As a gearhead, when Speedhunters, a very prominent car culture collective, released news of a teaser for a new Need for Speed iteration I was very curious to find out what it would be like. Curiosity gave way to utter delight when they hinted at a possible recurrence of a Need for Speed Underground-style game with an emphasis on drifting, modding and a narrative driven 'outlaw' racing game. Five months later we are presented with Need for Speed, a release quite specifically titled in the hope of revving up (pardon the pun, more on the way) our enthusiasm. The question remains, is this the holy grail all us underground fans were waiting for?
For the readers who are new to the franchise (can there really be any?), here's a potted history of Need for Speed
. In 1994, a title simply known as The Need for Speed
was released featuring models based on actual cars with the aim of bringing 'realistic driving dynamics' to racing games (as much as they could back then with the hardware available).
With public demand for more, the singular game morphed into a franchise, releasing games year after year, with new cars, game modes, locations, themes and ending up being one of the world’s largest and longest running series of its kind.
The title we're talking about today is its 22nd iteration from Electronic Arts, the publisher behind all this success. These folks started with the humble beginnings of a simple multi-car, race-to-the-finish style with the first release, adding the element of law enforcement and chases with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
, a single manufacturer showcase and the introduction of upgrading cars with Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed
, an import-scene-focused and narrative-driven, open-world-based Need for Speed Underground
, a massively multiplayer online flavour in the form of Need for Speed World
and a more recent point-to-point rally style with Need for Speed: The Run
to name a few as highlights.
As the years passed, fans received reboots or sequels to games that were particularly popular in the form of titles such as Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
and “Need for Speed: Underground 2
The above final title merits a mention as it delivered fans of import car culture a rather lavish open world to play around (at night), a rich car collection and the ability to customize not only performance parts but also visual hardware. Since its release in 2004, the franchise had further morphed into different racing style games and the fans of the “import Scene” were left feeling rather forgotten.
The flame was re-ignited when EA, along with Ghost Games, a game developer under the EA umbrella (formerly known as EA Gothenburg) announced a reboot to the franchise in 2015 along with footage that hinted at a game very similar to what Underground 2 offered. Hailed as 'a return to its roots', this reboot promised an accumulation of all that fans loved: cops, modifiability, open world driving and a good narrative. As I started the game for the first time, my thoughts were that the developers and EA had some large shoes to fill if they did want to stick to their word.
The initial impression comes from the truly attractive visuals. The Frostbite engine (which is the basis for the popular Battlefield
series) delivered stunning night scenes, blur effects and cityscapes. Couple of minutes into the game, I was greeted with real world cutscenes reminiscent of Need for Speed: Most Wanted
, with the difference of much more sophisticated merging of CGI and reality.
The game weaves a tale in the heart of Ventura Bay, a fictional west coast city in California, with characters that seem to spout the cheesiest dialog ever offered in a racing series (and some other genres). Then again it’s possible that the reviewer, not being from that part of the world and not being a teenager, felt a bit awkward when the characters went on calling each other “bae” and wanted to “hoon”.