Features// Need for Speed's Hideous History

Posted 3 Jan 2012 09:50 by
Need for Speed: 3DO
Need for Speed: 3DO
Need for Speed games have always (except for once) been shit. They've also been Christmas Number Ones more times than I care to remember. Or more precisely more times than I can be bothered to look up, because let's face it once would have been once too many.

Except if it had been 2010 when NO NfS game was NUMBER ONE, even though that's the one and ONLY time that the “series” deserved it.

The reasons that NfS does not deserve it success are many and straightforward. The reasons for its success are much more perplexing. Are video games buyers really clueless sheep, unable to recognise that they have been sold a festering turd in place of a AAA racing game?

As a franchise, Need for Speed started way back in 1994 as a title for the little remembered, and little missed 3DO. The games unique selling point was its long point-to-point races, the scenery for which was streamed from the new, revolutionary and comparatively huge (for the time) CD medium.

The resulting game was different enough from the Outrun clones we were mostly playing at the time to make a name for itself… but it wasn't a name I expected to still be playing 17 years and thirty-some games later.

Need for Speed's longevity can be ascribed to one thing above all others, the way it has flipped and flopped with the wind to abandon its central premise and latch onto whatever was popular in racing games at the time.

Cop Pursuits, Touge Racing, Fast and the Furious-style underground pimping scene; Max Power madness, you name it! That and the massive marketing budgets thrown at it, of course.

In recent years, this eagerness to please all of the people all of the time has seen the Need for Speed Franchise broken up into multiple thread so that separate games can be aimed at "core" gamers and at casual gamers. Ironically, the games aimed at casual gamers have been the better games.

But basically, If it has four wheels and a following, Need for Speed has had a sub-standard stab at exploiting it. And there's nothing wrong with that. Except that without exception (except with one exception) the games have been second rate: Grotty graphics, horrible handling, stoopid storylines.

The exception, of course, was last year's Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. And what's with that? The NfS franchise re-uses names with gay abandon. Hot Pursuit had already been used twice before.

This time, EA handed the development mantle to Criterion and the result was transformative. It was also basically Burnout dressed up as Need for Speed. And it brought with it Burnout's finely balanced mix of the dynamic and the absurd. The result was a game that was in a different league from all other Need for Speed games.

The problem was, while the handling, the graphics, the playability were all top notch, NfS Hot Pursuit (2010) was going over old tarmac. It was a great game, but the underlying premise was nothing new.

Sure, there were lots of new things thrown in there… and the result was BEST NfS GAME EVER! But then again, even if it had only been half the game it was, it would still have been the best NfS game ever.

This year, Criterion are back working on we know not what. Prolly the next Burnout game, or maybe even Black 2. They say for themselves that, “We also love the iPhone and iPad. They're like something from the future. The toys we always dreamed of.”

What we do know is that NfS was turned back over to Black Box - the same company that had already fucked up several NfS titles in the past. This is a crying shame, because had Criterion developed the resulting title Need for Speed, The Run - the result would have stellar.

Need for Speed, The Run
The game has maybe the best premise for a Need for Speed game ever - a Cannonball Run style race across the United States, starting in San Francisco and heading for the Big Apple; West Coast to East Coast - over some of the most spectacular terrain on earth.
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