Need for Speed SHIFT 2: Unleashed

For the past couple of years, Firemint's Real Racing series has been the undisputed king of App Store driving games, with superior graphics and features compared to the competition.

Well, Electronic Arts has had enough. The company's smart phone division, EA Mobile, is set to burn more than rubber with Need for Speed SHIFT 2: Unleashed, slated to hit both iPhone and iPad this summer. While it remains to be seen whether the game has what it takes to dethrone Real Racing, its developers are off to a thrilling start.

First, the game comes with 42 real world vehicles from a variety of manufacturers, such as BMW, Ford, Porsche, Lamborghini and Pagani; this also includes four exclusive cars from Team Need for Speed. Each vehicle was meticulously crafted both inside and out. You'll marvel at the shiny exteriors, then take the experience a step further with the enhanced cockpit view (complete with realistic and working gauges), seen from the driver's helmet.

Career, the heart of the game, comes packed with over 40 events, but we're more interested in the 20 Quick Race Trials. These specially designed challenges task you with completing different objectives with some of the App's hottest cars, where the goal is to beat the mission while accumulating stars that eventually unlock more events. One, for example, involves finishing a race in a minute or less.

In addition, SHIFT 2: Unleashed supports Origin, EA's social platform with over 100 million registered accounts. Not only can you create a friends list, but also compete against those players via Leaderboard Challenges, where you square off in one or two events at a time to become number one. Keep in mind, though, that you don't race against each other directly (it's a solo affair), and EA plans to reset those leaderboards and add new challenges every three days. At least this way, the game will have fresh content on a weekly basis.

That said, there's no online play to speak of, though the game does have local multiplayer for up to four people.

Beyond that, expect a wealth of upgrades that improve a car's performance and appearance (spoilers, rims, engine tweaks), as well as user-friendly options to keep you on the track, auto brake and steering assist two big ones.

As for tracks, EA's done outstanding work, designing a wealth of distinct locales full of eye candy, from the Abu Dhabi to Rio, complete with forest, waterfront and desert environments. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road most of the time.

All of this should make Need for Speed SHIFT 2: Unleashed a worthy contender to best App Store racer when it drifts into gamer's hands next month. We can't wait.