Need for Speed Jumps on the eSport Bandwagon?

not-nfs-2017I’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.

need-for-speed-arena-trademark-eaThe social sharing capabilities of DriveClub, bundled with the lackluster vehicle physics of the Frostbyte engine? You bet your ass this is the direction Ghost Games are choosing to pursue.

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.

A Tale of Two Tire Models

shift2u-2016-09-06-22-53-08-61I understand it’s not a game most readers of PRC.net would like to hear about, but over the past week or so thanks to a crippling intestinal infection, I’ve had enough free time to sit down and figure out how to install Shift 2: Unleashed. There are indeed people who swear off products by Slightly Mad Studios for one reason or another, but nobody can deny the stellar list of content available in this game – it’s really the last modern racing simulator where all major car brands and a few major racing series were willing to play nice with one another, and the track list rivals even the most hardcore of rFactor packages. If you can get past some of the casual elements sim racers tend to scoff at, the title boasts three complete seasons of racing as you progress into the higher tiers of career mode – those being the FIA GT1, FIA GT3, and Historic Touring Car championships. It’s not a stretch to call Shift 2: Unleashed the spiritual successor to GTR 2 and GT Legends, one which Ian Bell desperately tried to shoehorn into the market under the Need for Speed badge.

Is the vanilla game every bit as awful as people make it out to be? Absolutely. As I’ve mentioned, this is a game that takes hours to configure, and I’m not just taking about the time spent yanking a copy of the Limited Edition from one of several Torrent sites. There are numerous community patches and additional bits and pieces to snatch from NoGripRacing.com, most of which simply unpack the game and fix errors made by Slightly Mad Studios during the game’s development – such as the fuel cell being located outside of the car. I will say though, that once you’ve actually sat down for the upwards of two hours it takes to finally get everything into a functional state, Shift 2 is basically the Forza-like experience for the PC you’ve been looking for, and it earns bonus points thanks to how Shift 2 turns into GTR 2/GT Legends later in Career mode.

It’s just a pain in the fucking ass installing these mods. Seriously.

shift2_unleashed_lamborghini_murcielago_r-sv_gt1_day_1So while you’re going through the steps to inject all of these fixes into your root Shift 2 folder, you’re actually faced with a choice when it comes to the game’s tire model, because this is one of the few updates that isn’t mandatory. Look, you can choose to play Shift 2 with the default set of physics, but to get any sort of enjoyable experience out of the executable file, you’re forced to again consult NoGripRacing.com for one of several different tire model modifications. And they basically all advertise the same effects – a much more realistic driving experience than the one Electronic Arts and Slightly Mad Studios originally built.

ptmuThe first, and most popular tire model modification, has been dubbed the Polish Tyre Mod by brrupsz. I’ve been following the community surrounding Shift 2 Unleashed from afar since the game’s release in the spring of 2011, and this is the package that most people flock to by default. Not only does it fundamentally change how Shift 2 drives, there are also little pieces of bonus content that come bundled with the download if you’re looking for just a little bit more of a challenge from Shift 2. Most notably, brrupsz has completely re-worked the artificial intelligence in terms of competence, aggression, and pace, producing an offline racing experience that can be quite enjoyable compared to some of the more traditional racing simulators.

This is the modification I prefer, as it drives very similar to RaceRoom Racing Experience. Even in the high-end GT3 machinery, you really have to concentrate on hitting your marks each corner and choosing when it’s the appropriate time to push, carefully balancing weight transfer with limited tire grip. I think the street cars were exceptionally well-done, as the stock Chevrolet Cobalt handled in a very similar fashion to my own shitbox Cavalier as I was progressing through the early races within Career mode. However, lap times were over six seconds off pace compared to these same cars in other simulators. I took the Audi R8 GT3 to Road America for one of the game’s Endurance events, and was only able to muster a 2:07.250. The same car in Automobilista could sit in the 2:02’s quite easily. I personally enjoyed the driving style and offline racing this mod produced because it really made me pay attention to my pedal inputs in a way that was benefiting me, but we were lapping much slower than what these cars are capable of. It was like how MLB players warm up with a weighted bat – not realistic, but I enjoyed having to concentrate on the fundamentals of race car driving.

gtyresThe other popular mod that’s managed to attract the attention of the Shift 2 community would be the G-Tyres release by B7ake. If you are looking for pure, unadulterated simulation value, this is the exact mod that will satisfy your virtual auto racing needs. I jumped into a Quick Race at Brands Hatch with my newly acquired McLaren MP4-12c GT3, and busted out lap times on-par with these same cars in rFactor 2 – sitting around the 1:22 to 1:23 range. Physically, it felt like I was playing Project CARS, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this guy was contacted in some fashion to help out Slightly Mad Studios with last year’s controversial release. To verify that it wasn’t just a bullshit placebo effect making me jizz myself over this tire model, I went back to Road America, and promptly set lap times in the 2:01 range with the McLaren, just a hair faster than the Audi GT3 in Automobilista – and that minuscule difference is something I’d chalk up to the powerplant difference rather than the physics engine.

But the speed difference is what kills this mod. Shift 2’s AI, as well as the changes made by third party AI mods, are typically built around the slower lap times turned by cars using the original physics engine, or the Polish Tire Mod. While I double and triple-checked to ensure that any remnants of other AI mods had been uninstalled properly, and the readme for the G-Tyres mod claimed to be bundled with it’s own set of AI tweaks by default, what I saw out the front windshield simply did not reflect any of the alleged changes. Sure, the lead pack of four cars tried to put up a fight against me throughout the opening corners, but with this mod, I didn’t just beat the AI; I made them not want to show up to the race track anymore, and I didn’t feel like I was going all that particularly fast. So what the G-Tyres mod appeared to have done, at least from my standpoint, is turn Shift 2 into a very competent and somewhat realistic hotlap simulator.

This is fine for some people, as the both the vehicle and location rosters are beyond excellent – as well as the realistic upgrades system, but Shift 2 ships with a Career mode and progression system that are both fairly satisfying. It was hard to justify leaving out such a major portion of the game in favor of hot lapping, and therefore I went back to the Polish Tire Mod in the end.

What I find interesting, is that if this is the guy they had helping out with Project CARS, or Slightly Mad Studios were using their own tweaks to achieve a similar result, I’m starting to understand some of the AI issues seen in Project CARS. Considering both games are built on the Madness engine, I believe the AI simply weren’t coded to handle their vehicles at a real world pace. Honestly, they’re totally fine to drive against when running six seconds off pace using either the default tire model or Polish Tire Mod, but when you jack up the realism and start laying down real-world times, that’s when the AI begins to struggle and do a bunch of fucked up things. If SMS had to manually code in that extra pace to keep up with the new batch of realistic physics, I’m not surprised the end result was as poor as it was.

maxresdefaultI will hopefully get around to doing a full review of Shift 2 Unleashed in the coming weeks, as it’s a vastly different game with all of the community mods injected into it compared to what you’ll see at your local GameStop for $19.99 used, but this just goes to show the depth of changes people have been making to this game in an effort to turn it into their vision of GTR 3. And I think it’s been enjoyable in a unique way to test out Shift 2 in this third-party state; you really get to see how Slightly Mad Studios handled the transition between Shift 2 and Project CARS. It’s a feeling equivalent to combing through YouTube and stumbling upon the demo tracks of your favorite rock band’s landmark album – you’re given a bit of insight into the internal conversations that helped shape the product.

A Tale of Two Games

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Prior to the rise of the Import Tuner Scene thanks to the overwhelming popularity of the Fast & Furious franchise during the early 2000’s, Need for Speed was once a highly respected arcade racing series developed by Electronic Arts that acted almost as a virtual extension of your childhood Hot Wheels fantasies. Early entries in the line of Need for Speed titles allowed you to drive nothing but the fastest and elusive production cars on scenic roads across the globe, with the series earning widespread notoriety for occasionally tasking you with out-running a dynamic police force, whose tactics would change based on how long you were able to keep the car in one piece. Even the most hardcore of sim racers can most likely recall fond memories of stomping around locales like Hometown and Rocky Pass in supercars that would now be deemed too old to be competitive in a modern Forza Motorsport title, but there’s no denying the magic of what Electronic Arts had been able to capture during that special time in gaming.

The year was 2002, and Electronic Arts had been given the job of entering the next generation of gaming with a sequel to 1998’s critical and commercial success, Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit. Capitalizing on the power of modern PC’s compared to relatively restrictive days of Windows 98, as well as the fantastic performance of all three consoles –  Sony’s PlayStation 2, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Nintendo’ GameCube – the sequel to Hot Pursuit was promised to be the definitive Need for Speed title; the ultimate culmination of everything the team had learned from the previous eight years spent creating compelling virtual supercar playgrounds.

However, only a fraction of those who owned Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 speak of the game in a positive manner.

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While no official reason has been given as to why the development of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 had been split between two different developers, what we do know from the Wikipedia entry on the game states that the Sony PlayStation 2 version of the title was developed by an entirely different studio than the Xbox, GameCube, and Windows XP releases. After nearly half a decade spent working on NASCAR titles for Sony’s original PlayStation, BlackBox Games of Vancouver Canada were given the job of creating Hot Pursuit 2 on the PS2, whereas the other versions of the game would be developed by a new outlet in EA Seattle – a location which closed at the end of the 2002 calendar year, shortly after the game’s release. My own personal speculation regarding the two-team approach to Hot Pursuit 2 boils down to the inferior hardware inside Sony’s PlayStation 2 – this is a console that routinely experienced framerate drops and a noticeable decline in visual fidelity compared to the other consoles on the market at the time, so it’s possible the PS2 version needed to be an entirely separate project to get around the performance issues, but Electronic Arts has simply never spoken about it.

Yet in an odd twist of events, it was the PlayStation 2 version of the game – the one released on Sony’s under powered console – that ended up as the definitive version of Hot Pursuit 2. Black Box knew full well what they were doing. EA Seattle, on the other hand, did not.

The basic assets of each version of Hot Pursuit 2 were intended to remain largely the same to ensure a sense of parity between experiences on each platform, but this simply didn’t happen in execution. While the roster of cars is identical on paper, the EA Seattle rendition of the title – the version available on the Xbox, GameCube, and PC – noticeably lacked the Arizona desert environment found in the PlayStation 2 version of the game developed by Black Box. And when it came to unlocking the NFS Edition upgrades to each of the title’s 20-odd vanilla supercars as you progressed through the various Single Player campaigns, the NFS Edition cars found in the PlayStation 2 version of the game were of a higher quality than those found in EA Seattle’s offering. NFS Edition cars were given slightly better attributes and fancy two or three-tone liveries in the PlayStation 2 version, while EA Seattle could only throw generic pearlescent paint jobs at the bonus cars.

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Menu artwork and general heads up display shenanigans were left largely up to the interpretation of each individual development team. Black Box opted for a simplistic menu design, a throwback to what had been seen in the console version of High Stakes while still moving forward in a new direction, whereas EA Seattle opted for an excruciatingly modern look via sharp edges, gradients, and various shades of faded blue. Black Box went for bold, BIG lettering on the overlay, presented to the user with only primary colors, while EA Seattle experimented with a widescreen minimalist approach. The end result allows for the Black Box version to age gracefully in a visual sense, whereas the work by EA Seattle is almost a time capsule of failed ideas that look like utter shit.

And utter shit is an understatement when it came to how each title appeared once the cars finally hit the track. The comparison below features the exact same forest environment across the two titles, albeit on different sections of the track, and it’s easy to see from a visual standpoint just who exactly put out the better product. Black Box went for a lush redwood forest with a fairly high contrast color palette for the road artwork – complete with unique rubber markings to display the fact that you weren’t the first to lay a patch of rubber down, while EA Seattle’s offering looks dull and washed out. The track layouts were not a strong point in Hot Pursuit 2; possibly the game’s only negative aspect, but at least you can still fire up the PlayStation 2 version of the game without wanting to gouge your eyes out.

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Nostalgia has a funny way of clouding our judgement more often than not, but I’ve spent enough time with both versions of Hot Pursuit 2 at multiple points in my life to assess them in some kind of objective manner for PRC.net. Not only had each version been miles apart on a visual level, they drove in two distinct styles as well.

I obtained the EA Seattle rendition of Hot Pursuit 2 numerous times over the past fifteen years – once off the file-sharing application KaZaa not long after the title’s release, and I also was bored enough to play through the game to 100% completion on the Nintendo GameCube during New England’s decimation of the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 39. My complaints with EA Seattle’s adaptation of Hot Pursuit 2 stem largely from the ridiculous input lag that polluted not just their PC release, but the GameCube offering as well. The controls were so sloppy and so insanely delayed, even in YouTube videos by other competent drivers, you can see them adjusting the steering mid-corner to accommodate for the complete lack of precision. Combined with a driving model that felt floaty and aproximated – to the point where even the player car appears to hover above the racing surface for brief moments – the EA Seattle version of the game sucked to play. It looked awful, and it drove like shit. If you owned an Xbox or GameCube, it was hard to believe this was an authentic Electronic Arts product.

However, the PlayStation 2 version of the product, develop by industry veterans Black Box, was a completely different story. Driving with the standard Dualshock pad, my first impressions of this game at a friend’s house way back in the day was just how tight the steering on each car was, and this fidelity wasn’t lost when selecting the Extreme handling model – something that had been left out of the EA Seattle version of the game. While the entry level vehicles offered to the player at the start of the game were still uncompelling in their own right, the medium and high tier cars really came alive when pushing them to the edge of the game’s simplistic tire model, yet there were never any scenarios where you felt the dualshock couldn’t keep up to what the game asked of you. The best way to describe it for PRC.net readers who haven’t gone this far back in the Need for Speed line of games, is that it was basically the exact same handling model as the two Underground releases, albeit with less downforce and more body roll. Sure, you had much more grip than you’d ever have in real life by a long shot, but unlike the Burnout-infused arcade racers of today, you still needed to drive the car, and if you sucked, the game made no concessions to hold your hand.

I’ve been recently playing through the Single Player campaign on the Black Box PlayStation 2 version with my aging Driving Force GT, and this is really a hidden gem when it comes to wheel compatibility for arcade racers. Unlike later Electronic Arts/EA Sports titles, which used extremely exaggerated force feedback effects to appeal to the casual audience, Hot Pursuit 2 is strangely satisfying – almost as if you took the sublime effects found in Assetto Corsa’s early access period, and simplified them as much as possible without losing their overall purpose. I’m still not in love with the track layouts found in the title, but wheeling some of the mid-range to top tier cars against an intelligent police force, and being able to feel the precise moment when you’ve dropped just one tire onto the grass, was a lot more fun than I expected it to be.

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The police force in EA Seattle’s rendition of Hot Pursuit 2 were often simplistic and timid. They called road blocks, spike strips, and helicopter assistance with significantly less frequency than what was found in the PlayStation 2 version, often leading to races where the police were just sort of there in the distance, but never played an integral role in how the event progressed. Black Box chose a much different path, and made highway patrol ruthless to the point of frustration. Police were given nitro boost and insane rubber-banding to help combat talented virtual drivers; a decision that can actually be won in the player’s favor provided you hold them off long enough during each event. Helicopters do not hesitate to throw explosives at you, eventually culminating in an abundance of air-dropped spike strips that should spark the imagination of any law enforcement offers who have found their way over here. The police are a dynamic entity on the PlayStation 2; there’s significantly more unique radio chatter, their tactics are much more aggressive, and provided you’re a big enough asshole, you can temporarily take squad cars out of commission by running them off the road. Black Box created a war on wheels that defined the game, whereas EA Seattle felt squad cars should be little more than a minor distraction.

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Both developers had different ideas on how to progress through the game as well. The basic outline defined by Electronic Arts required the use of a fluctuating NFS Points system, where completing Single Player campaign events and on-track maneuvers would reward the user with a form of currency that would allow them to unlock the cars and tracks they were interested in driving, rather than a linear progression that saved the best cars until the very end. EA Seattle gave a giant middle finger to the users and dispersed these points extremely slowly, to the point where insane grinding was required to acquire virtually any meaningful piece of content on the inferior version of the game – a task made even more excruciating thanks to the horrendous driving model.

Black Box had taken a much more user friendly approach and handed out NFS Points quite liberally throughout the race; awarding the user for everything from clean passes to navigating through a law enforcement road block, and as a result, the more prestigious cars and challenging tracks could be obtained through light to moderate levels of playtime. As an added bonus, those who braved the rather challenging event tree of Single Player challenges could obtain new cars and tracks without parting with any virtual currency at all, resulting in a progression balance where grinding simply didn’t happen – unlike the PC, GameCube, and Xbox versions of Hot Pursuit 2.

Across both titles, career mode had been split into two distinct sectors, essentially boiling down to Events with Cops, and Events without Cops. Unfortunately, this is where both games began to falter. The track layouts simply weren’t up to par compared to the original string of games on the Windows 98 platform, and coupled with single lap times approaching the four minute mark, even just a few races could eat up a much bigger portion of your day than you’d anticipated. Further adding to the drudge of career mode was the distinct lack of overall environments, leading to a constant repetition of certain track layout portions before you’d even gotten all that far into what Hot Pursuit 2 had to offer. I’d say the repetition is arguably worse in the superior PlayStation 2 version, as earlier this weekend I ran into a three race tournament event that had me racing on the exact same Desert Sands layout three times in a row, with the only difference being the last place car in each prior race would be eliminated.

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The soundtrack may have possibly been handled by an external entity, as the same lineup of songs and artists appears across both versions of the game, down to the way each individual track had been mixed. One of the most underrated parts of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 has nothing to do with the game itself, but rather how the audio had been mixed in a uniform way. I’ve got the official soundtrack rip from the game sitting on my MP3 player, and from an audio standpoint, it seems as if Electronic Arts had obtained the rights to every master track long before Rock Band and Guitar Hero made this an industry standard practice, mixing them to achieve an identical vibe regardless of the genre. The drums are thundering, the guitars crystal clear, and the vocals are caught somewhere in the middle of it all. The combination of Rush’s One Little Victory, Pulse Ultra’s Build Your Cages, Bush’s The People That We Love, Course of Nature’s Wall of Shame, and Buzzhorn’s The Ordinary are all riffs people who’ve played Hot Pursuit 2 won’t soon forget, and most importantly, they’ll remember them as they appeared in Hot Pursuit 2 – heavy and loud.

Yet it was the Nashville-based Hot Action Cop stealing the show; Electronic Arts inserting two extremely suggestive tracks from the band’s debut album which required heavy lyrical editing to earn a spot in an E for Everyone product like Need for Speed. I promise you that the way these songs appeared in Hot Pursuit 2 are not as the rest of the world knows them, and you’re in for a pretty big surprise if you’re bored enough to look up the original lyrics. These guys are actually still around, by the way.

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As the game hit store shelves, critical reception to the EA Seattle-developed Hot Pursuit 2 was lukewarm at best, with mainstream gaming publications deeming it to be a completely average racer with no outstanding qualities whatsoever. A quick google search of EA Seattle brings up a tidbit noting the studio had been closed at the end of 2002, indicating this whole idea of Electronic Arts outsourcing different versions of the game to different entities had been a colossal failure. Black Box, on the other hand, went on to be the sole developer of future Need for Speed titles – a decision which paid off immensely for Electronic Arts almost immediately, as the team struck gold for three straight years afterwards with the releases of Underground, Underground 2, and the fan-favorite Need for Speed Most Wanted – and again with the Skate franchise, which is set to return in the near future.

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Electronic Arts have tried to bring back the Hot Pursuit tag in 2010, partnering with Criterion Games of Burnout fame to create a product that can be described best as “Burnout with real cars”, but it’s very possible we’ll never see a game – or development process – quite like what we saw with Hot Pursuit 2 ever again. It just didn’t work on any level whatsoever, and if you have horrible memories of Hot Pursuit 2 as an entirely forgettable game simply not worthy of the Need for Speed name, now you know why.

Play It Loud – The Best Music of Need for Speed

The moment the PC Reveal trailer dropped for the reboot of Need for Speed earlier this week, I’m sure many PRC.net readers were anticipating a lengthy article tearing Electronic Arts a new asshole. Advertising basic racing game features like manual transmission, steering wheel support, and an unlocked framerate as groundbreaking implementations intended to woo die-hard gamers, the 64 second video above is proof that the entire racing game genre is set to implode in the near future. Electronic Arts and Ghost Games did not create a piece of virtual entertainment with Need for Speed 2015; they composed a product purely to show up on a revenue report in six months.

So I’d rather go in an entirely different direction today.

The large budget Electronic Arts have provided the numerous different developers of Need for Speed over the years comes with some mighty fine perks. While most will immediately criticize EA for using their billions to snatch up the exclusive Porsche license – effectively crippling the car roster to an extent in superior racing games – many overlook the biggest asset that comes with a nearly unlimited flow of cash being pumped into the series: licensed music. Dating all the way back to the series inception in the mid-1990’s, the sheer variety and quality of music Electronic Arts have blasted through your living room speakers has provided a memorable soundtrack to an entire generation of car enthusiasts. Need for Speed may have died a slow, agonizing death, but mere guitar riffs can transport us directly back into the glory days.

We here at PRC.net are going to look at the ten best songs to ever show up in a Need for Speed title. I love my loud guitars, so there’s going to be some bias towards the rock end of the spectrum, but I believe EA has managed to give us an extremely diverse group of quality music regardless, and that will be reflected in this list to the best of my abilities.

#10 – Queens of the Stone Age – In My Head

The tendency for Electronic Arts to inject a heavy dose of modern rock into the Need for Speed games of the early 2000’s was often a mixed bag. Screaming vocals and unintelligible lyrics weren’t everyone’s cup of tea, though occasionally a diamond in the rough would offset some of the angst-ridden teenage wailing. Queens of the Stone Age enjoyed mainstream radio success with “No One Knows” and “Go With The Flow”, and EA managed to snatch up the California band early by including them in past editions of the NHL series. The steady-yet-mellow tempo of “In My Head” proved to be a natural fit for the long hours of grinding away at the career mode in Need for Speed Underground 2.

#9 – Junkie XL feat. Lauren Rocket – More

Many readers of PRC.net might be fans of Junkie XL without even knowing it. Calling Europe home, Junkie XL most recently composed some of the soundtrack pieces for the recent blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road, though his work can be seen steadily throughout the video game and film industry. The electronic track featuring Lauren Rocket on vocals was the first collaboration between the two artists, with another entitled “Cities in Dust” appearing in 2008’s Burnout Paradise. Heavily censored in order to show up in Need for Speed: Pro Street, “More” was predictably written about dropping ecstasy and partaking in numerous sexual encounters. No less than five different versions of this song were included in the 2007 edition of Need for Speed, drilling the chorus into our subconscious whether we liked it or not.

#8 – The Crystal Method – Born Too Slow

The original reboot of the Need for Speed franchise took place in 2003 with the release of Need for Speed Underground, and this catchy track by The Crystal Method was the lone soundtrack inclusion in the game’s PC demo. A radical departure from the guitar-driven pieces that had complimented the previous year’s release, what’s now one of The Crystal Method’s most well-known singles was the final piece in the puzzle that helped establish the first major shift in development for the Need for Speed series. Due to the song’s constant references to cocaine, many vocal parts were removed in order for the track to make an appearance in the first Need for Speed: Underground title. Underground fans may argue that Lil’ John’s “Get Low”  from the main menu evokes a much stronger feeling of nostalgia, but at least you can listen to “Born Too Slow” in 2016 without feeling like you’ve stumbled upon a Weird Al record.

#7 – Paul Van Dyk – Nothing But You (Cirrus Remix)

Featuring trance singer Jan Johnston at the helm of an already fantastic electronic composition, the Cirrus Remix of “Nothing But You” became a sleeper hit on the soundtrack of Need for Speed Underground 2 simply for being atmospheric. Serving as a throwback to some of the more elaborate instrumentals featured in early NFS titles, the Paul Van Dyk creation upped the tempo of the source material and provided an appropriate vibe to the neon-infused environment of Bayview.

#6 – Pulse Ultra – Build Your Cages

For 2002’s Hot Pursuit 2, Electronic Arts spent a fair bit of money obtaining the master tracks to all fourteen songs available on the game’s soundtrack, and proceeded to remix them in-house to achieve a uniform album-like sound. While Rush’s “One Little Victory” and Course of Nature’s “Wall of Shame” were turned into beefy gut-punching entries, no one track benefited from the remixing process more than “Build Your Cages” by Pulse Ultra. Already an extremely heavy and melodic track, the Pulse Ultra composition became the song in Hot Pursuit 2 that begged to blow out your speakers each and every time the clean opening riff began.

#5 – 30 Seconds to Mars – Edge of the Earth

After a flurry of titles failed to innovate the Need for Speed franchise into the household name it once was, the future of the series was handed off to ex-Burnout developer Criterion Games starting in 2010. Their first of three similar titles, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, used “Edge of the Earth” by 30 Seconds to Mars as the title screen music. The epic instrumental buildup, followed by a grandiose chorus, were a perfect fit as the theme song for the series reboot. Unfortunately, the rest of the game’s extensive soundtrack doesn’t live up to the level as “Edge of the Earth, instead offering generic electronic tracks quickly drowned out by the roar of supercars.

#4 – Wolfmother – Joker & the Thief

Hailing from Australia and capitalizing on the theme of re-inventing classic rock bands for a new generation of fans, many tracks from Wolfmother’s debut album found their way onto all sorts of movies, television shows, radio stations, and video games. Considered by many to be their finest work, and routinely blasted through the public address system at large sporting events in place of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, “Joker & the Thief” was the centerpiece of which the rest of the Need for Speed: Carbon soundtrack revolved around. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like this song.

#3 Snoop Dogg feat. The Doors – Riders on the Storm

Despite its lyrics referencing gameplay elements not actually available in Need for Speed Underground 2, such as Ferrari’s and the presence of law enforcement, this poor remix of a classic Jim Morrison tune accidentally became the anthem of a generation. due to the success of the game itself. On paper, combining Snoop Dogg and The Doors is a preposterous idea, and had this been released as a proper single, it would have been considered one of the worst songs of all time and temporarily tarnished Snoop Dogg’s reputation. However, the widespread acclaim Need for Speed Underground 2 received from both critics and fans alike eternally tied this song into the memories of many. Play this one at work, and a portion of your staff will stop in their tracks, reminded of a simpler time.

#2 – Jeff & Angela van Dyck – Headless Horse

Prior to the Need for Speed franchise taking off in the gaming world, Electronic Arts consulted local talent for the artistic side of their releases. Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, EA hired Jeff van Dyck and a handful of his friends to compose original soundtracks for not only the first batch of Need for Speed titles, but for several yearly EA Sports offerings such as Tiger Woods, NHL, and the world renowned FIFA series. “Headless Horse” was a composition many became familiar with in Need for Speed II, featured as the theme song for the Proving Grounds circuit – a high speed test track intended for beginner drivers. Van Dyck’s wife Angela provides the haunting background vocals, which are actually just descriptions of the different tracks available in the game. Saki Kaskas may have the better guitar skills, but Headless Horse is what people remember.

#1 – Rise Against – Help Is On The Way (Gladiator Remix)

One of the many bands to sign on with Electronic Arts right as the company first began to include EA Trax into their games, the politically-charged group from Chicago has made numerous appearances throughout EA titles over the past decade. While “Paper Wings”, “Give It All,” and “Lanterns” all saw airplay in games such as Burnout 3: Takedown and NHL 13, the Gladiator Remix of “Help Is On The Way” – an aggressive number penned about the events of Hurricane Katrina – takes the top spot in our list. Tim McIlrath’s fiery rants regarding the government instead take a back seat to a large symphony arrangement; one intended to set the mood while browsing the main menu of Shift 2: Unleashed. While the game itself wasn’t very good – full of the same bugs owners of Project CARS have been subjected to with no end in sight – hearing Rise Against presented in a manner like this is more than enough to make you temporarily forget that Shift 2 was awful.

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There’s a lot that was cut from Need for Speed 2015

Releasing to mixed reviews and less than stellar reception from longtime fans of the series, the spiritual successor to Need for Speed Underground 2 sunk in price almost as quickly as it arrived on the shelves. Uninspiring gameplay, a rough framerate, and lack of customization options sent many diehards Need for Speed back to the games of yesteryear, utterly disappointed with the product advertised to re-capture the magic of previous entries in the series. Now that the game’s been out for a few months, and the main Reddit community surrounding the game has descended into downright pessimism, we’ve managed to find two videos documenting a few features left out of the final release. YouTube user JLF Gaming has put together a couple of videos documenting the vast array of parts, features, gameplay elements, and even graphical effects advertised in previews that failed to make it into the retail version of the title.

The discoveries are pretty interesting. Decals have gone missing, certain parts can’t be accessed by the player despite appearing on AI cars, sections of the map have disappeared, a brand of rims confirmed by the developers to be in the game are notably absent, and a livery appearing on the box of the game is nowhere to be found. After Ghost Games claimed the retail release would look better than the previews, the downgrade in graphics is easily demonstrable by lining up two comparison videos side by side, which JLF Gaming does for us.

After multiple disappointing aspects, it’s no wonder a large modding community surrounding Need for Speed Underground 2 exists.