You'll soon be able to dive back into the world of Razor Callahan (among others) in the upcoming massively multiplayer online racing game Need for Speed: World from EA and developer Black Box. This is the first MMO racer from EA since 2001's Motor City Online and represents a different approach than that ill-fated game; it looks to take advantage of modern technology while it harks back to two of the most popular recent entries in the series.
Those two entries are Need for Speed Most Wanted from 2005 and Need for Speed Carbon from 2006. The two cities in which those two games take place--Rockport and Palmont City--have been fused together in NFS: World to create a huge drivable area. It has also been completely relit so that the night races that were a hallmark of Carbon's gameplay now take place in the daytime. So with a return to familiar territory, can we also expect the return of characters like Most Wanted's Razor Callahan or Carbon's Darius? EA reps were keeping those cards close to their vest during our demo. They said that the game will have a story of sorts, but they didn't reveal much more.
So, a lack of cutscene-intensive narrative differentiates NFS: World from its predecessors, but that is far from the only difference. Designed to run on everything from high-end gaming rigs to lowly netbooks. Naturally, we didn't get a chance to test its performance on a netbook--the build we played was on a higher-end PC, and, as a result, it ran at a relatively smooth clip. We drove our jet-black Mazdaspeed 3 with the keyboard--using the W, A, S, D buttons to accelerate, steer, and brake (you could also use the arrow keys to steer). That might offend racing purists, but to the game's credit, it is playable with this control scheme. Black Box is also planning on adding support for controllers and wheels in the future.
The build we played came from the game's recently ended closed beta period and had a minimum of features. We were able to join a quick two-car race against another journalist on hand for the demo (online races will top out at eight people in the final game). Bringing up the map will show you the location of other drivers, which you can also filter to see only friends. Clicking on a player will let you warp directly to that location, and you can also instantly join single-player or multiplayer races the same way.
The online race we played started as a two-lap race, but it didn't end that way, thanks to various power-ups that you collect. These power-ups have a variety of effects on your car or the race itself; one called "traffic magnet" causes all traffic to be sucked into a particular carlike vortex. There's also a standard turbo-boost power-up, a power-up you can use to quickly evade cops, and even a power-up that will tack on an extra lap to the end of a race, giving stragglers that much extra time to catch up. Power-ups have an associated cooldown with them, and you'll need to wait a minute or two before you can use them again. You'll also have only a set number of each type of power-up, though you can earn additional power-ups at the end of a race.
Finishing a race will also earn you reputation points (think XP) and cash you can use to buy stuff for your cars. The customization options in the build we played were pretty limited--all we could do was repaint or add vinyl designs to our ride. Eventually, you'll be able to add customized parts to your car that will affect the handling. If you earn enough rep points, you'll level up your driver profile; when you level up, you can choose a new skill for your profile, such as additional boost time for your NOS or one that makes your vehicle tougher and (as you continue to level up the power) will eventually make you nearly impervious to harm, which is handy when an opponent uses a traffic magnet on you.
Expect plenty of licensed cars to zip around in with NFS: World. Expect lots of new features to be added as the game progresses as well--since it's an online game, it's conceivable that the developers will be adding new vehicles, new modes of play, and additional power-ups after the game is released this summer. What hasn't quite been nailed down yet is how much it will all cost, though it seems like EA is leaning toward a free-to-play model up to a certain level, with microtransactions spread liberally throughout the content. We expect to see more of the game later this spring as we get closer to Need for Speed: World's launch.
Editor's Note: In a previous version of the story, we referred to Need for Speed World as a browser-based game. EA representatives confirmed that the game will run as an executable. GameSpot regrets the error.