When it comes to choosing your next mobile game, it’s often a safe bet to go with an entry from an established franchise. So I decided to check out the recently released Need For Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed for the iPad in hopes that I would discover a high-quality mobile title from one of the oldest and greatest racing game franchises. And in some senses, I did. I found that a lot of effort had gone into the development of the game, what with the game’s mounds of content, but its downfall was that the gameplay itself was very standard fare for a mobile racing game.
To get started, you can pick from one of several game modes, something that I appreciated right off the bat. Though I chose to work my way through the career campaign, there were also quick race trials that I could do, single races (exhibitions), “Race Friends” (which was actually just leaderboard challenges that required you to sign up for an Origin account…more on that later), and legitimate multiplayer.The gameplay itself, however, is about as vanilla as it can get in that Unleashed gives you exactly what you would expect from a mobile racing game. Relying on the tilt-to-steer formula that has long since lost its wow-factor and sense of ingenuity (remember when they used that as a selling point in the old iPod Touch/iPhone commercials?), Unleashed does not offer a ton of complexity and can become exceedingly simple if you don’t fiddle with the default settings. Unless you tell the game otherwise, virtually everything but the steering –and even that is assisted by default — is handled automatically; acceleration, gear shifts, even braking. Even if you handle steering, acceleration and braking on your own (those were the settings that I played on), it’s still not particularly complicated or engrossing gameplay. You can try drifting for extra points (though it isn’t the most reliably triggered system) but beyond that, there isn’t a lot going on here.
Annoying Origin & Music
What I really could have done without was the constant hassling to sign up for Origin and/or shell out more cash for in-game content. For those not familiar with the situation, EA recently relaunched its digital storefront under the Origin name, and have been shameless pushing gamers to use and buy from it. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get your digital platform to catch on, especially when you’re competing with the likes of Steam. I can understand that, and I can even understand why the Origin logo is plastered all over every single race track in the game. But when features are locked until I sign up for an Origin account, or I get a pop-up message after every race saying, “Hey nice race, go spend some real money on new car,” then I feel that things are being taken too far. I bought your stupid game, isn’t that enough?
And a quick word about the soundtrack: it is absolute garbage and you will get sick of it almost immediately. I checked the game’s credits and it listed a mere five songs, but I’m almost sure that I only ever hear three songs playing over and over again. And these are not even catchy tunes or songs that are fitting for racing at breakneck speeds, like the well-selected soundtrack behind Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. This is crappy, radio alt rock that will grate on the ears, annoy you with its repetitiveness, and urge you to almost immediately mute the in-game tracks and turn on your own music. On the one hand, I applaud EA for getting licensed music to use in the game, as that’s almost always a plus. But with such a limited selection of such poor quality music, it’s basically wasn’t worth their trouble.
But credit where credit is due: the game does control pretty well. Cars handled well — or perhaps I should say realistically, as the lower-level cars handled like straight-up trash — and I especially appreciated the way the screen would turn in the opposite direction to accommodate the tilting and turning of the tablet; even if I was making an especially sharp turn that had me holding the tablet vertically, I was still looking at a properly-oriented view of my car. I also thought it was smart the way the “button” for the brake pedal was basically placed wherever you touched the screen. No matter what hand you prefer to use or how long your fingers are, so long as you touch anywhere on the screen but the nitrous button, you’ll trigger the brakes. I found this to be a very user-friendly design.