The Need for Speed first released the 3DO console is still fondly remembered by many who played it as one of the greatest driving experiences ever offered by a console format. Now 14 years after this original release we see the latest vision of this franchise success story. So how has it changed in its evolution and is it a better game for those changes?
Developed in Electronics Art’s Canadian studio, NFS represented the pinnacle of in game graphics when it was first shown in early 1994. The game featured 3 locations each with a several sections which would greatly affect driving conditions, the goal being; to give the most accurate experience of what it would feel like top be in control of the world’s most powerful production cars. Great sound, great graphics but the added bonus which really set this title above the rest was its attention to detail and physics.
When you were going fast in NFS, you felt the fear of speed, with accurate braking distances the chances of avoiding an accident at high speed were very low. This gave a whole new dimension to the strategy of racing both your opponents and how to escape the cops. Often the best course of action being to slow down and drive past the cops at the regulated speed limit before putting the pedal to the metal as soon as they were out of range. Of course sometimes this didn’t always go to plan but you could bash off your rival and give the cops something else to deal with. Either way compared to today’s experience it would feel somewhat sluggish but the unique approach still sets this original apart from its successors and the vast majority of racers. Another feature exclusive to this version was tongue-in-cheek humour provided by your rival, video clips would introduce and follow sections of the game any your progress, initially quite sleazy the guy really grows and offers a few welcome laughs along the way, this light hearted approach is something long gone from the current iterations.
With each version the emphasis continued to move further from racing sports cars and into intense often ludicrous racing environments with ever more violent cops, this probably encouraged by some of the antics seen in the successful Grand Theft Auto series. From racing to Hot Pursuit and with the XB1’s release in 2001 we saw the new vision for the series, fun to play but inconsistent handling and poor frame rate let this batch down, with a lack of imagination the series appeared to reach a creative dead end and this signalled a decline. Meanwhile PC users fared better with the NFS Porsche titles retaining a more simulation feel but following the Unleashed iteration this series was shelved for a different approach.
A rethink took place at EA and a reinvention of the title, this was then inspired by hit movie “The Fast and the Furious” featuring an underground racing scene that hit the streets of L.A in the hours of darkness in their highly tuned and modded vehicles. This proved to be the perfect launch pad for a new vision of the series and tapped straight into the current racing scene. That and an impressive new graphics engine gave the series direction but again with sequels quickly rushed out and questions over their limited development providing incomplete and substandard products the series quickly saw another downturn.
The market had changed and with EA purchasing the Burnout license, NFS was going to need to take a different path in an effort to differentiate itself. On the launch of the XB360 EA released Need For Speed Most Wanted, finally we had some daylight to race in (or permanent sunset, Michael Bay style) and an open plan map to race on. Probably one of the more underrated titles in the series, this was a leap back to form, with well thought out maps, great graphics and atmospheric sound. All appeared to be back on the right track, even with NFS Carbon on route hopes were high; alas these were to be dashed with a title lacking in creativity and substance. Feeling the need for change NFS Pro Street offered a completely different style of racing including track based events. Dreadful handling and a total lack of direction continued the rushed feel present within several iterations of the series and again this development missed the mark.
Why is this the case and how can a company get it so right one year and so wrong the next? This all boils down to EA’s development process, at any one time two or three different teams are working on a different version at a different stage in development simultaneously. Whether these teams communicate is anyone’s guess but the in some cases you would have to feel there is a lack of correspondence between the teams often creating the same mistakes or recreating old ones previously released.
Either way we now look forward to NFS Shift with promising footage shown so far you can see our exhaustive interview with the series producer Jessy Abney and our hands-on here.