Need for Speed SHIFT Gameplay Performance and IQ

We have an exclusive first look at performance in Need for Speed SHIFT using a new patch due out at the end of this month, as well as a new AMD driver which improves performance in this game. We test gameplay on nine video cards, low end to high end, and examine gameplay performance and image quality.

Introduction

Need for Speed SHIFT is the 13th game in EA’s Need for Speed franchise, and the first game to come out of the British game maker, Slightly Mad Studios. It was launched in the US on September 15th for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and PSP, making it one of the most accessible games of the year. Upon its release, it received generally favorable reviews, with most criticisms focusing on the game’s controls, which take a decidedly more realistic approach compared with previous Need For Speed titles.

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Need for Speed SHIFT

Need for Speed SHIFT is a racing game which rides the thin red line between the arcade racer of NFS past, and the more accurate simulator racers such as Forza and Gran Turismo. SHIFT features 19 tracks total, with some tracks supporting multiple race modes. Some tracks, such as Nordschleife, can also be raced in whole or in part, by selecting either the whole track, or a specific portion of the track.

Need for Speed SHIFT features a combination of Exotic supercars, old-school American muscle cars, European and Japanese imports, and some moderately priced American cars. The cars are purchased for something resembling real-world prices using in-game currency, which is acquired by winning races and leveling up a driver profile. Most cars can be upgraded with improved engines, suspension, brakes, tires, and body kits, among other features. Some cars can also be completely converted into racing machines via the "Works Conversion," which often costs several times more than the car itself. Still other cars, such as the Bugatti Veyron, have no available upgrades.

Perhaps one of the most conspicuous features of Need for Speed SHIFT is the return of the cockpit view. For the first time since Porsche Unleashed, circa 2000, gamers can race from within the car, with a cockpit rendered in realistic detail. Great attention to detail was paid to the various cars’ cockpit views, including buttons and switches, navigation and audio equipment, and even air-conditioning vents.

Technology

Need for Speed SHIFT employs Slightly Mad Studios’ Madness Engine. According to the studio’s website, the engine features cross-platform compatibility with the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC and is built to take advantage of multi-core CPUs. The engine utilizes the PhysX middleware for Physics but does not perform PhysX calculations on the GPU, deferring instead to the CPU for all Physics calculations.

Graphically, the Madness Engine supports such features as depth of field, HDR, motion blurring, displacement mapping, and volumetric lighting. It supports per-vertex and per-pixel lighting, as well as radiosity rendering. It is a DX9 engine.


Patch 2

Coming at the end of November will be a second patch released for Need for Speed SHIFT. This patch brings with it many bug fixes and even performance improvements in several areas. AMD has stated all along that it did not feel its new video cards were delivering the kind of performance it should in this game. This new patch, plus a new video card driver, will solve this problem.

The changelog for the patch is found here. Among those bountiful bug fixes comes a general stability improvement and performance improvements, such as better dynamic vertex buffer performance and improved multi-GPU operation. There is even a specific improvement of ATI graphics card support.

The screenshots below depict the version difference in the game’s executables from Patch 1, and the build of Patch 2 that we received for testing.

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The first screenshot shows version 1.0.1.0, while the second screenshot shows version 1.0.2.0 and reflects that the EXE file is 0.1MB larger than the older version.

After we applied it, we noticed a few things. First, performance on NVIDIA video cards was unaffected. NVIDIA-based video cards still performed just as they did with Patch 1. Second, AMD performance was measurably increased with the combination of patch and driver. There were also a few smaller things, such as the inability to log into EA’s NFS community for online racing, possibly due to some change in the network system which is not present in the game service’s production environment yet. Also, some of the tuning done to our car was slightly different, giving us a modified acceleration profile.

Hemlock Driver

Along with this new patch, AMD has been improving driver performance, and most of the performance advantages in Need for Speed SHIFT come by way of this new driver. We have an early look at what is coming in Catalyst 9.12. The "Hemlock" driver we are testing with today is what will be found in Catalyst 9.12. As you have probably guessed, this same driver will be used for the launch of Hemlock, AMD’s dual-GPU video card. The version of this driver is Catalyst 8.663.1 Beta. What allows us to go ahead and use this driver right now is the fact that when Hemlock is launched, AMD will provide this same press driver to the public on their website. Therefore, you guys will be able to use this driver as well soon. With this new driver, and this new patch, we are looking for some serious performance improvements in Need for Speed SHIFT.


The Video Cards

This evaluation will see 9 video cards from NVIDIA and AMD. From NVIDIA, we have the GeForce GTX 295, the GeForce GTX 285, the GeForce GTX 275, and the GeForce GTS 250. From AMD, we have the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2, the Radeon HD 5870, the Radeon HD 5850, the Radeon HD 5770, and the Radeon HD 5750. The Radeon HD 4000 series has mostly been dropped from this evaluation because any gamers looking to upgrade to an ATI video card should be considering the new Radeon HD 5000 series products for their excellent performance and feature sets.


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