advance, you'll unlock even more cars for purchase. By Tier 4, you'll have traded paint with the likes of the Nissan 370Z, the Corvette Z06, the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, and the Maserati MC12 GT1 car.

Career screen in NFS:SHIFT
SHIFT features a complex achievement system that greatly adds to its replay value. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Events include circuit races, sprints, time trials, drifting, and a few other unique types. Winning events earns you cash and unlocks new cars, events, and tiers. There's also an achievement system built in that rewards players for clean races, mastering corners, and driving stylishly.

Each vehicle has its own speed, acceleration, tires, suspension, and nitrous attributes that can be augmented with mods purchased with cash earned by winning events. Wheels, spoilers, bodykits, and paint can also be changed to customize the appearance of the vehicles. However, the livery can't be changed or removed, so you're pretty much stuck with that big Sparco logo running down the side of your GTI.

It's my opinion that while both Need for Speed apps are worth their $9.99 price tag, Shift is a better overall game than Undercover. Shift has better replay value thanks to its complex achievement system and the addition of local multiplayer over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth means that you can go head to head with your friends.

Need for Speed Shift is available for download in the iTunes app store.

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