The most worrying aspect is the fact that this new cleaner, leaner version of the game seems to have lost some of its attractive quirky representation of the shady street racing scene
Need for Speed is one of a handful of EA's war-chest of franchises that will keep them in bread and beer when the revolution comes and the masses turn to indie games. Until then, each release has EA rubbing their hands at the guaranteed strong sales. The bigger problem for them is identifying how best to lever their brand to ensure the most units sold. Unlike their sports franchises, they can't rely on the annual churn of players and teams. This year it seems they have decided to try and broaden the appeal of their game whilst cleaning it up and making it parent friendly.
Watch those dacals go!
Plink, plink physics
If you are looking for the more underground (and potentially illegal) night races and females clad in questionable dress you probably need to look elsewhere, possible in the direction of the likes of Juiced 2. If however you want a cleaned up driving game that is more akin to other driving experiences available then you are in for a treat. The problem here, as we are already hinting, is that they may have lost the majority of the distinctive aspects of Need for Speed in their effort to bring the franchise to the masses.
To get some of the basics out of the way before we dig into some specific, the game can't fail to impress both visually and sonically. This time around the PS3 version of Need for Speed certainly shines. Whereas previous versions had Sony's machine lagging behind slightly, they have now invested suitable time and money to ensure an (at least) equivalent experience to the 360.
The first time you see a car out on the track, either in a proper race or replay, you really are blown away by how good the game looks. It doesn't take long before you knock a few corners off your ride and you start to see the detailed and equally impressive damage system that has now been included. Although it is obviously a million miles away for being true to life (you can totally pound your car and still only have a slight dent) it wins plenty of kudos for being very detailed. By the end of a race your car looks like it’s been through the wars, and has all sorts of dings, dents and scrapes now evident across its body.
The sound doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations set by the graphics. Although they tick all the boxes for a driving game, there is something lacking in the depth and variety of audio on offer that doesn't quite sing. You can certainly hear cars approaching from behind, but it hasn't quite got the nuanced fidelity to enable you to determine which type of car it is without a quick look over your shoulder.
Trading paint again!
The game itself present the usual collection of game types that fans of the series have come to expect. We again have the grip, time trial and drift events, each of which still offer a good degree of variety. The game now focuses on the official street racing scene and as such the events have more organisational bumph around them. This means that we miss out on the haphazard cruising around town looking to throw down a challenge to the next person we met. Something that is interestingly being picked up in Burnout Paradise due out early next year. Proceedings are all a little more sedate as you go to each location, compete in the various events, and then move on to the next one.
There has been some attention given to spice up the competitive side of things, as races are now judged on your position, time and car damage. You need to excel in all three to have won and 'dominated' the event. This certainly puts more weight on keeping your car free from dings and makes more sense of the addition of the damage system. All in all though, this isn't really enough to make the game feel different enough to last year.
Whilst the developer and publisher rhetoric was all about revolutionising the series with the move to the professional scene. What we instead have is some window dressing. The car customisation feature epitomises this. It certainly learns a trick or two from Forza, but manages to fall down on the most important point. The changes you make really make very little difference to the on track behaviour of the car. This means that before too long you soon learn to skip this section and head straight for the track.
This is a shame because the driving model has otherwise been tidied up very nicely. The actual experience of piloting the various cars is possibly one of the better aspects of the new version. Whereas previous outings felt, at times, a little spongy, Pro Street offers a solid drive regardless of which car you are in. That said, this quality seems to have been paid for with a lack of a real sense of speed. It's not until you get onto the real big muscle cars that things start to shift, something that can take a player a good ten hours to achieve. Leaving their best cars until so late in the game may turn the more casual players off. The very people, it seems, they are hoping to attract.
Overall, Pro Street seems to over promise and under deliver. The most worrying aspect however is that fact that this new cleaner, leaner version of the game seems to have lost some of its attractive quirky representation of the shady street racing scene. EA is in danger of alienating their main fans, whilst unlikely to attract many new ones with their pretty derivative racing experience.
Top Game Moment:
TOP GAME MOMENT
When you first get in one of the higher performance models, the sensation of speed makes you realize; now that’s what I’d been missing. A real kick in the pants as you accelerate off the line.