There’s no shortage of excellent racing games on the market these days, so it’s getting harder for any one title to stand out from the crowd. And although the Need for Speed franchise is popular, this year marks the 21st installment of the series, which makes it an easy game to take for granted. But of all the racers to launch this year, from Forza Motorsport 6 to Project CARS, it just might be Need for Speed that makes the biggest impression.
Instead of adding a subtitle or a number to the Need for Speed moniker, developer Ghost Games is sticking to the basics and simply calling this installment Need for Speed. Is it a series reboot? Not exactly. It’s a new game that comes at the racing genre from a new angle, but it doesn’t have a back-to-basics vibe about it.
And that’s probably a good thing. This year’s two biggest racers, Project CARS and Forza Motorsport 6, are no-nonsense racing sims. They focus on the sport of racing, with official tracks that have been digitally recreated down to every last inch of asphalt. If Need for Speed had gone a similar route, it probably would have gotten lost in the crowd. Instead, Need for Speed focuses on underground street races, highlighting aspects of that culture.
It also features one of the most interesting art styles of any game in recent memory, by seamlessly combining live-action video with the game’s CG graphics. To find out more about Need for Speed, I chatted with Craig Sullivan, the creative director of the project.
On the subject of the graphics, he said, “We knew we were going to do narrative in the next game before we finished the last game. We maybe didn’t know how but we knew. Over the next few months after Rivals, we prototyped live action actors and CG cars and started to get excited about the possibilities. Once we saw our visual targets for how the game could look when driving we knew our unique approach was going to work as a cohesive experience and started full production on the narrative.”
The result is a combination of styles that are blended so smoothly you might not even realize when the switch between live-action and CG occurs.
“It’s turned out pretty cool and something that I think is a great fit for Need for Speed,” Sullivan said. “It’s added a new dynamic to the game, and helps to pull you through the different ways to play… People who have played it so far find themselves wanting to go back and find out what happens next, or playing so they can meet the icons.”
The icons in question are real-life stars of the underground racing scenes in various parts of the world. They actually show up as themselves in the live-action portions of the game. Each star represents one of the five ways to play the game: Magnus Walker represents speed, Ken Block represents style, Nakai-san is all about building your car, Risky Devil handles your crew, and Morohoshi-san shows you the way of being an outlaw.
If you don’t know who those people are, don’t worry, the game introduces you to them. The idea is that you’ll train with each master in order to build your reputation and become the ultimate icon in the city.
If all of this sounds a little confusing to newcomers to the racing genre, don’t worry. “Need for Speed welcomes all new comers to Ventura Bay,” Sullivan said. “The game is built to be fun and not overly complicated; we see it as an action racing game that doesn’t go looking to confuse people with complexities.”
That point of the icons is to teach you everything you need to know to be a star in the world of underground racing. “The Five Ways to Play have been built to guide you through, introducing you to your friends who will entice you into different events and take you on a journey of progression as you learn the ropes,” Sullivan said. “The game will also prompt you if you struggling to head back to the garage and increase your car’s performance if you’re lacking speed, or tune your handling if you’re not pulling those long drifts.”
At the same time, longtime fans of the series don’t need to worry that the game is leaving them behind. In fact, the new Need for Speed lets you choose between two distinct styles. Sullivan says, “For the first time in Need for Speed history you can tune your car to drift around the corners, or you can completely switch the drifting off and drive in a more realistic way like the classic Need for Speeds. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time – unite the two types of handling and cater for both types of fans, creating the definitive Need for Speed experience.”
To find out if all of these ideas form into a cohesive whole, check out the reviews. Need for Speed is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.