A good part of the Techtree editorial team consists of gamers, and just like the rest of this country, we all unanimously love the racing genre. If you have been a regular in the gaming section, you already know of my love for both Arcade and Simulation disciplines. A good game, however, transcends all trappings of genres, because when the developer gets the formula just right, the game is bound to leap past the barriers of sub-genres and appeal to anyone with good taste. But a lot of the contemporary games got the plot wrong. Games like F1 2010 couldn't make up their minds if they were arcade or simulation, and ultimately ended up picking the worst from both the genres. As for Gran Turismo 5, it was too little, too late and somehow managed the peculiar feat of looking rushed despite being in development for six years.
But not all hope is lost. There may not have been any decent racing simulators after Richard Burns Rally or the online ones like rFactor and Live for Speed. The recent past saw some good quasi-simulators like Forza Motorsport 3 and Need for Speed: Shift. While there are many quasi-simulators that aren't accurate, the idea is to lean towards being fun - striking a fine balance between reward and realism. While NFS: Shift wasn't the most accurate simulator, it's one of the few games out there that could show you why a Lotus Elise is better than a Porsche Carrera, and what makes enthusiasts prefer the Pagani Zonda F over the Lamborghinis and the Ferraris of the world.
Shift captured the essence of each car - things like the sharp steering response and the pivoting agility offered by the small wheelbase of the Lotus, and the ability to show the difference between the lack of mechanical grip at slow speeds and a gradual increase in high speed grip generated by massive downforce of a lightweight Zonda F. In short, Shift was nothing short of awesomeness. It's no surprise that Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed was the one game I looked forward to this year. We haven't really got a review code yet, and neither is the game officially available here, but a few dollars for a pre-order (PC version) didn't hurt anyone, especially when the game's awesome enough to be worth it.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. I jumped the gun despite knowing the history of the last NFS release, which shipped with traction issues and glitches in Nvidia PhysX that pretty much made the game unplayable; at least until the damning bugs were fixed through a patch a good while later. Shift 2 Unleashed is no different. The original plan was to review the game over the weekend and publish it subsequently, but the very idea of a review is to help you, the reader, make an informed purchase decision. Although what you're reading right now does not constitute a review, this will definitely help you make an informed decision as a buyer. The decision not to buy the PC version of Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed till the developer gets off its ass and rolls out a patch or two.
The PC version of Shift 2: Unleashed has a singular damning flaw that makes it impossible to play the game. For some inexplicable reason, the Xbox 360 gamepad for PC, which worked perfectly in the last Shift game, makes it nigh impossible to play the game. The problem lies with an abysmally non-linear analogue stick sensitivity response curve that makes the steering practically a digital on/off affair, which as you know, sounds the death knell for a game like this. No amount of tinkering with the gamepad sensitivity settings could make the game playable, so I have no choice but to optimistically assume the game works well with the steering wheel.
Yes, I said assume. The reason for my conjecture is the fact that not long ago I sold off my trusty Saitek steering wheel - rather imprudently, I must add - to buy a more expensive Logitech gaming wheel. When we asked Logitech to send us its latest G27 steering wheel for review, we got one that was DOA. Turns out, almost every other Logitech gaming wheel across the planet tends to die inexplicably. To put this into perspective, that's something worth a good part of a month's salary conking off just like that. A few weeks, and a zillion follow-up calls later, a Logitech rep tells us there won't be a replacement wheel coming our way. Ever. Turns out, Logitech has pulled the entire range of wheels out of the Indian market.
A quick glance at Logitech's Indian portal confirms this with the gaming wheels being conspicuous with their absence. That isn't surprising considering how costly it will prove for Logitech India to replace each wheel (several times over its warranty period, I must add) when you factor in the prohibitively expensive import duties. Yes, you can still buy one from the gray market, but that's without warranty for something whose reliability record makes the Xbox 360 console look as reliable as an AK-47 belonging to a German drill sergeant in comparison. Is it worth the risk? Hell no! Not at that price.
Believe me, I have thoroughly searched the market and conclude that it's nigh impossible to procure a decent (non Logitech) wheel locally. Importing one is a costly affair and has the same warranty issues. An average Indian gamer then has no choice but to stick to the de facto gaming standard of the Xbox 360 controller, which, by the way, makes Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed downright unplayable. Although, we haven't been able to test the game with a gaming wheel, early reports on the Internet suggest that it's the same story all over again. It's surprising for a game to ship with such a fundamental glitch. This makes one wonder if they beta test game at all these days.
For all we know, it's only the PC platform, which usually gets ignored, that may face these control gremlins. There may be nothing wrong with the console versions, but we can't say that for a certainty till we have the console review code in hand. So the smart thing to do right now is to stay put and either wait for PC patch to arrive, or watch this space till the time the trolls at EA decide to wake up from their slumber and send us a review code - preferably one where the gamepad makes you look less like a spastic experiencing a stroke, and more like Sebastian Loeb dealing precise inputs in the smooth analogue goodness that we expect from the Xbox 360 controller.