You're probably done with congratulating developers just for sticking an XP system in their game. And with good reason; applauding the insertion of statistical progression is like celebrating the creativity of whoever puts MSG in Pringles.
That said, when it comes to the Shift series, having the persistent points meter ticking upwards throughout each squealing, tarcmac-buckling race has always felt interesting. It creates an elastic tension between the game's lunges at realism and the rambling series' arcade roots. An obvious choice, perhaps, but it works.
The original Shift tried to be a crunchier, bashier kind of simulation racer offering the depth and handling of 'serious' car games like Forza, infused with a touch of Burnout's sideswiping chaos.
The sequel takes things one step further, grabbing hold of the first outing's dynamic interior view and squeezing. The end result rams you right into the juddering crash helmet cam of a professional speedster tooling along at 200mph, in a mission to deliver what the developers are calling the "driver's battle".
While you can still play Shift 2 outside of the car if that's what you're after, I suspect the design team would much rather have you indoors. You should certainly give it a try as it's astonishing what a tweak to the perspective has done.
The helmet cam creates a sense that you're seated much higher in your chair. In some car models, your vision is now partially obscured by shiny white roll bars. The smart deployment of depth of field effects as you're knocked back and forth can also blur the windscreen or the dash at crucial moments if you want to get the most visceral Shift 2 experience, you'll be going by the in-car dials rather than a superimposed UI.
At night, your functional visibility can be diminished to a fleeting scrap of road laying somewhere between the harsh bloom of headlights and the murky sodium gloom of an overcast sky. The team has designed nocturnal racing to be terrifying, and it really is.
During the day, you've still got the glare from the sun to take into account, and the sheer detail of the trackside environments as the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps whizzes past on all sides.
Are these visual limitations imposed by the more dynamic presentation annoying? No. Actually, they could just be brilliant. Shift 2 certainly marks a significant step up from the previous game when it comes to delivering an intense driving experience.
The series' trademark throaty, rumbling audio blends perfectly with the jarring camera wobble as your head is bashed about by G-force. Sailing into a corner with five other cars, sending out sparks as metal grinds against metal, brings back all the wrong memories of going for Sunday drives with my dad before we'd finally cottoned on to the fact he wasn't just extremely short-sighted anymore.
Speaking of nasty crashes, Shift 2's procedural damage is looking smarter than ever. Bonnets rupture, little cracks skid across glass. The sense of feedback during a collision, as the screen splinters into shards of light and your skull lunges towards the dash, marks yet another mighty improvement on the first game. Dad would be proud.
The XP meter at the top of the screen builds up throughout each race. Sharp injections of points are awarded for sticking to the racing line, overtaking or putting out that little red triangle when you change a tyre (maybe not the last one).
Knitting the whole experience together is Autolog. If Need for Speed stands for anything these days, beyond "It's an EA game and it has cars in it", let it be Autolog. An attractively narrow sliver of social networking software, it turns each race into a grudge match as you see who's better than you and who's getting better. It also fills out your downtime as you browse through galleries of other peoples' photos and videos.
By offering constant notifications of which acquaintance has just beaten you in a specific event, Autolog transforms every single part of Shift 2 into a gleaming chunk of social competition.
Single-player jaunts start to feel like multiplayer challenges when you're conscious you could be toppled from the summit of the leaderboard. There's always an extra incentive to go back and really master a track when you know people on your wall are doing just that.
According to EA, Shift 2 will try to take on Forza and Gran Turismo when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of a certain kind of racer. How successful it is will depend on factors such as the car list and the way the developer blends together a selection of real and imaginary tracks.
However, it may also come down to the series' jarring freshness: the nasty, intoxicating impact that lurks at each tricky bend, and the chummy rivalry that might erupt over the simplest of time trials.