The Shambling State of Need For Speed

  • I know, I know, the title of this piece is oxymoronic. The notorious racing game franchise that is the subject of this diatribe is Need For Speed, yet the habits inhibited by it in the past decade mimic that of impaired movement. For it is a sad state that the Need For Speed franchise isn't so much speeding towards evolution, as it is slamming on the breaks and reversing backwards into a pile of vehicles in the midst of busy traffic. A franchise once blooming with stylish street racing and pulse-pounding police chases-is regurgitating the same ideas and refusing to break free of its restraints.

    Remember the days when Need For Speed was exciting? 2005's Need For Speed: Most Wanted springs to mind-a super-exciting and adrenaline-bolstered Need For Speed, that made street racing smoky, speedy and superb. The emphasis on cops vs. criminals made for unending thrills, the story's sense of progression made you fight for prominence and prestige, and most crucially-it fit right in with the debut of the Fast and Furious movie franchise.

    Simply put, Most Wanted decorated the Need For Speed franchise with the finest aspects of the arcade racing experience, which was swung into an upward trajectory by its predecessors such as Need For Speeds Hot Pursuit 2, Underground and Underground 2. The latter two brought in impressive customization options and beaming nightlife, making races glow in the dark and presenting players with an exclusive club vibe. Yet it was Most Wanted, that as the title suggests, gave NFS fans what they most wanted from the franchise with its blockbuster gameplay and super-slick stylishness.

    2010's Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit was another very successful and popular Need For Speed entry. Between Most Wanted and Hot Pursuit's release, Need For Speed was losing traction, giving us Carbon which was too familiar to NFS: Underground, Pro Stret, which was linear and deviated from the franchise's best traits, Undercover that was too cinematic, and SHIFT-which doubled down on the sim aspects Pro Street hinted at becoming.

    Hot Pursuit returned the epic cops vs. criminals allure, but this time allow us to play as the police to hunt down and eliminate street racing scum. Not only, could you barge hoodlums off the road, but you could spring spike strips out the rear-end of your cruiser that will puncture wheels and spin the victimized cars out of control in a spray of sparks.

    Regretfully, Need For Speed hasn't been able to claw back to great success since that 2010 Hot Pursuit outing, choosing to throw out games with different gimmicks-some like The Run and its cross-country aesthetic were passable, and others like Payback's jaunt to Vegas and lootboxes were terrible. Rivals did bring a more connected enhancement to 2010s Hot Pursuit, however it pretty much copied everything Hot Pursuit did so well without providing anything really new to the fore.

    2012's Most Wanted tried to make us forget about the original but made us crash more often than not in stale city races.

    Rivals was the last decent Need For Speed, since then, the franchise has wallowed in mediocrity. 2015s NFS with its cheesy cinematics and awkward driving controls heralded a new phase, one where the controls were more annoying, and the story and characters became as pleasant as sweaty body odour. 2017's Need For Speed Payback generated controversy with its dreadful lootbox inclusions, and the game itself was rubbish to boot because it didn't know how to make a vehicle hijacking playable-and favoured maligned cinematics instead. 2019's HEAT was an improved game, but it too didn't do anything to truly alter the dire straits of the franchise.

    Need For Speed has been largely forgotten as its competition started to gain serious momentum. FORZA Horizon snatched much of Need For Speed's thunder, with its open-world design, its exciting races, its luxurious locations and its offroad wildness. New arcade racers emerged, like Wreckfest and ONRUSH, new exciting entries in long-established franchises upped the ante, like CodeMasters with the GRID reboot and GRID: Legends, and DiRT 5 with its attitude and vigor. Need For Speed has gradually spiralled into irrelevancy, not helped by their new releases coming once every two or three years recently.

    Now with the release of Need For Speed: Unbound, we're once again saddled with the lackluster and the irritably familiar. Judging from the trial, Unbound is more concerned with ostentatious visuals instead of compelling gameplay. The title may say unbound, but there are invisible walls and races that primarily take place on city streets. The soundtrack is awful, the cops are needlessly pestering, the handling hasn't been refined, and it's generally reeking of an old dog that would rather piss on the carpet than learn any new tricks.

    So there you have it, a brief history of Need For Speed. At this rate the series is in need of a huge overhaul and needs to do something drastically new. The sense of sameness is getting overbearing and it's about time we got an NFS game with style and substance together like it was back in the early and mid 00s. NFS needs a return to form, or it'll continue in a forgotten state where every franchise will wither down to a bemused grunt from racing game aficionados.