- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2011

A famed virtual racing franchise has returned to Apple’s magical iPad to give drivers some behind-the-wheel thrills and an assortment of realistic challenges in Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed (Electronic Arts, $6.99).

Enjoyed via a first-person helmet-cam perspective (complete with peeks at a side mirror to keep an eye on the competition), drivers maneuver through more than 25 quick race trials and more than 30 single races. Players also can jump into a Career mode to try and take home the checkered flag in more than 40 events.

My disdain for this genre of games (I already drive the Beltway, after all) quickly evaporated as I took control of a black Ford Mustang RTR-X and tore through a couple of timed events on courses that took me under the “L” tracks in the Windy City and by a moonlit shore in Rio.

Two levels of controls and assists cater to the either serious driver or casual gamer.

Newbies get help with automatic acceleration, braking, manual transmission and even an optimal path to follow (use the arrows, Luke) while experts can shut off all of the handicapping and use on-screen tapping controls for a more hard-core experience.

For steering, either tilt the iPad tablet like a racing wheel or touch on-screen arrows to maneuver around courses.

The simulation offers a happy medium of tracks and types of races, including multilap, multivehicle, finishing with fewest collisions and collecting drifting points spread out across Chicago, Germany, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo, Rio and London.

A satisfying level of vehicle choices and customization will not disappoint.

Eventually select from an assortment of more than 40 cars for purchase, including a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, BMW z4 GT3 ($53,700), Aston Martin Racing DBR9 ($132,000) and, exclusive to the title, an eye-watering Pagani Huayra ($750,000).

Next, spend some prize money to upgrade areas such as top speed, suspension and tires, or tweak the car’s body color and even swap out spoilers.

While on the topic of spending, I could do without the steady stream of “buy” messages to use my real cash to purchase Need for Speed credits. Despite my griping, I’ll report it is a cost-effective (99 cents for $300,000 in credits) way for those too impatient to win the bucks.

Unfortunately, your cool collection of cars will take a beating in races as collision damage inflicted during the action reflects everything from cracks in a windshield to sparks flying as metal grinds against metal.

Drivers out to conquer the world will appreciate the local racing option and the chance to compete via leader boards (using EA’s Origin network) but will reel at the lack of any true multiplayer online racing.

Although gamers already onboard with the previous tablet version of Need for Speed: Shift won’t find the latest version compelling enough for purchase, anyone new to driving with an iPad (like yours truly) will find the addictive, and often very challenging, action more than worthy of the price.

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