This year’s iteration of Need for Speed is different than anything we’ve seen so far in the series. It’s not trying to be an arcade racer, and yet it also doesn’t focus entirely on simulation. Both the thin storyline and open world that were present in the last two games have been removed completely. Is there anything left worthy of the title Need for Speed?
When booting up the game, the first notable thing is that there’s no video introduction of a hot babe to say hello and explain that driving fast and reckless isn’t allowed on the streets. No, it just tells you to wear a seatbelt at all times, because we’re not racing illegally on the streets anymore, we’re heading towards street circuits, where there aren’t any cops, laws or stop signs. Now that you, Ryan Cooper have left your illegal street racing days entirely behind you, it’s time to start over on more legal circuits. In order to become the best, the current racing king Ryo Watanabe has to be defeated at his own game. To do that, a whole series of racing events called racing days have to be visited and won.
To get from where you are right now to the new king, there’s a long road ahead. This road is illustrated by a very confusing looking career chart where racing days can be unlocked. The further you progress, the more days will be unlocked. Entering a racing day is like going to a party with a drunk MC. Throughout the entire game, an announcer is constantly yelling how awesome the new Ryan Cooper is, and that the current king should watch out for him and his mad skills. At first it’s mildly irritating, but later on it really becomes annoying as he only has a small vocabulary and will therefore repeat the same stuff over and over again. Luckily there are a few variations here and there when something important is achieved, but it’s mostly the same cheering.
As with pretty much all the other Need for Speed games, there’s a large variety of events, ranging from the regular Grip and Time Attack to Drag or Drifting challenges. Each of these challenges requires a different skill set and car. In order to participate in a racing day, a car in each category of that racing day has to be in your possession. While most cars can be used in more than one category, they’re tuned differently for each one and can’t be used in more than one type of event in one racing day. This can be circumvented by buying the same car twice and outfit it with a different blueprint, which is suited to a different racing type.
Tuning cars is a very important aspect this time around. Where it previously consisted only of buying the fastest parts, there’s a little more to it than that. For instance, aerodynamics play an important role now. Sculpting spoilers, hoods and roofs is just as important as buying that bigger engine, as both aspects can improve performance quite a bit. For drag races it’s very important to have as much grip as possible, while in Speed Challenges, higher speed is more important. What’s also changed is the fact that you can’t upgrade your Volkswagen Golf into a Porsche 911 GT2 Turbo anymore by constantly upgrading it. This means a new vehicle has to be purchased occasionally because the old one can’t keep up anymore. Both cars and parts become more and more expensive later on, and they’re quite expensive compared to your earnings. Creating a garage which consists entirely of expensive and well tuned cars is nearly impossible, which is why choices have to be made.
As mentioned earlier, there are quite a few different racing types, and all of them require different skills. In Grip, Grip Class, Time Attack or Sector Shootout, each player tries to set the fastest time on a track, sector or entire track, depending on the subtype. In Drift mode, drifting around a short circuit and racking up more points than the competition is the requirement to win. Speed Challenge and Top Speed look a bit like old-fashioned Need for Speed style racing, as there’s only a long road and it’s possible to obtain incredible speeds. Either drive to the finish as fast as possible or accumulate the most points while driving through a series of radar detectors, depending on whether it’s a Top Speed or Speed Challenge run. And finally there’s Drag mode, which made it back into the game again. Here players have to shift manually and try to reach the finish line first. Wheelie mode is a variation of drag where making the longest wheelie counts. All these events are spread out evenly throughout the entire career racing days, although some events like drift or speed challenge become available later. Throughout the races, the annoying announcer won’t keep his mouth shut either, in almost every corner and lap he has to say something about the damage you’ve taken or the position you’re currently occupying.
The driving itself, and thus also the difficulty of the game isn’t really set in stone. Players can choose a few different handling schemes where certain assists have been turned on or off. The easiest setting helps the player to brake into every corner and draws an optimal line on the track, while the hardest settings doesn’t do all these things. One can argue that without these assists, there’s more control over the car which might make the game easier or more fun for simulation enthusiasts. Also, at the start of the game you obviously start out in a crappy car which can only be used for a few racing days until it’s become completely obsolete. The weird thing is, that if you decide to do a few racing days over a couple of times and make a lot of money, it’s possible to buy cars that are way faster than anything the competition has to offer, and therefore make it much easier to win and gain even more money. If that takes up too much time, every car or part can also be bought with real money from the Xbox Live Marketplace.
The online aspect of the game goes pretty deep, it doesn’t stop at racing a few tracks against someone else, there’s much more to discover. There are leaderboards, shareable blueprints, personalized racing days and a photo mode to upload pictures onto EA’s website. Not everything in the online department is pleasant though, the intense leaderboard integration can be pretty annoying. Every track in every racing day has a leaderboard on which your best times are automatically posted. Now that may not seem like a bad thing, but every time a race is completed, an annoying popup comes up to mention that it’s uploading results of the race to a server. The same goes for ghost cars, after every race a question pops up to ask if you’re interested in uploading your ghost car so that other players can compete against that. The only way to circumvent these annoyances is to make sure the Xbox 360 can’t connect to the Internet. Playing a race against a few of your friends is near to impossible as there is no proper lobby system, just quickmatch and a time consuming option to create your own private racing day.
The presentation of Prostreet leaves a bit to be desired unfortunately. In the graphics department it lacks vivid colors and everything looks a bit gray despite the fact that every race taking place is full daylight as opposed to nightly predecessor Carbon which had colorful neon lighted surroundings. The damage model of cars has been upgraded significantly, but it barely affects the performance and is mainly just there for the looks. Smoke on the other hand has been improved quite a bit and it even has physics, which translates into yoghurt-like smoke spinning around as it leaves the wheel cage. EA made sure that there’s plenty of smoke to look at, especially when doing drag races. The car sounds and music are pretty much what you should expect. With all the different cars and parts in the game, there’s a huge list of possible sounds a car can make and the developer has done a pretty good job there. Along wit the sounds, a set list composed of 27 relatively unknown but catchy tracks, make the entire audio department for the game more than sufficient.
The overall feeling of the game is that it doesn’t really excel at anything, but neither does it do too many things wrong to give it a bad grade. The mixture of arcade racing and simulation is pretty rare but it didn’t really work out as expected for EA. Things like a damage model could be considered mandatory for a racing game in this day and age, but if it doesn’t affect the vehicle’s performance, what’s the point of implementing it. Along with the extremely thin storyline, which seems even thinner than previous iterations, Need for Speed Prostreet doesn’t really have what it takes to be played more than a few weeks tops. It’s not worthy of the title Need for Speed, it’s just too mediocre for that.
Final Score: 6 out of 10 - Average (How do we rate games?)