EA's latest entry in the Need for Speed series, ProStreet, will almost certainly split the NFS audience. The series is moving away from the open-world, story-driven, cops-at-every-corner style to a more focused--and slightly more realistic--style of gameplay that is drawing no small amount of influence from what's happening in today's real-life tuner scene. And while that might raise the hackles of the NFS purists, for those new to the series or those looking to return to Need for Speed after skipping the last few incarnations, ProStreet could be a welcome change. We had a chance to spend some extended time with an updated build of the game to see how the new approach is working out.
Instead of driving around in a fictional city looking for trouble, ProStreet will place you in the driving shoes of one Ryan Cooper, an up-and-coming race driver. Cooper is looking to make a name on the tuner and street racing circuit, so you'll need to steer him through a number of race events that cover a big swath of racing disciplines as you go. Race events in ProStreet will be organized into either grip, drift, drag, or speed challenges, and each of these disciplines has a "king" associated with it, which is a boss you'll be looking to take down to prove your supremacy in that particular style of racing. Then there's Ryo; he's the final boss you'll face in the game and also a master of every discipline in the bunch. Your goal is to make your way through all of the different race events--besting each of the kings until the final showdown with Ryo.
Grip races are perhaps the most straightforward of the four race events. You'll take on a number of cars in various circuits, and the first one to cross the finish line is the winner. In drift races, style counts more than speed; the idea is to rack up as many points as you can slipping and sliding your car through the curvy drift circuits. Drag events are quick, straight-ahead sprints to the finish line, while speed challenge events will test the upper limits of you car's speed by challenging you to maintain incredibly high speeds through long, increasingly challenging point-to-point circuits.
As we discovered in our hands-on time with the game, each of the event types in ProStreet has its own charm and its own challenges. With grip races, the challenge is dealing with the heavier feel of the cars. We tried a couple of different grip challenge races with cars, such as a Mitsubishi Lancer, which--while not the hottest car in the lineup--is certainly no slouch. The more realistic feel in ProStreet is most evident in weight transfer, which plays a big role in achieving quick times around the circuits. If you can manage to roll your momentum through the tracks, you'll be that much quicker each lap. Interestingly, some grip events will feature two classes of cars, and your goal will be to win the race in you current class.
Drag events are the shortest to be found in ProStreet race weekends, but thanks to some interesting mechanics, they have a challenge all their own. If you've ever seen a real drag race, you know that tire temperature plays a big role in how quickly your car will get off the line. As a result, just as in the real thing, you'll want to burn your tires out before the race begins (which, coincidentally, is a fine way of showing of ProStreet's amazing smoke effects). To do so, you'll need to take part in a brief minigame that will challenge you to keep your engine revs at a certain level (indicated by a constantly shifting green zone on a rev meter) to put maximum heat into the tires. Once you've built up heat, you've got to launch your car off the line, first by revving the engine and then dropping the car into gear by pushing forward with the right stick.
Besides drift events, which require a special kind of control and timing, speed challenge races are perhaps the most challenging race type to be found in ProStreet. The goal in speed challenge events is to have the highest top speed when progressing through the various checkpoints that make up the course. Here, your cars are tuned for maximum top speed at the expense of handling, making the cars difficult to navigate, even through the relatively long and wide turns that make up speed event courses. The speed challenge event we played featured a long, narrow desert course full of long straights and wide turns. As we approached top speed, the car became increasingly difficult to control in the turns, where even the slightest miscalculation could send us careening off the road and into one of the rocky hillsides that ran alongside the course.
All of these different race types will take place in race-event weekends that are held by in-game clubs in a variety of locales, from North America and Europe to all across Asia. Certain events are more heavily focused on certain race types than others, so you'll be able choose which types of events you want to attend depending on the kind of racing you want to do. For example, if you like speed challenge events, you'll want to attend events organized by Nitrocide, an in-game group devoted entirely to speed challenge races. If you win some speed challenge races, you'll eventually be able to take on Nate Denver, the speed challenge king. If you beat him on the track, you'll get bragging rights…and his wheels in the process.
Different race events will require different car setups, and though ProStreet seems to be aimed a bit more squarely at the car enthusiast, the developers are ensuring that even novices will be able to easily set up their cars. ProStreet will include the blueprint features, which will let you save individual blueprints for different race types, so that you can have a single car setup for drift, grip, drag, or speed challenge events.
Damage will also play a big role in ProStreet. In fact, the game has one of the more advanced damage models we've seen in a console-racing game. If you sideswipe a railing or tunnel wall, your car will get scratches on the side of its paint job. If you hit a stationary object head-on, you'll watch as your car's body crunches and folds with the impact. But it's more than just visually impressive because damage will affect your car's handling, and it will be possible to "kill" you car if it gets banged up enough. If your car is slightly damaged, you can repair it with either cash or repair markers. But on the other hand, if your car is totaled in a wreck, the only way to repair it will be to use a "total repair" marker, which can be purchased outside of race events or received as one of the rewards for winning race events.
With slightly more realistic handling, as well as an import-tuner-themed approach toward its look and feel, ProStreet represents a departure of sorts for the Need for Speed series. It's entirely possible that this new direction could alienate fans of the series looking for another high-speed romp with the likes of Razor Callahan and Sgt. Cross. On the other hand, certain aspects of the series--namely challenging driving and a breakneck sense of speed--will never change and remain a big part of ProStreet's allure. There are still more details to learn about the game, including what's new with the game's online features. We'll be bringing you these details and more in the coming weeks. In the meantime check out the latest developer diary video from the game producers.