Need for Speed Prostreet is a huge departure from the NFS series, featuring only legal racing. That’s right; the ultimate “I don’t wanna grow up” game has grown up. By banishing typical NFS staples – illegality, police chases and near-invincibility – EA Sports has made a serious racing game. Unfortunately, that places ProStreet squarely in the crosshairs of established franchises like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, who’ve cornered the market on “serious racing.” Against this lethal competition, ProStreet falls far short of establishing a beachhead.
The game’s heart is its career mode, which is structured in a series of “Race Day.” Each race day has a minimum point requirement for victory. If you collect enough points after a few races, you don’t need to finish the entire event to unlock more Race Days. However, you can choose to continue an already-won Race Day to collect even more points and earn a “Domination” victory, which unlocks better rewards and gives you more cash.
And so, you go from Race Day to Race Day, unlocking other Race Days. Gone is the “Free Roam” which allows you to meander through the city, exploring the limits of the car or trying to incite the police play bumper tag with you. All the various types of races within each Race Day are standard fare for experienced Xbox racers: straight-up races, time trials, sector shootouts and drag races. The only “free time” allowed is race practice.
It’s not a bad set-up for a pure racing game, but there are many disappointments. Track-based drag racing, for example, is new to the NFS franchise. It was an idea that must’ve sounded cool to a bunch of geeky car/gamer guys sitting around on bean bags, but wasn’t. Each NFS drag race starts with a burnout. The goal: heat your tires by keeping your revs in a specified power band. Do well and you’ll be catapulted at the green light.
From there, drags are ridiculously easy. Time your shifts to claim a victory. Presto. No race lasts longer than 24 seconds. (Surprise!) In other words, it’s pure tedium; especially since most Race Days include at least one drag event. In comparison to the canyon duels– an innovative wrinkle introduced in NFS Carbon– drag racing is a non-crashing bore.
The other issue with Race Days: car typing. When you buy a ride, you select one type of racing for the vehicle: grip (standard racing), speed, drag or drift. Switching a car from one mode to another deletes all previous tuning. Obviously, some semi-pro racers optimize their cars for one type of event. But forcing gamers to do the same adds little value to the game, and another dollop of ennui. It seems obvious to me that a stock Corvette Z06 would be a competent dragster and time-attacker all at once.
Another unfortunate mystery: why an all wheel-drive (AWD) car can’t enter drift events. Seriously. I can still recall earning the “Drift King” achievement in NFS Carbon with an AWD R34 Skyline, a car known for its ability to drift. Yet in the next game of the series, the car is apparently unable to drift.
On the other hand, ProStreet introduces damage modeling to the series. Not there’s much to it; there three basic states of damage, each of which hampers your performance slightly. And of course, it costs money to repair your car (which you must do at the end of each Race Day). Unfortunately, there’s no distinction as to what’s been damaged (e.g., steering, engine, gearbox) and how each type of damage hinders you.
Forza’s guiding line is shamelessly aped, though ProStreet’s line is nowhere near as accurate. Follow it at your own risk. Most cars handle like buses at any speed above 40 mph. Some car rumps still have that cartoonish jiggle under acceleration. The steering is vague and imprecise as always. Visuals are not much better than Forza Motorsport 2 (released a year earlier) either.
NFS, in any incarnation, has never been a purist’s driving game. As long as it had that taboo underground feeling, the arcade feel and a city to explore, you’d forgive the unrealistic driving, where brakes are an afterthought and a Viper can hit 120 mph in 1.5 seconds. In a more adult setting, NFS’ driving flaws are laid bare.
And yet someone at EA decided to let NFS step up into the big leagues. Wong answer. Let’s hope EA returns ProStreet to the streets or… no, that’s it. That’s what they need to do.