Need for Speed: Shift represents both a literal and figurative changing of gears for EA's popular acing series, as primary development duties have been transferred from EA Black Box to Slightly Mad Studios, and the gameplay moves from arcade-style action to physics-based simulation. Everything in Shift is designed to convey a sense of realism, from the cockpit view and disorienting effects of crashes, to the more than 70 licensed vehicles and 15 real-world courses. A 3D heads-up display mimics the movements of a driver's head, while depth-of-field effects blur the screen to simulate speed, inertia, and G-forces.
The "Career" mode finds players participating in traditional circuits, sprints, time trials, drifting events, and model-specific races. Finishing on the podium or completing specific in-race tasks earns players stars that help unlock more events. Each event contributes information to a "Driver Profile" system that records the way players behave on the track, branding them as either precision drivers or aggressive drivers, and keeps track of how "good" players are with a "Driver Level" ranking. Gamers can take their driver level all the way up to 50, unlocking new vehicles, accessories, and garage slots at ever step. Need for Speed: Shift supports both local and online multiplayer racing.