I’m admittedly a bit late to the party on this one, but when it comes to Need for Speed, it’s probably better late than never when you consider the target audience of PretendRaceCars.net – we’re not really here to dive into arcade racers as we do with the hardcore simulation stuff.
Nevertheless, it has been a pretty rough start for EA’s longstanding Need for Speed franchise on current generation consoles. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were graced with an extremely bland launch title that was discarded almost as soon as it arrived in Need for Speed: Rivals, and after an extra year spent in development to ensure customers would receive a compelling experience that brought back fond memories of the two Underground street racing offerings, 2015’s Need for Speed was better known for it’s aggressive viral marketing campaign than what was actually included on the disc – which was unanimously agreed upon to be pretty fucking terrible.
For the past decade or so, Electronic Arts have grown accustomed to this situation; struggling to figure out what to do with this franchise from a creative standpoint. Most Wanted was more or less declared the pinnacle of the series back in 2005 via online community consensus, and given the piss poor reception to Carbon exactly one year later, Electronic Arts realized they couldn’t just keep remaking the same game over and over again with minor adjustments.
Drastically re-inventing the wheel with each passing year in a desperate attempt to find stable ground, Need for Speed went through an identity crisis equal in length to the time it spent establishing itself as one of the great video game series of the modern 3D era, and judging by the critical flops released in both 2013, and again in 2015, this identity crisis shows no tangible signs of stopping. Electronic Arts have basically given up trying to create an inspiring racing game that captures the magic of the original collection of titles, instead using the brand to market a generic wildcard arcade racer to generate X amount of additional revenue in time for the holiday season. Sometimes it’ll be a street racing package bundled with a goofy story line, and other years, it’ll be a hardcore racing simulator. Sure, it’ll say Need for Speed on the box, but that’s really only to reel people in who may not be paying attention to how far the franchise has fallen.
In 2017, Electronic Arts and Ghost Games may possibly shift gears with the franchise yet again, perpetuating the eternal identity crisis to capitalize on the growing eSports scene. A recent leak on NeoGAF revealed Electronic Arts have trademarked the name Need for Speed: Arena, and it’s not hard to speculate what’s going to happen here: it’ll be an eSport title.
Despite the fact that racing games have simply not caught on in the world of eSports – with Kylotonn’s online competitions in WRC 6 doing little to generate interest, and iRacing not exploding in popularity – Electronic Arts are looking to take a major gamble and put their faith in competitive gaming. Is it a poor decision? Of course it is. The most popular eSports titles are all free-to-play, and require little skill other than being able to click around a screen – hence the popularity of female Twitch personalities who whip their tits out and stumble through an online event while beta orbiters fawn over them by the truck load. Racing games are simply too difficult for this kind of scene to develop, and considering how poor the driving physics in Need for Speed 2015 have been demonstrated to be, wrapping this experience into a package that stresses online competition above all else is a pretty difficult sell for even the most diehard of Need for Speed fans.
What do I feel Electronic Arts should do instead?
The answer is quite simple: It’s the perfect time to release a high definition remaster of Need for Speed: Underground 2 on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Marketplace, with full online play functionality enabled.
As ugly as the game will look compared to modern racers, as dated as the soundtrack is, and as awful as the creations we’ll see roaming the online servers are guaranteed to be, Need for Speed: Underground 2 was fun, and people will gladly pay ten dollars to take a trip down memory lane and build shitty riced-out Civics that can hit 240 mph with their friends. Insert a half-assed cockpit view similar to the silhouette interior cam seen in Gran Turismo PSP, let us North Americans dick around with the exclusive European hatchbacks, and you’ll have a game people race home after work to play every single evening. Underground 2 may be dumb fun, but at least it’s fun; Need for Speed 2015 is just dumb.
Stretch this high definition remaster endeavor to include Need for Speed: Most Wanted the following year, and you’ve got more than enough time while the masses are distracted to sit down and build a modern Need for Speed title that doesn’t feel like a generic racer spawned solely to inflate the quarterly revenue of Electronic Arts.