I figured I'd start a series of articles that discussed the history of some of our most beloved titles; a way of reminiscing - because we all know there's nothing better than looking back on our favourite gaming moments. For now, I'll only touch on games I've played, rather than trying to cover the entire span of the NFS name with a lack of knowledge on certain titles.
With that said, I thought I'd start off with one of my personal favourites. I started playing Need for Speed around the time of Most Wanted in 2005 on the PlayStation 2. I've literally only just realised how long ago that is and how time flies. It was something I had a serious adoration for because of the way it seemed to effortlessly blend a narrative (that wasn't terrible, surprisingly) with challenging police pursuits and dangerous rival races that had you dodging traffic in the beautiful county of Rosewood. One particular moment I remember from this game was a stretch of road that linked the Rosewood Country Club to the Highlander Stadium on Highway 99. You know the one that had you take a shortcut through the forested areas but flicked up and over the dual carriageway to the other side? Yeah. That one. The one that put the integrity of your car at risk because you installed the low-hanging skirting on your supercar and once you were in the air, just prayed that you landed in once piece.
That's what made Most Wanted '05, and indeed all the NFS titles, so entertaining and fun to play. You get a raw sense of speed from thrashing your cars around some beautifully crafted playgrounds and throw back to some great tunes. Of course it wasn't all about the sense of speed, but also the way you could lovingly decorate and tune your ultimate ride. This particular game, along with the Underground series, were the best places to go if you wanted to very precisely place decals on a car and create the ultimate wrap to flaunt in the streets, and I feel like this feature has since been beaten into a bloody pulp and kicked into the stratosphere without remorse. It didn't make the franchise what it is in a sense, but a lot of the fanbase that started playing circa 2001 will argue that the games were a lot more fun with this feature in tow. On the contrary, the people who also rely on numerous other racing series will suggest that whilst this is a good feature to show off in games, it's not vital for a fun racing experience. I'm definitely not biased towards any certain devs, but I feel like teams under the name of EA receive a lot of abuse for creative decisions that may be more about deadlines enforced by the publisher, rather than something a designer from a dev team can choose to do for the sake of a game's benefit, and I will admit that this ideology is not what it used to be a matter of six or seven years ago at the beginning of the seventh console generation as DLC became more prominent.
Going back to the actual games (apologies for ranting - felt sort of obliged), we saw a slight change of pace from the franchise as Need for Speed: Carbon launched near the Christmas period of 2006. Set completely at night (I'm not sure what kind of weird eclipse was taking place during the duration of the game), we essentially got more of the good stuff from Most Wanted '05 but in a new city... and at night. I felt like Carbon didn't really capture the same essence as its predecessor did, but that's because it set the bar a mile high. It was a great racing game, don't get me wrong, and one that had me playing for hours and hours on end, primarily because we still had those addictive customization features back then, but Palmont City didn't really give off the same vibe as Rosewood and, while the nighttime racing concept is cool, it got boring a bit faster than the previous experience. Still loved it though. Still adored the damn thing because Most Wanted was pretty much the only game I needed back then, so when I started playing Carbon, I was more than ready to go. And can I quickly mention how awesome Sargeant Cross was, please? He was the guy you loved to hate - all because he keyed your BMW M3 GTR back in Rosewood. It killed me to watch him do that. Why my character didn't murder him when he had the chance, I do not know. At any rate, let it be known that NFS: Most Wanted 2005 and NFS: Carbon are games you absolutely must play if you're a fan of the racing genre. It's a great starting point if you're new to the series as a whole, too. They've aged very well with all things considered.
By the time the seventh console generation got into full swing, so did the revised Need for Speed titles. After a period of what I considered trial and error between ProStreet and Undercover in 2007 through 2008 Criterion Games (perhaps most well-known for the Burnout games) were tasked with producing the title penned for a November 2010 launch; the Hot Pursuit reboot. It hit all the right notes, redeeming a factor that felt absent during the first few years of the new hardware transition. By this point in time, car modification and customization was almost non-existant, instead focusing more on the sheer openess and longevity in exploring the plains of Seacrest County. For the PS3 and XBOX 360, it felt like a technical marvel with the added plus of the fun factor of, dare I say it, Most Wanted? The car roster is simply stunning; anything from the tip-top of the thoroughbred category was there in your garage waiting to be thrown across the dusty highways and snowy mountains of Seacrest. It may also be worth noting that Hot Pursuit held no narrative aspect whatsoever, solely targeting the open-world racing and nothing more. It was a shame, but Most Wanted felt like the only title with a story worth following. Plus, we all know how stories in racing titles turn out. "What stories?"
Racing is racing. I salute the racers that make an intertwined narrative work, but it's probably best to leave it out unless you're confident it's not going to spoil the game for everyone. And speaking of which, that's exactly where the next venture went wrong.
Need for Speed: The Run launched in the autumn of 2011 to mixed reception. I didn't take it very kindly either. EA Black Box took the helm once more, hoping to carry on up from the decent Undercover several years prior - but to no avail. Everything about it was decidedly average and mishandled, surprisingly so for such a well-established AAA name in gaming. The cars were appallingly bad to drive, almost feeling like melting butter sliding across a hot pan. None of them had any real oomph behind the wheel and I was so bitterly disappointed by that, so much so because these were guys that made some of my all-time favourite games in the series. That metaphor, just to mention, was no exaggeration. You needed to put so much effort into getting a car around a corner without grinding against a crash barrier and careering into an oncoming van. I hadn't lost my mojo, no sir. I don't just lose a skill for racing games that quickly but I definitely felt as if I was in the wrong for some time. I did refer to other sources to see if I could clarify that it was, indeed, the game at fault. Sure enough, as I read through reviews of the game, I was not to blame at all. How or why they decided they should try and fix something that wasn't broken at all (apart from debatably heaving cars in Hot Pursuit - only to some degree, bear in mind) is beyond me. Along with a dull-as-dishwater storyline and drab protagonist, The Run felt more like a showcase for the newly-introduced Frostbite 2.0 engine than a racing game that was trying to appease to the masses. And alas, this was essentially Black Box's curtain call in the mainstream market before being shut down in 2013; three years after the launch of their PC-exclusive racing MMO - Need for Speed: World (since acquired by Quicklime Games). I'd quite like to touch on that for a while if I may, purely because I feel it had more things going for it than The Run did. It definitely wasn't a revolution by any means, but an interesting rewards system that balanced with micro-transactions a lot better than most F2P games these days can say for themselves really has done, I feel like World is completely ignored in a sense that MOBAs dominate the free-to-play playmodel entirely when it comes to buying add-ons. How it's still alive to this day is incredible, but perhaps there's a system going that I just don't realise is doing so well. I mean, I have no grasp on how many players the servers accomodate daily, but there's something providing it with the lifeline I feel is vital. And trust me, if you're looking for something that doesn't filter out the players that don't buy extras in a free game, you can do a lot worse than Need for Speed: World. Even I have bought stuff in that game. There's frequent discounts on certain items and it's not exactly wallet-draining. £10 can get you some pretty good cars, modifications, and so on. If you're not into that means of earning, a few higher-tier races can get you a decent ride, albeit not as good as jumping straight for the payed goods.
When the big blockbuster release window of October/November 2012 came about, I hadn't lost much confidence in NFS returning to form, primarily because Criterion were at the forefront of production once again with the reboot of Most Wanted. Set in the new city of Fairhaven, and one of the nicest worlds in the newer generation of games, the line between singleplayer and multiplayer began to blur as the game was deemed as the most social in the franchise. It made for some cracking online matches with friends, helped along by a server style very much similar to that of Criterion's Burnout: Paradise. That's a really good thing. Nothing ever came close to the social aspects of Paradise until this. Plus, the varied open world and lovingly crafted Fairhaven was a welcome change from the "meh" environmental design we've seen more recently. The car models are beautiful, too. Each and every car was a pleasure to drive, with thanks in part to the new and improved handling mechanics. A step forward from 2010's Hot Pursuit and a few hundred up from 2011's The Run. 2013 saw the launch of Rivals, an ambitious title that seemed to be aimed primarily at showing off new advances with the PS4 and XB1. There was something strangely calming about driving in the hilltops of Redview County with Fenech-Soler's 'Magnetic' playing in the background. I suppose that's largely thanks to the new dynamic weather system the game brings to the party. It goes hand in hand with the return of Ferrari; the first time the manufacturer has appeared in the series in eleven years. The whole ambient vibe you got from the game was unreal, especially when you're rattling down a mountain road with nothing between you but a jagged cliffside and a small barrier.
Another thing I appreciated about Rivals was its emphasis on flat-out speed and enjoying the sound of the car without worrying about a lot of tight corners. Weaving through traffic on a mile-long straight with the sun breaking through the clouds is something else. Perhaps a thing the Need for Speed titles have all shared, but improved on over the years. Some will play it down for lack of customization, but a true petrolhead wouldn't need that. Preferences aside, this is a franchise with a coveted history and rightfully so. 2015 is going to be a big year for Need for Speed, and I can't wait to see what it has to offer.
Me Love Cars - Founder of Gameopedia Wiki 01:37, November 11, 2014 (UTC)