Review: Lamborghini + Nevada Highway = HOLY CRAP
Since the explosion of Need For Speed Underground, EA has kept its signature racing franchise stuck in Fast & The Furious
hell, relying on the tuner scene with a few nods to those who miss the exotic days, but never actually bringing back the days of Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2. After rebounding with NFS Most Wanted, last year's Need For Speed Carbon felt more like Rehash City, and clearly EA Black Box felt the same, as Need For Speed ProStreet can actually be seen as a fresh start. Sure it's not the exotics versus cops game many long-time series fans dream about, but at least it's not another cheesy neon-laden caricature of illegal street racing. It's a risky decision given that it was Underground that took the franchise into the mainstream, but it was a needed direction seeing how long in the tooth the series had gotten ? a ?perk? of yearly releases. So while ProStreet might be a shocking turn for those expecting an open world to traverse and a total lack of illegal vibes, it simply had to be done if a yearly release has to happen.
The return to a menu-based system for setting up races will be jarring to those who jumped into the series when Underground 2 introduced the sandbox-style universe, but long time fans should adjust. It's simply not feasible given the structure of the game to drop you into a city, given that races take place across the entire world. The Career mode is huge with well over 100 races in all four different disciplines, with the goal to dominate all of them as well as take down the overall ?Showdown King?, a typical arrogant turd named Ryo who you will take great pleasure in destroying when you finally reach him. As mentioned the game takes you all across the world, with races in Chicago, Texas, Portland, Germany, and Japan ? part of which takes place on the famous Shuto Expressway, the home of illegal street racing and setting for the Tokyo Xtreme Racer games (and seeing Shuto in the daytime is strange to say the least). However, the career is not based in illegal racing, but instead fully sanctioned and authorized racing, which is why a lot of races are on actual race tracks, like Texas and Portland Speedways.
The other major change that may surprise NFS fans is that ProStreet almost completely shuns its arcade roots... well the roots grown since the days of NFS3 on PS1. By that I mean the great majority of the game has gone all Gran Turismo on us, offering a realistic take on racing. Now it's not as demanding as GT or Forza have proven to be, as it's still slightly possible to fly around corners if you're good enough, but in general you have to handle the cars with more precision. That is, if you manage not to slam into other things and cause damage. Yes indeed, ProStreet offers damage modeling. And sadly that's pretty much all there is to it... performance isn't really altered much by damage, unless you manage to total your car which is about as extreme as it gets anyway. The only real penalty is the requirement to repair the damaged car with your winnings (or a repair marker) or it's unable to be used in another race. So though there's no in-game penalty for hitting stuff (and you will because the cars seem to be magnetic and you get drawn into them, which is annoying as hell), there's still punishment, even though it's a major cop-out given how hard EA was pushing the ?demanding? physics.
To break things up and make sure ProStreet doesn't fall into the trap of being the same repetitive racing over and over (though it comes close anyway in points), the four different disciplines are completely different in structure. Not only that, but you must have a specific car set up to actually be used in a discipline. Basically, when you buy a new car, it has to be set to a style ? grip racing, drag, drift, or speed challenge. Grip is the traditional lap based racing, and is the most common event. Drag racing is based off of what we saw in the Underground days, just on a track without annoying traffic. Drifting is familiar too, but far more realistic and challenging than the awesome stuff we've seen in the past NFS games, and speed challenges are basically grip races, but taking place on high speed highways with ridiculous speeds over well over 200MPH, along with a crippling fear of totaling your car given how easy it is to do. It actually in many ways trumps the Burnout games as some of the scariest racing ever seen in a game. Shame it gets so frustrating towards the end of the Career.
The ultimate goal of ProStreet is to become the King of all the disciplines, and you spend the whole Career getting there by beating the top times for the different races, which unlocks a league dedicated to a discipline. Then you have to Dominate every Race Day (the name for a block of events) and take on the King in a few races to win their title (strangely enough the Drag King is a female which means she should be the Drag Queen... but yeah, that would be a bit awkward now that I think about it). The problem is that once you get past the three Race Days, all of which can be pretty challenging, the King is a pushover. I mean when I can beat the Grip King in a race by almost 30 seconds... something isn't right. How the hell did these people end up being the best in their specific style? The Showdown King, on the other hand, lives up to his billing and can be very difficult to take down. Trouble with that is that ProStreet is hardly a challenging game on the whole, and the transition between fairly easy wins to barely surviving against the final ?boss? will be jarring.
Car selection is robust as usual with a NFS game ? plenty of tuners and a handful of exotics, obviously there's reason for it now with this semi-pro feel to the Career. Not at the level of past NFS games, but to have some Lamborghinis, BMWs, and Porsches along with the brand new Nissan GT-R is nice (and clearly ProStreet is a showcase for that car, along with GT5 Prologue). Shame the Zonda is so damn expensive so it doesn't even count. 750K? No way. All the cars can be upgraded with parts...nothing new there, but now you can tune and tweak cars to optimize performance. What's pretty cool is you can set up ?blueprints? of different settings for individual cars so you could switch to different setups at will and can even share them over PlayStation Network for others to try out. Unfortunately the one thing you can't do is create blueprints of the same car with the different disciplines ? in order to change a drag car to a grip car, for instance, you have to delete all the blueprints and start over. Thankfully all parts you've bought can be applies to a new car so those don't have to be repurchased.
AI is probably ProStreet's biggest trouble. The magnetic cars that seem to just stick to you and cause unnecessary damage is one thing, and the massive upgrade in challenge when going up against Ryo and doing some of the Race Days for the specific discipline Kings is another. But in general...there's just not a lot of challenge which makes the game a little ho-hum. I was able to crush everyone in grip races right from the get-go, and drifting is stupid-easy since your score can be way above others. Speed challenges can be hairy, and probably are the most difficult races due to bigger emphasis on speed rather than skill at cornering, but only when doing a sprint-style race ? the checkpoint speed races (think speedtrap races from Most Wanted/Carbon) can be easily beaten. Only drag races really gave me any trouble at first, but it turned out that it was only the car holding back winning ? a shift to a more powerful car turned out to be the difference and I never lost a single drag race again. There's no real difficulty bump in the three assists ? casual merely lets you hold the gas and turn while the game handles braking, racer offers a slight assist with cornering, and king is assist-free...but none adjust AI much, if at all.
Along with the Career mode, ProStreet uses its Race Day concept in other single and multiplayer modes. A single Race Day mode lets you do basic racing events on your own pre-determined by the game itself with hand-picked and tuned cars (and there's plenty of both Race Days and cars which adds even more replay value), or you can create your own Race Day of events and like blueprints, share them online. The same concept of Race Days apply to both offline and online multiplayer too, as you can create a Race Day and then bring others into them for a series of races. Think of it it as a fragfest with set maps in a series, just on race tracks. There are of course basic single race events in all the disciplines too, so it's possible to just hop into a race if time is of the essence.
Without the abundance of neon and the details that come with an open world, ProStreet might seem a bit...sterile. And actually it is in many places. The tracks can seem dull and lifeless, especially the speedway tracks. The speed challenge courses and Japan tracks have a lot of cool touches, but generally the visual presentation is indeed pretty dull. On the other hand, the sense of speed is amazing, especially those speed challenges which can become totally insane. The framerate is not bad, but it does hop between 30 and 60fps at times, which is something that can be dealt with and it's a whole lot better than a game that chugs at under 30. Given the lack of environment details though, the lack of a rock-solid framerate is strange. The cars look great though, as do the models of the ?ProStreet Girls? that you see constantly. The audio features a lot of generic music from Junkie XL, and very little EA Trax nonsense... though really it's hard to hear the music over the engines and whatnot. There's only a little bit of voice acting, like Ryo's opening speech when the game starts and the little intermissions in the Race Day screens. Speaking of that... the Emcee of these races... he should never be allowed to open his mouth again. Ever.