Shift 2: hate the fans, not the game

, | Game diaries

I’m on the Nurburgring sprint circuit, trying to set a record in an Aston Martin with a V12 engine. A V12 seems a bit excessive. It’s four more V’s than the last of the V8 Interceptors! But I’m having a hard time because of something that isn’t the driving.

After the jump, why I hate the fans in Shift 2

Before I tell you why I hate the fans in Shift 2, I’m going to tell you a true story. I have an old jeep with a six-cylinder engine. And I don’t mean in Shift 2. I mean in actual real life. Not my avatar or anything. Me. Tom Chick.

In the year immediately after my jeep was made, Chrysler switched over to four-cylinder engines. I picked up this factoid probably the same way I picked up the factoid that the 76 Ford Maverick I drove in college had the same engine as a 76 Ford Mustang, but a lighter body. Someone said it, I heard it, and I repeated it once or twice. I can’t vouch for the veracity, but that’s not relevant when it comes to a factoid.

So I pull up to a newstand one day a few years ago, probably to see if there were any magazines there with my name in them. While I’m flipping through Computer Gaming World or whatever, the bored guy working at the newstand considered my jeep.

“What kind of engine you got?” he asked.

I actually knew the answer to this. “It’s a V6,” I told him, happy to sound like I knew what I was talking about. Usually I just blanch and stammer if anyone asks me anything about my car other than what color it is.

“A V6?” he asked. “I didn’t think they made them with V6’s.”

I told him my factoid, pawning it off as one of the many things I knew. I wondered if I would be able to segue into the factoid about my Ford Maverick, and how it was, in fact, awesome instead of lame because it was better than a Ford Mustang. “So, you see, this is the last year that they had V6s.”

“Huh. I thought they were straight 6s,” he said, matter-of-factly. He sounded done with me. Why would he be done with me? I was a dude who knew about cars.

That’s when I had one of those moments of clarity. It must be called a V6 because of the configuration of the cylinders! Not because V is the first letter of the German word for “cylinder” or some such thing. There’s more to an engine than just the number of cylinders. Hence V6, straight-6, and even rotary engines, which is something I know about from flight sims.

So here I am driving an Aston Martin with a V12 engine. Not me, Tom Chick, but my avatar or whatever in Shift 2. And I am certain about the V12 engine in this case. The game specifies V12, and it should know. I’ve just purchased this car in pursuit of the achievement to own at least one car from every manufacturer represented in the game. I’m going in alphabetical order.

I’ve been spoiled recently by using a nimble Subaru Impreza. There’s nothing like four-wheel drive to make you feel like you’re good enough at a driving game to turn off all the assists and use the “elite” driving model. I am so good at fake driving. I am supergood. I might even be ready to go online. If this was Rock Band, I would be playing Green Grass and High Tides on Pro mode. If this was Starcraft II, I’d be in diamond league. If this was Halo, I’d have recon armor. Then along comes the Aston Martin, channelling all the power of her V12 engine into the two rear wheels and suddenly I’m not such a hot shot anymore. 3 stars on medium, silver league at best, and frequent recipient of teabagging.

So I’m just taking her for a spin around the Nurburgring sprint circuit, gradually improving my best lap time. I’m also doing some tuning to mess around with the downforce and suspension height. When you buy the Aston Martin, the downforce and ride height are set for maximum speed, as opposed to better handling. So I’m carefully adjusting these settings, mainly because Nurburgring’s sprint circuit has a brutal S-curve right after the starting line. Like, seriously brutal. So brutal, I’m tempted to mess with steering lock settings. But not just yet. The secret to tuning is to only tinker with one — or at most, two — settings at a time.

Shift 2 lets you actually change settings on the fly, while you do test laps. Any driving game should let you do that. But Shift 1 screwed up. You had to reload the entire course every single time you made a change. Every. Single. Time. I interviewed one of the guys at Slightly Mad Studios about this, and he confessed it was an unfortunate design decision to load the car’s physics values with the track. That was a rookie mistake, from a bunch of developers who weren’t rookies. I’m glad it’s fixed in Shift 2.

As I’m making changes and testing settings on Nurburgring, the stands are packed. What gives? These people have showed up to watch me nudge the downforce bar and tweak the ride height and then pull the car carefully around that S-curve? Whatever. I don’t get racing fans anyway. Watching an actual race seems tedious enough. Watching practice laps is absurd.

But these racing fans who have turned out to watch me tweak my suspension have air horns. BWEEEEE! And they sound their freakin’ air horns every time I hit that S-curve. BWEEEEE! What idiots think it’s a good idea to greet me with a blast of noise during the hardest part of the lap? I’m trying hard to concentrate on the timing of my steering, braking, and acceleration and they’re all BWEEEEEE! It’s like I’m Harrison Bergeron. BWEEEEEEE! BWEEEEEE! Don’t you people have anything better to do? Go read a book, or take in some live music, or read some Sarah Palin tweets. Come back when I’m actually racing. And for Pete’s sake, leave those air horns at home. Or if you must blow them, blow them when I’m on the straightaways, which is way more exciting because tha’s when I’m going 120mph instead of 20mph.

Up next: through a windshield darkly
Click here for the previous Shift 2 entry.