Like the first game in the Shift series, Shift 2 Unleashed was developed for EA Games by Slightly Mad Studios (SMS). However, unlike the majority of the other Need for Speed games, the Shift series focus on circuit based racing rather than illegal street racing mixed with max power style car modification. The big attraction for me was the beautiful graphics, the great selection of real world circuits and the official licenses for the FIA GT3 and GT1 championships.
Having recently built a gaming HTPC I decided to purchase the PC version of Shift 2 rather than the PS3 version for two key reasons. Firstly the graphics are significantly better, and as was the case with the first Shift game, there was the possibility of community developed mods to extend and enhance the game, but more of that later.
Lets begin with the graphics, and in my opinion Shift 2 is the best looking racing game I have played to date. The car models are highly detailed, and the lighting gives the game a realistic quality that the sterile GT5 cannot get close to. The range of cars available to drive includes all of the GT1 cars and with the exception of Ferrari, all of the GT3 cars as well. In addition to these race cars, there is a good selection of cars available from the Golf GTi through to the new Pagani Huayra, and all of these cars can be race modified if desired.
The cars all feature high quality interior views (take note GT5) and multiple pre-defined liveries that you can choose from. Unfortunately the in game editor that is supposed to enable you to create your own custom liveries, in much the same way as the Forza series does on the XBOX, is frankly unusable, as was the case in the original Shift.
One of the hyped features of Shift 2 was the helmet camera, which was designed to provide a more immersive driving experience. It is a nice idea and well executed, but the amount of movement as you accelerate and brake becomes tiring after a short period of time, so I much prefer to stick with the standard in car view.
Once you turn off the annoying American announcer the sounds are generally very impressive, and each car has distinct engine sound (take note of that again GT5), even if there is too much transmission whine, especially in the road cars.
Early in the game where you are racing road cars like the Golf GTi on tight street courses the AI drivers have a tendency to regularly drive into you from behind in the braking areas, which can be very frustrating. I’m not sure if this was a result of the patches or a combination of the class / tracks that I have been racing on more recently, however this issue appears to have gone away. In fact I have driven several close races in the GT3 class against the AI drivers where they have been very clean. I was also impressed to see them moving off line to defend the inside line into the braking zones for hairpin corners.
But its not all good new, unfortunately as there are a few fundamental issues with Shift 2, even after the release of two patches for the game in 2011. Firstly, it appears that the game was designed to be played on a console with a joypad, and not a PC with a steering wheel. As a result the handling of the cars is inconsistent at best, and for some like the Lotus Exige the car is almost undriveable. By adjusting the suspension settings in the game some of these handling issues can be reduced, but the game should not have been released with cars that handle so badly with the default setups.
The two other main issues are the gravel traps and magnetic attraction to other cars. If you so much as put a wheel wide into a gravel trap the car is unrealistically and violently sucked in, irrespective of the amount of steering lock applied. Similarly if you make contact with another car, the two cars become locked together and there is very little you can do as both cars head towards the nearest barrier.
Overall Shift 2 has the feel of a great game that was rushed, not finished or probably both. For example, it was discovered that Shift 2 has 5 hidden cars (Alfa Romeo 8C Spider, Aston Martin DBS Volante, Audi R8 Spyder, Koenigsegg Agera and Pagani Cinque Roadster) already in the game that were intended to be part of a 3rd Down Loadable Content (DLC) pack. Unfortunately, following an announcement by EA Games on 3rd July 2011 that development and support for Shift 2 had come to an end, it looks as though these cars will never be available to drive in the game.
However, all is not lost thanks to the enterprising modders out there in the sim racing community. While surfing the NoGripRacing forum I came across the “Unofficial Community Patch” which has dramatically improved my enjoyment of this game. The handling of the cars when using a steering wheel has been significantly improved. Apparently the location of the fuel tank was in some cases up to 2m behind the rear of the car, and as you can imaging this would have a detrimental effect on the cars handling.
Similarly the quick sand nature of the gravel traps and magnetic effect of making contact with other cars have both been reduced, but not eliminated. This patch also added several new levels to the career structure that enables the player to unlock the cars that would have been available as part of the 3rd DLC pack.
With the PC version of the game it is also possible to create your own custom liveries in PhotoShop and import them into the game, thus circumventing the terrible in game livery editor. Creating a realistic livery takes time and the import process is far from straight forward, however I have successfully created several custom liveries and published a step-by-step guide to help others in creating their own custom liveries on the NoGripRacing forum.
So where does that leave Shift 2, well the various community mods have transformed an unfinished game into one that is highly enjoyable and one that has provided some of my best sim racing experiences. So if you have a PC that is powerful enough to run the game with the graphics maxed out, a steering wheel and pedals, and you are happy to install some community mods to improve the game, then Shift 2 comes highly recommended.
If you would like to see what SMS can do when they are able to create a game that is designed from the ground up to be played on a PC with a steering wheel (and without the interface of a major studio), take a look at projectCARS which is currently in development and is expected to be released in late 2012 or early 2013. I have already invested in this community supported initiative and will share my thoughts on the game as it progressed over the next 12-18 months in future posts.
Growing up and watching Formula 1 on a Sunday afternoon, Ayton Senna was always my favourite driver. The amazing qualifying laps, the dramatic wheel to wheel racing, the multiple race and championship wins. He really stood out as the leading driver of his generation, and the image of him in the red and white McLaren wining the Monaco Grand Prix is how I will always remember him.
However, the movie that carries his name is not a Hollywood dramatisation, but a 106 minute documentary carefully assembled from over 5,000 hours of archival footage by director Asif Kapadia, together with editors Gregers Sall and Chris King.
For many the 1980s/1990s were one of the real high points for Formula 1. The cars were extremely powerful (reports of 1,000BHP in qualifying trim), but with more basic aerodynamics and larger tyres they had a greater dependence on mechanical grip, meaning the cars could race more closely than is the case with modern F1 cars.
There were also some great drivers in Formula 1 at that time including Prost, Mansell, Alesi and Beger. For me Senna was the stand out driver of his generation, exhibiting an almost super human talent behind the wheel, which made is death live on Sunday afternoon television all the more shocking. It is a strange feeling walking into a cinema to watch a film about your childhood hero knowing that it is going to end in his death. At the same time I was excited to see and hear these classic Formula 1 cars on a large cinema screen, to see if it recaptured the excitement and lived up to my memories.
Other than a few YouTube video clips I have not watched any F1 races from the late 80s and early 90s for over a decade, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect in terms of picture quality. Clearly scaling up the footage from a TV broadcast and projecting it onto a cinema screen was going to lead to compromises, but I was unprepared for how poor some the video sequences looked. I guess watching the races on a 21” CRT television can hide a lot of picture inadequacies, and when you have not seen a high definition broadcast on a modern plasma screen, you don’t really have a frame of reference to compare with. That being said you soon get used to the visual presentation and get drawn into the story.
The film follows Senna from the point at which he starts his Formula 1 career to the point of his death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. What surprised me the most was how amateur the races, circuits and safety precautions looked. Some of the circuits looked like minor roads though a park rather than a Formula one race track. The level of danger was extremely high, and in one shocking crash involving Martin Donnelly the car disintegrated around him and he was left lying motionless in the middle of the track.
As you would expect there were several great on track action sequences showing Senna doing what he did best. Driving a Formula 1 car at and in many cases beyond its limits. But for me I left feeling short-changed by the race footage. I could easily have watched another hour of Senna’s best qualifying laps, races and overtaking manoeuvres. Hopefully the director will include plenty of additional footage on the Blu-ray of the movie when it is released later in the year.
But for me it was the behind the scenes footage that were the most revealing. In particular the sequence showing the discussions and arguments that took place in the drivers briefing before the race was very insightful. If you think the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone are bordering on corrupt in the way in which they run Formula 1 today, then very little other than the huge sums of money involved has changed in the last twenty years.
The film concluded with Senna’s death at San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 and the state funeral in São Paulo, Brazil which was handled with sensitivity and respect.
This is a great film, and one which resonates for the average viewer as well as the true Formula 1 fan. However, I left the cinema wanting more, I could easily have watched another hour of footage documenting how Senna progressed from karts through the junior series into Formula 1. Similarly there were so many great races and victories that were absent, the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donnington which took place in the torrential rain for example, that it is easy for the true Senna and Formula 1 fan to feel short changed.
Overall watching this movie was a fascinating and at times highly emotional experience, and the film certainly deserves the praise it has received from critics and fans alike. The archive footage showcased Senna’s talent behind the wheel and the behind the scenes sequences provided a never before seen insight into the world of Formula 1, I just wish there had been more of it.
Until last year I was not really a fan of the Porsche 911, which I guess in part comes from living in central London and seeing lots of them on the road every day. With most of these cars having been purchased as status symbols rather than for their performance and handling. However, after driving a 911 (997.2) Turbo back to back with 5 other supercars on the public roads last year, it became very apparent why the Porsche 911 is held in such high esteem as a driver’s car.
The 911 Turbo was extremely quick and with its four wheel drive system had great traction, even in the wet when I drove it. However, I was keen to try the lighter and more track focused 911 GT3 RS at the Porsche Experience Centre which is located within the Silverstone circuit in Northampton.
Externally the GT3 RS is easy to distinguish from the lesser models in the 911 line up. It sits closer to the ground on lowered suspension, has an imposing front splitter, uses the wider Carrera 4 body shell, with extended front wheel arches, a huge carbon fibre rear wing, bucket seats and half a roll cage where the rear seats would normally be located.
The GT3 RS was fitted with a 3.8 litre flat six engine which develops 444 bhp. This might be the most lightweight track focused 911, but it still weighs a not insubstantial 1370kg. The GT3 RS was available in white, grey or blue with a choice of contrasting red or gold wheels and stickers, which means the GT3 RS stands out, even in a car park full of high performance cars.
Sitting in the GT3 RS for the first time it is immediately obvious how low the car is to the ground, and how low the bucket seats are mounted. At 5′ 10″ I could only just see over the alcantara wrapped steering wheel. The thinly padded carbon fibre seats have a fixed back and only adjust forward/backward with a manual lever, but were surprisingly comfortable and held you securely without being overly tight or restrictive.
Pulling away for the first time I depressed the heavy clutch pedal, slotted the short alcantara covered gearstick into first and gently increased the revs. The heavy clutch certainly requires a strong left leg when changing gear, but it was actually relatively easy to set off without stalling or using excessive revs, and to make a smooth gear change once the car is rolling. The brake pedal is almost solid meaning that it’s the force that’s applied to the pedal and not the distance you press the pedal which determines how strongly the brakes pads are forced against the ceramic discs.
The Porsche Experience Centre at the Silverstone circuit includes four areas (Handling Circuit, Kick Plate, Ice Hill and Low Friction) where you can explore the performance and handling of the car. I began with the Handling Circuit, which resembles a challenging country road with a variety of cambers, blind corners and elevation changes to test the car and driver. My driving consultant Neil asked me to drive 4 or 5 laps so that he could assess my driving technique and lines around the circuit.
It didn’t take more than a lap to appreciate why the GT3 RS won EVO magazines Car of the Year (CotY) in 2010. The whole car feels so tightly screwed together and there’s not a millimetre of imprecision in any of the controls. I guess that’s German engineering for you. The steering is razor sharp with the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres generating huge levels of grip and enabling you to position the car accurately on the road, but also giving plenty of feedback as the road surface or camber changed. With the suspension on the softer of the two PASM settings the ride quality was very good, and you could certainly use the car every day.
Having completed 5 laps Neil asked me to return to the holding area so that he could give me some feedback on my driving. Neil said that my lines were good but that I was braking too hard and over too short a distance. He advised that I needed to brake over a longer distance and be smoother coming onto and off the brakes in order to manage the weight transition. After another 5 laps of the Handling Circuit I was beginning to improve my braking and the both my driving and the car became much smoother and more progressive. The tight and twisty nature of the Handling Circuit didn’t provide a great opportunity to experience the high speed performance of the GT3 RS, but accelerating hard out of the corners it was apparent that the 3.8 litre engine was not lacking in power or noise.
Neil and I then moved onto the Kick Plate, which effectively simulates a large area of sheet ice with a “Kick Plate” that puts the car into a slide as you drive over it and onto the surface. On my first attempt at about 15 MPH I managed to catch the slide, but as we increased the speed to around 25 MPH I had a few dramatic spins as I struggled to control the car. However, on my final attempt I managed to catch the spin, not an easy skill to master and shows that even a small increase in speed can significantly reduce the changes of a driver correcting a spin in poor weather.
Next it was the Ice Hill, a 7% gradient decent with a slippery surface covered by a constant flow of running water just for good measure. The challenge was to get to the bottom of the hill, steering around the jets of waters shooting up vertically from the road surface without skidding. On my first attempt with the traction control switched on, I simply steered around the two obstacles without any drama. Given how good the traction control and stability controls are on modern Porsches you either need to be a incompetent driver or driving at excessive speeds to get into trouble on the public roads.
On the second run with the traction control switched off I got half way down the slope before I spun negotiating the second obstacle. Neil explained that the correct technique was to make very small steering inputs before returning the steering to the straight ahead position. This felt very strange, but was very effective and I easily made it to the bottom of the hill on my next attempt without spinning.
The final area I explored was the Low Friction track, where the objective was to provoke the car into a controlled power slide. A series of corners had been specially polished to reduce the level of grip making it easier to slide the car. However, in a car with as much rear end traction as the GT3 RS it required a hard application of the throttle in first gear to unstick the rear tyres, even with the traction control switched off. For me this was probably the most challenging of the four areas, and trying to provoke the GT3 RS into a controlled power slide was a difficult technique to master. However, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts I managed a couple of respectable power slides, but a lot more practice is required to perfect my drifting skills.
Overall my 90 minutes in the GT3 RS at the Porsche Experience Centre had been great fun and had given me the opportunity to drive the car in a number of extreme situations that a regular dealer test drive could never hope to match. It’s an expensive activity, but one which I would highly recommend to anyone thinking of purchasing a Porsche as it provides a great insight to the performance, handling and capabilities of the vehicle.
And so to the Porsche 911 GT3 RS itself. The term “Racecar for the Road” is used all too frequently, but I cannot think of any car which deserves this badge more that the GT3 RS. It is a serious driver’s car that needs to be driven well to get the most out of it, but rewards hugely when you do. For me it is the polar opposite of the Nissan GTR that I drove a couple of months ago. The GT3 RS makes you work hard on your driving technique and every mistake is immediately amplified. Whereas the GTR feels like it is doing all the work for you, with its computers cover up any driving errors.
I think I have found my next car when the time comes to upgrade from my VW Golf R32 Mk4. So the saving starts here, both for the car and the Porsche driving course as I improve my technique to make the most of the car’s performance on the road and on the track. But which colour combination to go for?
Since being released in Japan during December 2007 and in the UK in the March of 2009, the Nissan GTR has become a performance icon. It’s a practical four seat saloon car that with a claimed time of 7:26 can lap the Nürburgring circuit faster than a Porsche Carrera GT, Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Murciélago LP670-4 SV. Its profile was raised still further when it was featured on TopGear in a spectacular race where Jeremy driving the GTR raced across Japan against James and Richard on the Bullet train.
The GTR has often been described as “the car of the PlayStation generation”, and this is certainly pertinent, as many gamers discovered the GTRs predecessor, the Nissan Skyline GTR as part of the Gran Turismo series of games. Appropriately the team from Polyphony Digital who created Gran Turismo helped to design the GTR’s multifunction display, which can be configured to provide the driver with information on engine temperatures, oil pressure, cornering g-force, lap times etc.
When this, the face lifted and even more powerful 2011 model was delivered, the first thing that struck me was how large, and in particular how wide the GTR is. Photographs do not give an accurate impression of the sheer scale of this car, it’s certainly not lacking in road presence. Other than an increase in horsepower from 480 bhp to 530 bhp from the 3.8L twin-turbo V6 engine, the other 2011 enhancements include lighter wheels, day time running lights at the front, a redesigned rear diffuser and the option of dark blue paint. Unfortunately, the GTR is no longer the performance bargain it was when first released in 2009, as these enhancements also come with a price rise of almost £10K, making the list price for a new 2011 model GTR £69,950.
Inside, the GTR has an interior that is almost a match for its rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Unlike many previous Japanese performance cars, a low quality interior is no longer a valid reason for choosing one of its German competitors. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the dash is clearly laid out with a large centrally positioned rev counter. I was rather surprised to see that the speedo went all the way to 220. Initially I thought that this was kmph, but no it was actually mph. Therefore, when doing 70 mph on the motorway the needle is only one third of the way around the dial. General visibility is good, with the exception of a huge blind spot over the driver’s right-hand shoulder. The sharply sloping roofline and small rear window ensure that the driver will need to be extra careful when joining the motorway or changing lanes. However, with 530 bhp on tap and a 0-60 time of 3.4 seconds, the driver is going to spend most of his or her time with their eyes fixed on the road ahead.
Like most current high performance cars the GTR comes with a paddle shift gearbox, and unfortunately a manual option is not available. At slow speeds the gearbox is clunky and there is significant transmission shut as it changes between gears. If left in automatic mode the GTR is very refined and has already up shifted to 6th gear by around 50 mph, in a futile effort to deliver some level of economy. A swift stab of the accelerator will see the GTR drop a couple of gears in an instant and launch itself towards the horizon. But for real driving thrills the sequential paddle shift is the only way to go. This gives the driver much greater control of the car’s performance, and although still not as much as a proper manual gearbox, it enables you to bring the car alive, extracting much more of the colossal performance that you know is under the bonnet.
Once on the move the car appears to shrink around you, but there is no getting away from the fact that this is a large car, particularly on narrow A and B roads, where you are always very aware of the width of the GTR. With 15″ (380 mm) disc combined with Brembo 6-piston front and 4-piston rear callipers, the brakes are as you would expect phenomenal for a road car. And this is just as well because at over 1,700 kg the GTR is no feather weight like a Lotus Elise. Like the width, you are always conscious of the GTR’s weight, especially when braking from high speed or making quick direction changes.
The engine sounds very technical, and you can hear the twin turbo chargers sucking air into the engine when accelerating hard. However, the GTR sounds quiet and refined from the inside, without any roar to back up the huge performance. I suspect that this is largely down to bureaucratic noise regulations, but for me this as one of the big disappointments with the GTR, especially when you see the two pairs of huge exhausts that leaves following drivers in no doubt that this is a serious performance car. However, I’m sure that a trip to a performance exhaust specialist like Milltek Sport would easily (if not cheaply) rectify this issue, but it really should sound better when it comes from the factory.
The GTR is an awesome car, the performance is breathtaking, the grip and handling are brilliant, and of all the cars I have driven, none has generated as much interest and attention. At huge speeds on the German autobahn this car would be unbeatable, but in the UK on normal roads, the experience lacks any real driver involvement at legal speeds. This is where the PlayStation references comes back to bite the GTR. It is almost too good for the public roads, and this makes the driving experience rather unsatisfying, especially combined with the unwieldy width and hefty weight.
So would I buy a Nissan GTR? Well the answer is, it depends. If you are looking for a saloon car with four seats that you can drive every day and would normally have considered an Audi RS4/RS6 or BMW M3/M5, then I would go for the GTR, no question about it. But if I was looking for a second car in which to tap into my inner racing driver for a Sunday morning blast or an occasional trackday, then I think I would look elsewhere for a lighter, more compact and more involving car. Something like the Porsche 911 GT3 RS that I am due to test drive in the next couple of months perhaps.
I should probably start this post by stating that I am not a huge fan of the “Max Power” style of modified cars where someone has spent £20K modifying a Citroen Saxo or Renault Clio. However, while browsing the SpeedHunters website I came across what I consider not only to be the best modified car I have ever seen, but the best looking Porsche full stop.
RAUH-Welt is a specialist Porsche body shop owned by Nakai-san and which is based in the Chiba prefecture of Japan. The signature details of the cars created by Nakai-san and his small team are extreme body kits, matt black paint and SSR SP1 wheels custom painted with a satin bronze finish. The phrase “racecar for the road” has never been more appropriate.
The 993 model which is featured in this post is a customer car called “Natty Dread”, the model of Porsche that is for me is the best looking 911 to date, although the current 997 model comes a close second. Nakai-san’s personal car, a 930 model is called “Stella Artois” after his favorite beer, of which there is always a well stocked fridge in his workshop.
For more details on RAUH-Welt and the Natty Dread please see the full article on the SpeedHunters website. If I win the lottery this weekend, I’m buying a 997 Turbo and having it shipped out to Japan for Nakai-san to work his magic on it.
It started pretty well for a Wednesday, with breakfast at Joe’s Kitchen with my friend Nick who bears a striking resemblance to Richard Hammond, but more of that later. After a relaxed breakfast of pancakes and mixed berry smoothie we set off for the Top Gear studio which is located at the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey.
We made a quick pit stop at the service station on the A3 and meet up with Mike and Jane for lunch at the Little Chef. Unfortunately, this Little Chef had not received the Heston Blumenthal makeover, and looked like it had been stuck in a time warp for the last 20 years.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get tickets from the Applause Store for previous series of Top Gear, it was a very surreal feeling as we entered the hanger where Top Gear is filmed. All around the hanger were iconic pieces from the TV show including the indestructible Toyota Hilux, the Fiat Coupe police car and the Cool Wall.
The lighting made it difficult to take good photographs, but we managed to get a group photo in from of the Cool Wall as shown below. We might be “Un Cool”, but at least we didn’t turn out to be “Seriously Un Cool”.
I had received tickets for Series 16 Episode 3, and the main feature this week was a group test of the Rolls-Royce Ghost, Mercedes S65 AMG and Bentley Mulsanne in Albania. This was interspersed with a review of Ford Focus RS500, Cosworth Impreza CS400 and Volvo C30.
The filming ran very smoothly with Jeremy and the team filming most pieces to camera in a single take. Jeremy Clarkson was very funny and engaged with the audience between filming which created a good atmosphere in the studio which certainly comes across on television. In comparison Richard Hammond looked moody and fed up between takes. However, as soon as the camera was turned on he came alive, but at no point did he make any effort to interact with the audience. James May only made a single comment on one of the news stories and filmed the link to the second half of the Albania feature, otherwise he was notable only by his absence. From attending the filming it became very apparent just how much Jeremy really carries the show.
The “Star in the Reasonably Priced Car” this week was Jonathan Ross. The interview lasted for about 40 minutes, but in reality this will be cut down to around 10 minutes when the show is broadcast, at least in part to the amount of swearing and references to Mexicans.
Many people have remarked on my friend’s likeness to Richard Hammond, and during the afternoon break for tea and biscuits, Nick took the opportunity to try and disprove these rumours, but I think he may have confirmed that they do actually look alike.
The episode was first shown on the evening of Sunday 6th February 2011, but unlike many of the 200 people that attended the filming, we didn’t feel the need to push to the front to try and get our 5 minutes of fame on television. However, you might be able to catch a glimpse of us behind the white Ford Sierra RS Cosworth at the start of the hot hatch feature or at the end of the show when Jeremy closes the show on a bombshell.
After 5 years of development and two high profile delays Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) was finally released on Wednesday 24th November 2010. I purchased the GT5 Collector’s edition which includes the Apex driving book and 5 special edition chrome line cars.
I’ve only spent a couple of hours with GT5 so far, but the graphics are amazing (bar the well publicised issues with the pixelated shadows) and the way the cars drive is much more realistic and demanding than previous entries in the Gran Turismo series. However, after such a long development cycle it is disappointing that GT5 falls short in several key areas.
Firstly when Sony announced that GT5 would include Ferrari and Lamborghini for the first time, I was expecting that a complete range of cars would be available from both manufacturers. However, this is not the case, and there are only 12 Ferraris and 7 Lamborghinis included in the game. To put this in context there are 22 versions of the Mazda MX-5 in GT5. I have a feeling that a lot of paid for DownLoadable Content (DLC) will be released in the coming weeks and months.
Secondly it also appears that the developers have not made the most of the official license for the TopGear television show. While the track is accurately modelled, none of the reasonably priced cars (Suzuki Liana, Chevrolet Lacetti, Kia Cee’d) used in the show are available, and the track is only available for a number of pre-defined challenges. Hopefully the cars and the TopGear track will be unlocked as you complete these challenges.
Finally there are the loading times between races. I can’t remember playing a game in the last couple of years which takes as long to load a race as GT5. I have a feeling that the loading progress bar is going to become a point of annoyance as I spend more time playing GT5.