Archive for the 'Dodge Challenger SRT/8' Category

17
Nov
09

Need For Speed: Shift Review

We have all found ways to satiate our car lust in the interim time that our supercar of choice is unavailable. Be it a hot wheel collection, a magazine or oft-visited website (made up of handsome, exciting and popular contributors), our greatest automotive fantasies are constructed with the materials available to us. Being just shy of 30 (renew!), I’m fortunate enough to have been a part of the generation that grew up on the magical device that allows us to vicariously experience our wildest fantasies from the comfort of our living room: the home video game console.

The Need for Speed series of games has been around for a very long time, taking its loyal fans on a tumultuous journey throughout its many evolutions. In the beginning it was a virtual cruise through Road & Track, which then expanded to different modes keen to fuel the enthusiast’s desire to perform such acts as outrunning the fuzz in a Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR through a gothic cityscape in the dead of night. The series then went Underground, focusing on modded-out rides and pandering to a demographic that believes an aftermarket spoiler bolted to the trunk of a Honda Accord imbues it with stunning agility and street cred as it sets the highways ablaze with streaks of neon.

Need for Speed: Shift is the beginning of a new era for the series, taking the action off the street and bringing it to the track, with a focus on bringing the player as close to the fray as possible. The game puts you in the role of a driver just setting off at the start of a racing career that will take the player from tracks and events across the globe, mastering different styles and crafting a personality based on your unique driving attitude. Your race engineer is the narrative voice that gives advice and introductions for the game’s many events. He starts you off in a hot lap in a BMW M3 that determines what control setup and difficulty is best recommended for you, which you can arrogantly ignore and apply the most hardcore settings if you so choose (and later humbly reset after some eye-opening humility).

I attempted to be as pro as possible, turning off much of the assists and immediately removing the visible driving line on the track. That’s just…no. The one setting that defeated me was my attempt to play with a manual transmission, as the makers of the game chose to place the upshift and downshift buttons on the controller right above the triggers used for gas and brake, so if I wanted to upshift, my finger had to leave the throttle, and, most frustratingly, the other had to leave the brake for the sake of a downshift, which in a pinch I want to do simultaneously. With no way to re-map the buttons, (this was on the Xbox360 and I assume it’s the same on the Playstation 3), I was forced to relinquish control of the transmission to the game.

In Shift, much attention has been given to emulating the sensation of speed and, indeed, the dramatic loss of it. An in-car view is available, with pleasantly detailed interiors that can be scanned freely, with fully functioning gauges and upgradable features, plus usable mirrors. The development team seems to be aware of how distracting enjoying the interior details can be when you should be paying attention to the race at hand, so you’ll notice everything inside of the car slowly blur at speed, forcing your eyes to concentrate on the world through the windscreen. Looking up too late will treat you to the jarring sight of a tire wall or barrier rushing towards you, and plowing into it turns the screen into a distorted, shaky mess as the game does its best to make you really feel like you’ve had a serious collision. The degree of the impact determines just how dazed the perspective becomes, from the full-blown aforementioned madness, to a little color de-saturation and gauge rattling for minor scrapes. All this knocking about will reflect on the cars as well, depending on the settings you choose. If you’re going for as much realism as possible, the shunts and slams that your car endures will reflect on the body and performance of the vehicle. While there isn’t a way to fully incapacitate your car, a massive accident will leave your ride a crumpled mess with low power and skewed alignment.

The car you choose will be one of many in the 4-tier system available to you based on your driving level. Tier 1 contains cars such as the BMW 135i and the Volkswagen GTI, while higher tiers promise the chance to purchase supercars like the Pagani Zonda and Bugatti Veyron with the in-game currency you’ll earn. Being a green racer when you pop in the disc, only a handful of cars will be unlocked for purchase, and your initial funds allow for only the most frugal choices. As you progress, you will unlock more tiers, with higher performance cars, garage spots, and different visual and performance upgrades for both the interior and exterior.

As mentioned before, your skills in NFS:Shift are measured in your driver level. At level one, you’ll have only bare-bone essentials at your disposal, but as you race, you’ll advance in rank as you earn points for podium finishes and different challenges for particular races (such as hitting a certain speed or spinning out a number of competitors), as well as points earned for the two branches of driving styles that define your progression: Precision and Aggression. You’ll earn Precision points for driving the line, clean passes, and managing corners properly, and gather Aggression points for trading paint, throwing the tail out, and generally muscling your way through the grid. The system seems fairly responsive, but I spent a few races shoving rivals out of my way, only to inexplicably end up with a “Precision” badge at the end of the race because I managed to drive a decent racing line most of the time.

Tracks like Brands Hatch and Spa-Francorchamps mix in well with the various fictional tracks designed for the game.  A series notorious for its product placement has found a good medium in track advert postings and car liveries, so don’t have the feeling that the game is shilling any particular product. Some of the menus for tuning and customization could be a little more user friendly. You can paint the car in numerous configurations and apply decals, but there isn’t a way to have a design on one side of the car perfectly mirror the other, which will work the OCD of in-game car artists hard. Other than this section, your currently selected car will be featured in the background, spinning and being shown off at various angles. This is nothing particularly worth mentioning until you attempt to change the body kit in the upgrade menu, which sits opaquely on top of this animation. The kits are functional and there’s a graph that shows the difference in performance if you choose to install it, but it’d be nice to see what my car would look like if I did so, especially since if you select a kit, it is applied to the car animation as a preview, only visible through the spaces in between the menu windows.

Assuming you don’t play the game in the 3rd-person perspective, the only ways to enjoy your visual tweaks are through the after-race replays where you can also pause and take snapshots of your car at various angles, inside and out. I spent a lot of time in photo mode just for the sake of scrutinizing and enjoying the in-car details without having to worry about driving, taking pleasure in nit-picking features of real-life cars I’ve driven, and pretending to be behind the wheel of cars that I haven’t, which seems to me is the point of the game—fuel for the fantasy. Players of the game will enjoy the gameplay, but most of all, they’ll revel in opportunities, like pitting a Reventon and a Veyron head-to-head at Laguna Seca to see who’d win, even if it’s just make-believe. Even so, in lieu of the real deal, it might be a good way to settle a few bets.

 

-Alex K-

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11
Jun
09

AutoKinesis is 2!!!

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A year ago, there wasn’t even an AutoKinesis, it was just a blog that didn’t want to be called “blog,” a journal of all the things I had happen to me, which all changed thanks to some delectable apple pie.

What was once a silly blog with a silly name, then became something slightly serious, has become a chronicle of adventures and stories, a photo gallery of gorgeous cars, a forum of news and discussion, and more to the point, my own little slice of the internet that I get to hang out at and talk to you about cars.  Here’s a quick look back at all the things we got to share:

Whoo. I got tired typing that.

Many thanks to the people who make this blog happen, like Melissa for her editing (even if it’s just to point out misplaced caps and so forth) , and Victor for his photos (and both of them for being my partners in crime). Thanks for the commenters who give this blog life with their opinions, and most of all, a very sincere thank you all for reading. I am excitedly looking forward to what year 3 will bring, and I hope you all are as well.

Thanks Again!!!!

-Alex K-

06
Nov
08

That Don’t Impress Me Much.

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Dodge had a pretty elaborate arrangement at the last NYC auto show. One could gather from my brief nod to their set-up that I was not blown away by their production. It sort of went down like this: Instead of the usual glitz and dazzle the companies put on these press conferences to coincide with their car reveals, we were treated to, essentially, a full stage production of “Our Dodge”, with sets and actors, starring CFO Jim Press as the stage manager. A section of the stage would illuminate and bring us all into the homes of demographic stereotypes who hammed up a “gee, I wonder what’s the perfect car for me?” performance, to which Press was readily available to answer, with the eventual reveal of a Challenger model.

When they finally got around to it, they revealed the Challenger SRT/8, and it was indeed a sight to behold on that stage. We’ve all been strung along for a while on pictures, concepts and the usual teases, but finally seeing it in the metal was worth it. It looked like it would definitely be a handful and was very much worth sitting through the Dodge song and dance.

I have to admit, there was a pinch of personal interest since this car, and the forthcoming Camaro, is to directly compete with the Mustang, of which I am a proud owner. I don’t want them to do bad or something mean spirited like that. That won’t affect me one way or the other, I have my car and I’m happy with it, The success or failure of one of its rivals can never change that, just as any new Camaro or Challenger owner could care less about the Mustang being popular or not. If anything, I want them do be awesome, so I can get to drive them and for there to be more amazing cars on the road. Regardless, I must admit a bias, especially when I say that the Challenger was terrible.

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Yes, terrible! And my disappointment with the car began well before the orange gargantuan languished in my driveway. The new Challenger was preceded by press kits and campaigns heralding the return of a classic American muscle car to the modern age, with a 6.1 HEMI blowing out horses out its ass on the street, and leaving tire marks actually shaped like mom and apple pie, but it’s all false.

This car is Canadian.

The Dodge Challenger is assembled proudly in Ontario, with all the pretense and style of a good ol’ U.S. performer with a touch of twang to seal the deal. I was fooled too, but it’s all a front. This car is Shania Twain.

Taking a good look at “Shania” off the stage and in person, you realize that she’s a bit too wide and kind of a fugly-face. She makes a beautiful noise, to be sure, but once you climb in her, the fun dissipates. Yes, I’m still talking about the car.

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The interior is capacious, with a lot of bland hard plastics and lack of any style, save for the gauge cluster, which has a cool font, and also displays performance meters, such as G-meter, a 0-60 timer and a quarter mile timer. The shifter, I felt, was too far back, and getting a hold of it when you need to is a pain. When I planned to up-shift using the “driver interactive manual” (more on that in a moment), it was easier to just slap it with my forearm instead of actually taking hold of it.

The Navi/radio (do we have a unifying name for this yet? Center console?) was decent. The combining of touch screen and actual buttons made on-the-fly adjustments easily, and more sophisticated inputs didn’t take too long to figure out. I had issue with ultra bright screen, which give you that unsettling feeling of sitting too close to the TV in the dark, that florescent ambiance that makes you nauseous. If there was a method to dim it without dimming the entire dashboard, I couldn’t find it.

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The back seat is proportionate with the car (huge!), so no optical illusions there, this car is big. Combine the Florescent lights and the cheap yet spacious interior with Sirius Satellite’s Blue Collar comedy channel, and you are essentially driving a Wal-Mart. It’s one of the few cars I’ve driven by myself and have noticed an absence of passengers, being alone in it feels like sitting by yourself in an empty house.

A house that’s big and orange. The centerpiece of which is it’s 6.1 liter HEMI, a real impressive power plant that should more than make up for all of its shortcomings. To lay out all 425 horses on the pavement should be a blast.

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But the transmission. Oooh, the transmission. If ever something or someone dashed your hopes, it would pale to the utter disappointment that this transmission produces. The automatic that they’ve fit in there is the same one that’s featured in the Charger, the one with the offensively named “driver interactive manual,” a name that says “it’d be ridiculous to let you handle this car on your own. We’ll do all the work, you just steer and wiggle the shifter a bit if it makes you feel cool.” The HEMI makes a beautiful noise at the top end of the revs, but attempt to impress your friends by a quick rev in neutral, and you’ll be met with the embarrassing noise of the rev limiter neutering you at 4K.

When you get it moving, the car moves, there’s no question about that. Many onlookers, and there were indeed many, make a real effort to catch up to you for a quick look, but the Challenger just squirts away, unimpressed. I was dogged by a guy in his track-day BMW for 20 minutes and just left him at every intersection. The suspension is supposedly top notch, but the car maneuvered and swayed like a schooner. Highway rides are dull, but at least the HEMI makes them short.

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However, and this is a big one, despite all of the transmission issues, and everything else, it is impossible, impossible not to burn out at every launch. I defy any of you to resist. It may be that it’s the only amount of fun that the car can produce, and that it’s incredibly easy to do, but this car’s sole purpose was to lay rubber down.

The Challenger gives you perfect launches every time. They are not disappointing in and of themselves, but the transmission robs you of the feeling that you did them. If I’m starting to sound repetitive, it’s because the car’s self management really takes away from the experience you’d want with a muscle car. After a few days, I just didn’t want to drive it anymore.

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Shania spent a precious full day in the driveway of the short time I had it for, and I wasn’t bothered. I had my fun with it, and now it was just a big, awkward car to shuffle around in. It’s weird being so unenthused about the vehicle you are in while still getting so many thumbs-ups. Why? What are they admiring? Did they like the color? Was it the stats they’ve read or perhaps the pedigree? Perhaps it was the hype. There was a good chance that those who acknowledged me hadn’t experienced the Challenger for themselves, and when, one night, I received a wildly positive reception by a young Asian man in a really, really nice BMW M3, I was kind of taken aback. His car was black, well kept, with work done on it, but discreetly so. The car was fast, and loud but only when it needed to be. I know for a fact that it was more agile and fun to drive. His car was vastly superior to mine, not to mention the complete opposite of the experience I was having. I was confused as to why he would be giving me the time of day, let alone being impressed by the Challenger. What did other people see?

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The week before, I was backing out of my driveway, like I do every day, and right after commenting on how particularly good the Mustang looked that day, I scraped the front F#%king corner on the curb. It was time again to visit Ian at North Bellmore body & fender. ( on a side note, the man/woman who opened their door in such a hurry to leave/enter the mall that you’ve dented my door and ripped my vinyl, may wolves eat your children in front of you.) The timing worked out since we had the Dodge, so when she was all fixed up, V and I headed over with the Challenger to get her.

V drove the Challenger on the way back, and I finally got to see the car through someone else’ eyes. The Dodge looks pretty cool when it’s on the move. The noise was great, and it was exciting to drive around, and this was when I realized that in order for me to enjoy the Challenger, I had to be in a completely separate car. From here, I could take in all the good points without having to deal with the handling, snooze worthy ride, and the overall nanny-ing of the computers.

Depending on how you look at it, you can say that the Challenger is a powerful and extremely easy car to drive, or a powerful car for those who don’t actually know how to drive, but want to do all the wheel spinning and posing.

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I’ll say, however, that the ’09’s soon plan to have a proper manual, pistol grip shifters, and a true limited slip diff (I couldn’t get this car up a friend’s driveway…more embarrassment), so a lot of what I say has a good possibility of becoming obsolete. Hell, I’ll even get my hands on an ’09 for a follow-up. Until then, Challenger, don’t get me wrong, I think you’re alright, but…ah, you know where I’m going with this.

-Alex K-