NFS ProStreet Reviewed

For the last four years EA has been pushing the whole Fast and the Furious theme further and further, and whilst Underground 2 offered ridiculous levels of customisation (you could change not only the colour of your N2O discharge, but even which vent it came out of) the go-faster-stripes mentality was toned down in Most Wanted and exchanged for the re-introduction of the police, a popular idea pulled from earlier NFS titles. Most Wanted was a great game so it was disappointing that last year’s touge-based Carbon was a step backwards for the series.

Thankfully, the 12 months since Carbon has seen EA move the racing off the streets and onto sanctioned race courses, leaving behind the illegal element and concentrating on the culture of Race Days and the fine tuning of your vehicle’s innards, whilst still retaining some elements of visual customisation for the show-offs. This has meant that ProStreet, despite keeping hold of some of the edgy attitude from previous games, is now competing directly with the likes of Forza, with which it shares much of its design.

Career mode has you progressing through a number of these Race Days, essentially sponsored gatherings of racers, bands, dancers and spectators consisting of a number of different events ranging from standard multi-car Grip races through to Drag competitions, score-based Drift races and the new Speed challenges where you’ll need to reach the highest speed possible. Each variation of race has at least 2 modes, so you’ll also be time trialling and taking part in Sector Shootouts, which are essentially a track based version of HORSE.

nfsNew to the recent games is visual (and performance) damage, which is a welcome feature especially given that repairs must be paid for between races using in-game cash. Light and heavy damage not only affects the bodywork on your car but also degrades your hard work in tuning the car, and enough bumps will render your car totalled, and thus out of the race and indeed any other races, until repaired. Another twist is that cars purchased not only no longer share parts but are also locked to a particular discipline of your choice upon getting the keys; you’ll not be able to use the same car on both drag and drift events, for example, so car choice before entering a Race Day is crucial.

In terms of customisation, a key aspect of the Need for Speed games, there’s a hugely enhanced vinyl editor and plenty of well designed graphics to get you started, but the actual range of aero parts is reduced from earlier years, with only complete bodykits as opposed to the separate bumpers and side skirts to differentiate your ride from the rest. Autosculpt returns though, so most aspects of pretty much anything you buy can be tweaked, and ProStreet features an exceptionally cool ‘wind-tunnel’ effect so you can monitor your changes real time and see how they actually affect the drag and top speed of your vehicle. The engine, suspension, brake and gear ratios can all be adjusted to a greater degree than previously possible.

Once in a race the action is reasonably solid. The frame rate’s not great, fluttering around the 30 mark most of the time but the visuals are otherwise impressive, with the car models looking great and the courses themselves filled with environmental details and plenty of trackside objects to create a nice sense of speed. Because this year’s game is more sim-based, there’s a better emphasis on the semi-realistic handling and to ease gamers in, EA have added a few basic aids, such as assisted braking, for those used to driving like Ridge Racer. The physics work well in the new closed circuits, even to the extent that better drivers can still win with inferior cars, which is the way it should be.

Most of the tracks are based on real-life locations around the US, Europe and Asia, and include actual racetracks such as Autopolis in Japan and the Californian Infineon Raceway, which helps lend weight to the Race Day experience, as does the licensed car parts and sponsors. Naturally EA has nailed the vehicle choice too, with popular tuner cars such as the Nissan Skyline R34 (and the new R35) alongside the return of muscle cars and a smattering of European exotics including the monstrous Zonda. Progress through the career mode unlocks these cars in the garage for purchase, but upgrading existing cars is also required especially given the restrictions on race class – as an example once you’ve got a decent Drift-spec car stick with in until the last third of the game, but be prepared to splash out on faster vehicles for use in the Grip and Speed races.

Online is a little confusing at first – you can’t simply set up a quick single race because even multiplayer requires the building of a Race Day (or selecting a default one) which are all based on a skill level that corresponds to a range of cars. This means that you can’t challenge your mate who’s only just got the game with your top of the range supercar because they won’t have any cars in the ‘hard’ Race Day class. It just takes a little while to familiarise yourself with what EA have done here, but once sorted all the online features are accessed via a click of the right stick which brings up a pop-up window with your friends list, messaging and the option to share Race Days or even pre-built cars with others.

So ProStreet is a new direction for the Need for Speed games, and it almost works. Whilst career mode is lengthy and rewarding and the game has stacks of cars and plenty of customising options, multiplayer is weak and the lag online is quite abundant. The real problem is that now that EA are moving into the sim style of racing there’s much stronger competition for your cash. Don’t overlook this though, because there’s plenty to enjoy, but just don’t go in expecting either the style of Underground or the subtlety of Gran Turismo.