It must be an interesting conundrum for EA: how to genuinely update their franchises each year and expand their appeal whilst avoiding alienating the hard-core fans. This is obviously more straight forward for their sporting games that can rely on an annual churn of new names, clubs and shirts to foster enough gamer desire for a new version. Racing games, such as Need for Speed, pose more of a head-scratcher. When Need for Speed: Pro Street plopped into the Inc Gamers doormat we were therefore intrigued to see what they had done to the long standing game franchise this season.Perhaps it is telling that whilst games such as Juiced have taken their series into the dark nether-regions of the street racing scene, EA have taken it upon them selves to clean things up somewhat. This year they have chosen to follow the legal street racing career of Ryan Cooper. This not only affords less controversy amongst parents and guardians but provides that most sought after of gaming ciphers, the sporting star, upon which they can hang much of their game structure.As such, the game’s story is built around Ryan and his career, with a side plot of getting even with some of his more disrespectful foes. This progresses through a number of different race days that are made up of a variety of different events. Although the structure is different here, the majority of the elements will be instantly recognisable to those who have dabbled with the series before. Again we have the Grip races that provide eight car throw downs, checkpoint events that demand you reach each gate in a certain time limit, a revamped drift racing mode and a fare smattering of drag races. It is shame that things haven’t been shaken up more this time around as there is plenty of potential for more varied and inventive events. We had expected more of a major revision to go along with the new Pro Street moniker.The game’s pacing also suffers from too little too late. It’s not until you have literally put tens of hours into the game that you start to scratch the surface of the interesting vehicles. For what seems like an eternity you spent your days racing the dull and the mundane around the street tracks. Whilst this certainly makes it exciting when you do unlock a Lamborghini, this sets the stakes much too high and will likely turn many gamers off before they even get this far. The repetitious early play is made worse by this edition’s omission of the police. We really like this feature in the previous game that meant you would suddenly find yourself being chased down by the local constabulary mid race. Although a minor point this seems to reflect the more general simplification of proceedings that has been applied to this version of Need for Speed. Whilst this may appeal to the casual gamer, we think this alienates the franchises hard core fans somewhat.Pro Street awards progression not just on winning races, but (borrowing a phrase from Burnout) on dominating the competition. This is achieved by a scoring system that combines your finishing position, your time, and how pristine your car is. If your final score beats the others on the track, you have dominated the day and will be rewarded with cash and parts. This makes it essential to judge which car to bring to which race day, as although you can apply last minute customisations you can get stuck in last place if your ride isn’t suited to the track.Car customisation is of course a key feature of the game (or that is what its rhetoric would want you to believe). We found that after the initial novelty had worn off we most often skipped these options and headed straight to the race. The various mods you can apply to the car are pretty impressive, and involve everything from wind tunnel sculpting to a Forza-esque decal system. The problem is that the physical changes don’t make enough difference to the car’s performance, and the visual alterations can’t be taken online. These two missed opportunities render the customisations a rather inert and mundane proposition. An opportunity missed we think.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.