In some ways, Need For Speed: ProStreet is an entirely new take on the long-standing NFS series. Cops and car chases are gone only to be replaced with closed circuit race events that will have you duking it out on four wheels against drivers along a number of driving disciplines--from drifting to drag racing. While we wrote about ProStreet's single-player path in an earlier preview, we recently had a chance to take a more in-depth look at the game's online features, which look to keep players busy long after they've wrapped up their single-player careers.
Competing in online events in ProStreet comes in two basic flavors--racing with friends (or strangers) on the same track at the same time or competing against one another separately in individually created race day events. As you'll see, both have their advantages and disadvantages. For the first part of our time with ProStreet online, we competed in races against EA producers along a number of different online events, including sector shootout, drift, quarter-mile drag, and speed challenge.
Before the race events began, we had to choose a car from the available list for each event on the docket. Though our online car list was intentionally edited to keep everyone on the same playing field, in the final game, you'll be able to choose from preset cars, as well as cars in your garage for any event on the schedule. As a result, you'll want to make sure you tailor your cars to different specialties. For example, one car might be suited for drift events, while another will be ideal for your drag races. You can even bring a backup car into events, in case one of your primary rides gets damaged along the way.
The different race events we played all challenge your race skills in different ways. The sector shootout plays a lot like your standard grip race: You go up against all the other cars on the track at the same time. However, instead of racing to cross the finish line first, you're racing to set the hottest sector time. If you break the sector record, you "own" that section of track, either until the end of the race or a competitor breaks your time. You collect points for setting new sector records and the more you beat a previous sector record by, the more points you'll earn. The driver with the most points at the end is declared the winner.
Drift events challenge you to create the longest skids possible on relatively short sections of track. Here, the cars are set to drift more or less automatically, so you won't need to be some sort of D1 fanatic to get your car into the right position. Even with the forgiving controls, maintaining a solid, uninterrupted drift can be a challenge, although the big points rewards at the end are worth the trouble. Drag racing events challenge your reflexes more than any other event in ProStreet. Before the drag event begins, you'll want to smoke your tires to build up traction by keeping your revs in a "green" zone because you'll earn bonuses for building up heat past certain levels. After that, a flag girl will drop her hands, and it's time to zoom down the straight, shifting through the gears with the right analog stick. A green zone near the top of your rev counter will indicate where the ideal "shifting zone" is; if you nail it through all the gears, your ride will speed through the straight that much quicker. You can race drag events in both the quarter- and half-mile variations.
The final event we tried against other online competitors was the speed challenge, a mode that--at least in terms of pure speed--felt much like the tollbooth challenges from NFS Most Wanted. Ostensibly just a high-powered grip race, speed challenges take the top speed to the next level because you'll be racing along longer, leaner tracks with zero room for error. The course we raced on was based on the German Autobahn and had steep banked turns at either end. The sense of speed in this race was quite a bit more dramatic than in the other races. At top speeds, the car was very twitchy from a control standpoint; if you turned too much into one of the curves, you'd experience firsthand the dramatic new damage modeling in ProStreet.
While racing head-to-head with other drivers is the ideal way to experience ProStreet's fun, the game will also let you race in pseudo-online events known as shared race days, that you can compete in whenever you want. To do so, you simply create your own custom race day, fill it up with the different kinds of events you want, and then you can invite friends to participate at their leisure. If you're competing in a shared race day, you can enter any of the events at any time and post new scores as you go. You can restart an event at any point; however, any damage that you've incurred during the race will carry over during the restart (though you can use a repair marker to patch up the damage before restarting). In addition to sharing online race day events, you can share car-setup blueprints with your friends online and then challenge them to set new records with your blueprint. If you like, you can race your friends' shadow cars, essentially recordings of their lap on a particular event, or upload your own shadow car after you've completed a race.
Once you're done competing, you can check your progress against your friends by referring to the leaderboard for that event. Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to be possible to check those leaderboards from the race event hub. Instead, you have to back out to the main menu, which is a bit unwieldy. Still, these pseudo-online events are a great way to compete against friends in the different ProStreet events without having to coordinate schedules so you can all be online at the same time. While it's no substitute for tearing it up head-to-head with real drivers online, it's nice to see that ProStreet will be giving players options when it comes to hooking up with friends. We'll have more on the game in the future, so stay tuned.