Putting your car through a 540-degree spin is a heart-pounding, disorienting experience.

Believe me: I’ve done it on ice and in “Need for Speed: Shift.” Both experiences were pretty much the same thanks to the graphics, rumbles and sound effects in “Shift” — and the fact that no real cars were damaged in either incident.

The E-rated “Shift” — developed by Slightly Mad Studios for Electronic Arts — simulates the thrill of driving high-performance machines on the world’s best tracks. Those cars and courses look great, but the driving experience is what sets the game apart.

The basics will be familiar to anyone who’s played a racing game. You go from race to race, earning points, which increase your level, and earning money, which allows you to buy new cars and upgrades. What’s a bit different about “Shift” is the way it tallies points based on both your precision and your aggression and builds a profile of your driving habits. If you’re good at following the best line and taking corners, you’ll earn precision points. If you like to draft or kiss your opponent’s bumper, you’ll earn aggression points. Both sorts of points help you advance in level. Different deeds can also earn you badges that appear on your driver profile.

The game also offers several levels of control — and authenticity. The uninitiated could jump right in and feel comfortable using the casual settings against easy opponents. It’s unlikely you’ll ever skid wildly out of control or fall too far behind. However, that would mean missing a lot of the action and excitement. It’s only when you fly down the track without computer assistance — and with full crash effects engaged — that the game gets truly fun.

When unrestrained, the physics engine does a terrific job of re-creating the effects of speed — skidding, loss of control or even a crash. It also balances these effects against the upgrades you’ve purchased for your vehicle — wider tires, improved suspension, etc.

In addition to affecting your car’s performance, the results are translated into some pretty cool visual cues that indicate how things are going. The camera shifts as your body would in response to the G forces involved in cornering or breaking. If you accelerate, the backgrounds blur with the increasing speed. And if you crash or spin, the view gets distorted, sort of like you’re dizzy.

The vehicles themselves look very good, with plenty of realistic detail and stellar animations. The tracks are also rendered very well.

The game’s core is its career mode. When you embark on a career, you’re offered a limited selection of cars and upgrades. As you progress through the four different tiers on the way to the NSF Live World Tour, you gain additional options for cars, upgrades and decorations.

At any point, you can also jump into a quick race, competing against computer-controlled opponents or other gamers online. In this mode, you can select a track, the number of opponents and type of competition and other options. The points and money you earn are applied toward your overall total.

“Shift” offers a good selection of races and challenges. However, it doesn’t offer split-screen play — a major gap. “Shift” is so fun and addictive that it’s a shame I can’t trade a little paint with a friend in a side-by-side race.

Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, PC

On the

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