Need For Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed is a game with a bit of an identity crisis. It's trying to be a simulation title, containing a myriad of professional racing and drifting events, a healthy selection of cars to purchase and customize, and a wonderful selection of tracks to race on (including staples like Spa and Donington, as well as the thrilling Mount Panorama).
Unfortunately, the gameplay is heavily slanted in a more arcade-friendly direction, with cars handling unlike any real world facsimile, to the point that a new player will require a healthy dose of practice and quite a bit of driver assistance to simply get around the track. That disconnect is ever-present too, lingering through every level of your driving campaign. You never feel like you're driving a racing car, so much as playing along with a fantastical interpretation of what an auto race should look like.
Online play, meanwhile, is a mess. The autolog system is required to be turned on when playing, and through my experience it had a nasty habit of shutting off mid-race, tossing you back out to the main menu. And that is setting aside the sorts of drivers that populate the online space, four out of every five of whim believe that the best way to brake for a corner is to use the rear bumper of the car in front of them. You'll find yourself praying to start on the back row of any given race, just so you can dodge the inevitable first corner pileup.
This is all quite sad, because the game succeeds on a number of graphical levels. The game looks quite nice in motion, with impressive car-models, pretty tracks, and the helmet camera makes a very welcome addition (though it does take some getting used to for newbies). The menus are sharp as well. That said, I did have some issues with the custom livery creation system, which was FAR from user-friendly.
Shift 2 is not a bad game, but it has so many problems and failings that I can't suggest anything more then a short rental.
Caveat: This game was not what I was looking for, and that has a lot to do with my review of it.
I wasn't looking for an incredibly realistic game to play. I was looking for something that was fun, where you can drive fast and ask questions later. This game is nothing like that. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it's not what you're looking for, you won't enjoy it.
Having said that, despite being very realistic in certain ways (read: very difficult to drive), the lack of realism in other areas (AI) makes it very frustrating to play.
Remember the pre-views? Best ever graphics. Most realistic racing EVER. It was all hype and no delivery. The handling is so bad it is practically impossible to race even with the controller. Your experience may vary to mine if you have a wheel.
It is also very obvious that they were showing PC graphics for the game and not console graphics. The very first track, I recognized immediately from playing GT5 extensively. To compare the two is a joke.