Shift 2: the awfulness of bringing friends together

, | Game diaries

The first Shift did a great job tracking your friends’ performance in different races. It compared your best time to the best time from your friends list. Using these times, it assigned “ownership” to an event, and then it tallied the number of events you owned in any group to assign ownership to groups of events. When you played Shift, it provided an immediate visual cue to how well you were doing compared to your friends playing the game.

But Shift 2 uses Electronic Arts’ Autolog, a Facebook-inspired bit of social bloat bolted onto the side of the game.

After the jump, I will try really hard to hate Autolog

The first stupid thing about Autolog is that it’s called Autolog. Like EA’s Gun Club, this is a supposedly cool community front-end that spans several games, so it needs its own name trademarked name. Then EA will stick it into any game with driving so they can cross-promote their games, doling out little rewards for owning multiple titles. Not renting, natch, because people who rent games are filthy, thieving, ne’er-do-wells who should have to pay $5 for an online code. So those of us steadfast and loyal enough to own multiple games might get a T-shirt with a Dodge logo for our Commander Shepherd in Mass Effect 3, or a Dead Space Arthur Asimov helmet for our driver in Shift 2.

Furthermore, Autolog debuted in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. It immediately suffers from association with that horrible game.

So my first reaction is that I hate Autolog as much as I hate the stupid dialogue box that pops up when I buy I new car. “Do I want to buy the new car with the ingame cash I’ve earned, or would I like to spend Microsoft points (i.e. real money)?” it asks. And because there are people who actually choose “Microsoft points”, Electronic Arts will continue to do this.

But when I look at the way Autolog lets me track how I’m doing, I have a hard time hating it. I mean, I still try. I try really hard. It has a “wall”. How Facebook is that? Who wants a wall in his game? Doesn’t that stink of social networking desperation?

I hate how it let’s me go online to admire my stats. For instance, I was just now able to open a browser window to check how I’m doing in each career event through a series of boxes set up like folders. Dig it:

I can drop down levels and ultimately check my best time in any event I’ve beaten. I despise how I can also open a list of every single track in the game to check my best time on that track, which also shows the best time of my friends.

As you can see, I’ve beaten my friend on the Glendale Club track by a whopping four seconds. But if you look closer, that’s not the whole story. I did it with a car that had nearly twice the performance index of his car. Performance index is a measure of the car’s power, based on how much the car has been upgraded.

Right now, I’ve only got two friends playing Shift 2, so Autolog, which I loathe, is a pretty lonely place. At least I’m pretty well matched with my two friends. It’s really lame that I can track how well we’re matched by opening an interface to directly compare myself to any specific friend. For instance, here you can see that this fellow has only beaten me in one category. Namely, the percentage of the campaign he’s finished.

You can also see that we both suck at online races. We’re both supposedly BMW fans, but I take issue with that. I just happen to have a couple in my garage because I accidentally bought the wrong one (don’t ask). You can see that my favorite track is supposedly Suzuka, which is fair enough. I’ve raced it well over a dozen times, mainly because of a challenge in which I had to master the Lotus Exige S.

Then there’s the gallery, which is incorporated into Autolog, but is really just a great feature no matter how much I can’t stand Autolog.

Any driving game should have a gallery like this. I loved being able to grab my own screenshots in Midnight Club Los Angeles and upload them to the internet. I loved that in EA’s Skate games. I miss it terribly in Test Drive Unlimited 2, which suffers from Atari’s cluelessness.

And finally, there’s the recommends page, which isn’t really necessary, but I find myself fascinated by it, but I supposed it’s an awful thing because it’s part of Autolog. It suggests stuff I can do, as if Shift 2 didn’t already encourage all kinds of things to do. The recommendations usually involve trying to beat a friend’s time who has just beaten my time. It encourages ongoing rounds of oneupsmanship, which is a pretty great thing for any game to do (see Pinball FX 2 for one of the best example of an activity perfectly suited to oneupsmanship and a developer doing a great job building it into the game).

For instance, here’s a friend of mine who beat my time in an exhibition event by a half second. Note that he shaved that extra half second off the laptime by using a car upgraded to a higher performance index. Oh-ho, so that’s how it’s going to be? Two can play at that game! In fact, I bet I can even beat his time without upgrading my Audi TT. Okay, Autolog, it’s on. That’s what I’m going to do tonight: reclaim this exhibition event.

So as you can see, Autolog is a horrible feature, because it encourages me to track my performance in a game that’s all about improving your performance, and your skill level, and your cars. By channeling all of this into a friendly competitive environment with friends, Autolog flat-out sucks and I hate it as yet another example of Electronic Arts getting all up in my game.

…okay, so that might not have sounded convincing. But I tried. At least I meant it about Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit being awful. But for another example of Electronic Arts getting all up in my game, I’d like to mention the horrible actor they hired to play a character named Vaughn Gittin Jr during unskippable bro tutorial cinematic sequences. Vaugn Gittin, huh? Ha ha, get it? Von Gettin’? That’s a good one! The pudgy actor is a particularly terrible choice to play a race car driver, because he looks like a young Randy Quaid with a bad chin beard. In fact, I think I used to play D&D with that dude. Here’s a picture of him trying to use an obviously fake check and a beer to pay off some skeptical strippers:

Up next: with fans like these
Click here for the previous Shift 2 entry.