Need For Speed: Through Speed Bumps and Acceleration

Need For Speed Undercover Screenshot - 866917

Over the years, the ride has been a bumpy one for Electronic Arts’ Need For Speed franchise. For every superb entry in the series, there has been an equally subpar counterpart keeping it from being the greatest racing anthology available. Nevertheless, the ride has been an interesting one, and in our latest editorial, we look back at the series’ progress, or, in some cases, lack thereof.

The Beginning

Need For Speed got its start on the 3DO way back in 1994, with ports that followed on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn two years later. Since that time, the PS One has been the recipient of most of the following releases, including the original Hot Pursuit in 1998 (which introduced a cops and robbers-style factor to each race), as well as the brand-specific Porsche Unleashed in 2000.

Following that, the series moved to the GameCube, Xbox and PlayStation 2 platforms with Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, produced by EA’s Black Box team (which was originally Black Box Games, a Vancouver development team). From there, the series started to drift into The Fast and the Furious-like territory…

Let’s Get Extreme In 2003, EA shifted gears on the Need For Speed franchise – literally – opting for a more tuner-centric street racing theme with Need For Speed: Underground. The game, released in 2003 for several consoles, had you choose from various courses throughout Olympic City and three event types: Drag (race on a straight-away), Sprint (get from point A to point B as fast as possible) and Drift (perform stylish drifts for points). The game was also the first to introduce deep tuning options, enabling you to tweak your ride as needed, both in terms of performance and appearance.

So, how did it fare? The series got off to a great start, but soon after, EA kept returning to formula, relying on Black Box to work its way through "extreme" measures on Underground’s sequel in 2004, and continued to do so well into the next evolution of the series; the first for current game consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Need For Speed: Less Wanted?

In 2005, EA released Need For Speed: Most Wanted for various consoles, including the Xbox 360, marking its debut in the next-gen gaming market. Despite the presence of hottie Josie Maran and a plot backing the racing theme (you’re essentially out to get revenge against a group of racing hooligans), many felt that the series was starting to delve into repetition. However, it continued to sell well, leading EA to repeat the formula a few years later, but not before delving back into street-racing with Need For Speed: Carbon (2006), and pulling a u-turn into legitimate racing with Need For Speed: ProStreet (2007).

Need For Speed: Undercover was often called a Most Wanted clone, and rightfully so. The protagonist was an undercover cop, slowly worming his way into a racing regime while relying on his driving skills to stay competitive. The old motor was finally giving out. Critics weren’t too crazy about the game’s easier-than-usual difficulty settings, and the PlayStation 3 edition had severe problems with performance, despite the required 2 GB install. It was with this release that EA decided it was finally time for a meaningful change and moved Black Box to the Skate series.

A New Direction

In 2009, EA called upon two new teams to produce Need For Speed projects. EA Montreal moved in to develop the Wii-exclusive Need For Speed Nitro, while the newcomers at Slightly Mad Studios worked on a simulation-style racing game called Need For Speed: Shift for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Both ended up being well-received, with Nitro scoring better with the arcade racing crowd and Shift winning over simulation fans that were looking for something different from Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and Forza Motorsport 3. They sold reasonably well, too, but EA wasn’t done with the Need For Speed changes just yet.

Black Box returned, in conjunction with EA Singapore, to produce an MMO-style racing game for PC called Need For Speed: World. Featuring over 30 cars and a variety of tracks scattered through the cities of Palmont and Rockport, the game attracted thousands of players within its first few weeks, despite some technical problems with the game’s launch. However, many folks complained that it didn’t do anything new for the series, like Need For Speed: Shift did. Fortunately, it’s still doing well enough for EA that it isn’t considered a dud. And more changes are bound to come over the next few months.

Perhaps the most highly anticipated Need For Speed game yet, though, is the one flying off store shelves this week – Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. The game is a production of Criterion Games, the same team behind the immensely successful Burnout series, including the popular open-world Burnout Paradise. The game reverts to the simple logic from the original Hot Pursuit, giving you the option to play as cop or criminal as you hit the pedal to the medal, setting up (or avoiding) roadblocks and crashing a few cars along the way.

Full Speed Ahead With Hot Pursuit set to raise the bar and users still clamoring for EA’s racing experience, what’s next for the Need For Speed franchise? Plenty. The company has announced that a Need For Speed Shift sequel, Shift 2 Unleashed, is already in the works and set for release sometime next summer, and Black Box is hard at work on yet another new entry in the series, one that "could really blow the doors off the category," according to a rep.

Though the Need For Speed series hasn't always been the smoothest ride, we're glad to see that it's found its way over the past few years, providing quality simulation (Need For Speed Shift) and arcade-style driving (Hot Pursuit) for fans everywhere. It's really come a long way in 16 years, and the ride is far from over. See you on the road.

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Robert Workman
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