With the arrival of Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unlimited, developer Slightly Mad Studios hopes to bring forth a successful driving simulation experience without sacrificing accessibility. Will the latest installment in the adrenaline-fueled racing series successfully do so or die by the roadside?

It was announced in October of 2009 that over one hundred million individual game copies, each bearing the Need for Speed moniker, have been sold to consumers around the world. Taking this into consideration, it comes as no surprise that Electronic Arts (EA), the publisher of the series, would try to push forth yearly installments to keep the racing community wanting more. However, Shift 2: Unleashed, the direct successor to a favorably reviewed 2009 title and seventeenth entry in the historic franchise, does not simply oversaturate the market with unnecessary content, it provides an alternative to well-established racing simulators, namely Gran Turismo and Forza, while also maintaining its identity.

Straddling the line between realistic racing simulator and a childish thrill ride, Shift 2: Unleashed's predecessor, Need for Speed: Shift, did not compare graphically with its competitors, nor did it deliver a holistically new racing experience. However, it did have some popular elements including experience points, leveling, badges, track interaction, and realism to name a few. By creating Shift 2, Slightly Mad Studios is attempting to deliver on the unfulfilled promises of games past while preserving the characteristics that differentiate it from other similar games on the market.

Driven by the Madness Engine, which was developed in-house specifically for this title, Shift 2: Unleashed is able to render light and the hazy blur that comes from speed flawlessly. The physics engine has been improved substantially, permitting debris to litter the road after game-ending crashes take place. The artificial intelligence is sharper, a necessary component considering the fact that a few changes in the settings would give you an automatic win in this game's predecessor. Tweaks and upgrades seem almost abundant, allowing for the mystical connection between car and driver to continue.

What really connects you to your vehicle is the optional helmet camera that the game introduces. Almost scary to approach, the point-of-view seems to elicit the fear that would come from shooting around a racetrack at 200 mph. On turns, the camera adjusts to provide a more convenient view of the action. When moving at high speeds, the edges of the screen blur, simulating the exhilarating tunnel-vision that racers experience on the track. All of these subtle additions to the camera contribute to a completely new and memorable game mechanic that makes the title feel like a unique entry in the franchise and in the genre as a whole.

Featuring the next generation of Autolog, the groundbreaking network that connects friends for head-to-head races and friendly competition, Shift 2: Unleashed builds on the social component of last year's Hot Pursuit. Working with Criterion, acclaimed developer of the aforementioned title and Burnout Paradise, Slightly Mad exchanged ideas for executing some of the core tenants, but integrating it into the core experience of the game. It completely weaves everything together into one package, making experience an incentive to beat your friends and level up.

Though it might not be on-par graphically with a Gran Turismo, its realism packs an unforgettable punch, especially in creating realistic crash sequences that are both frightening and electrifying at the same time. Shift 2: Unleashed is only made better by the addition of Autolog, the massively successful social component of Hot Pursuit.

What do you, racing fans and general gamers alike, think? Is this the racing simulator that you have been waiting for? Will it beat out its competitors and differentiate itself? Let us know in the comments below.