“What comes up must come down”. It is a phrase which is thrown around a lot these days, and for most of the time, it is definitely true. There is however, no such finer example than the well known Need For Speed franchise. From street racing to police pursuits and even dabbling in off-road racing, the series has progressed and changed its direction and theme over its almost decade and a half history, spanning 16 titles to date. What began as a simple racer trying to offer gamers a realistic driving experience in The Need For Speed, the franchise has been hailed as one of the greatest racing series to date, but unfortunately, has also been recently referred to as one of the worst.
If you were to go out and ask a gamer what the essence of Need For Speed was, you are likely to get two different responses. For those older gamers, Need For Speed to them is about the fast cars and hectic police cases in expensive exotic vehicles by the likes of McLaren, Lamborghini and Ferrari. Ask a younger gamer, and most likely to them, the franchise is about illegal street-racing, police pursuits and Japanese imports by the names of Nissan, Mitsubishi and Mazda.
Similarly, if you were to ask gamers what their impressions of the Need For Speed series were as a whole, you would also get two different responses. For some, they would consider the franchise the ultimate set of racing games to date, offering a range of different racing styles and themes, beautiful automobiles and an intense sense of speed while for others, it would be nothing more than a dying series, once all about racing and all of those things mentioned but now, just an ordinary racing game with issues and problems galore, and herein lies the problem.
Depending on how much of a racing aficionado you are, and when you entered the series, your impressions on how the franchise has developed is sure to differ. It does not however, take a genius to figure out that the once critically acclaimed and much adored racing franchise is beginning to lose its touch and plummet downhill – fast. The thing is, it is hard to really contribute a single cause to its unfortunate demise and nor can one truly pin-point the exact moment as to when Need For Speed had lived its last day of glory.
There are those who will say that Underground killed the series for the high-speed European exotic theme was lost while others who continued on will say that ProStreet put the final nail in the coffin. What can be seen though, regardless which side you take, is that the ‘touch’ that previous Need For Speed titles had is lost. For the last three years, the developers have changed the course of the game, deciding to follow a new path or a new idea each time – each of which never really hitting the mark with the masses. For the past three years, the developers have removed a feature or aspect of the game, whether it is a game mode or a race type, and have added in something new–each time, the thing taken out being missed far more than the feature added was being enjoyed. I guess this, this is one of the reasons the franchise has begun to fall.
It just seems that EA Black Box have failed to recreate that excitement and passion amongst the fans and new gamers to the series. Even if you hated the illegal street-racing scene that Underground bought, you cannot deny that it was a success – it pulled so many people into the franchise and into the genre itself, myself included. Thing is, even when Carbon tried to provide that night-time racing feel again, and when ProStreet tied to bring back that realism factor, neither struck a chord with the community. Reviewers have given the last few titles scores which seem to get worse each time around, and with Undercover, it just hit rock bottom.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted one of the favored next-gen NFS Titles.
Ironic thing is, Undercover was supposed to be the phoenix of the franchise, the game that would turn this depression in the lifecycle of Need For Speed back into an upswing, but it didn’t. John Riccitiello and John Doyle (CEO of Electronic Arts and Developer at EA Black Box, respectively) spoke of the failure of ProStreet and then how Undercover would be going back to the ‘roots’ of the franchise, having a storyline similar to that of film The Transporter bringing back that theme that Most Wanted seemed to do so well.
Problem is, this game is said to have done more bad that good for the series, receiving the worst reviews ever for a title in the franchise and even going as far as to being described as ‘under developed’ and too short – which was basically were the same problems Carbon and ProStreet had. The game also suffers from constant freezing and frame rate issues which only make claims of a rushed game more plausible. Personally, I did not mind Carbon or ProStreet but I did identify the problems and understand the complaints other gamers had but despite the reviews, Undercover has been described as a solid and decent game by many.
NFS: Pro Street a let down to most fans in the series.
All in all, the future of the franchise looks bleak. With the last three titles failing to receive a great welcome from reviewers and gamers alike, the chances of this franchise regaining its former glory seem more of a wish than a reality. Despite EA Black Box being behind the development of hits like Hot Pursuit 2, Undercover 2 and Most Wanted each only having one year of development time, they have been unable to recreate the success the early 2000’s had and despite Undercover having a longer development time that past titles, gamers and reviewers alike are having doubts about whether Need For Speed has any hope left.
Modern titles have glitches and bugs galore and this just fuels opinions of Black Box’s failure to truly take in feedback. To further complicate things, Electronic Arts have considered downsizing EA Black Box and putting plans for a second development team for the franchise on hiatus, moving operations to the larger EA Canada studios given the rough economic environment and constantly falling sales of recent Need For Speed titles.
Furthermore, there are also talks that Criterion Games, developers behind the other racing franchise ‘Burnout’ might be given the rights to develop any future titles for the NFS series in the hope of saving its flailing track record. This is however, all rumoured at the moment and has yet to be confirmed by an official at EA. What does this all spell though? Regardless of how things play out, Need For Speed is no longer as great as it used to be and whether it is due to the developers themselves and/or changing preferences from consumers, unless something is done to recreate what made the franchise great years ago, we will see future titles slump to the back of shelves in stores only to be taken over by competitors like Midnight Club until ‘Need For Speed’ is nothing but a memory. Let’s just hope the black box can identify where it went wrong so adjustments can be made to prevent such mistakes from happening again.