So I'm hot off trying the demo for Need for Speed: Shift. I came away a little more impressed with the "you feel like you are driving" stuff than I figured I would. GRiD does a great job of that already, with smart camera movement that really gives you the feeling of bouncing around a vehicle as you take turns at 50mph - but Shift takes the next step.
Unfortunately, that's about all that impressed me with the game. Need for Speed just is not a franchise about "serious" racing, so when you get games like ProStreet and Shift I just sort of shake my head and sigh. At the same time, though, I understand EA's plight - the "Fast & The Furious" direction of Need for Speed Underground and Most Wanted was most definitely tapped out. So where do you go from there?
I say go back to the beginning. I'm talking the original Need for Speed games. No nitrous, no chrome rims, no spoilers and no glowing lights underneath the car. When I want a Need for Speed game to play, I go back to one game, each and every time:
Nobody makes racing games like Hot Pursuit 2 anymore. Not EA, no one - and frankly, it's starting to make me a little bit bored of racing games in general. I'm so tired of Forza, Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing, and GRiD. I'm also tired of Fast-and-the-furious Underground Street Races.
Hot Pursuit 2, on the other hand, doesn't bog us down with a storyline or an open world or sponsored events. You do not race in tracks that feel like they were set up specifically for racing. There aren't any retaining walls, bleachers or spectators. You aren't even really racing in cities, for the most part. You're just some stupidly rich thrill-seeker with an expensive sports car racing across long, winding interstate roads. Locations are just as exotic as the cars - with forests, countrysides and even the coasts of Hawaii. There aren't many racing games today that offer up such a wide variety of vistas.
That's largely because Hot Pursuit 2 doesn't bog itself down with realism. Take Need for Speed: Most Wanted, for instance. In Most Wanted, you're limited to one city, which eliminates a lot of the more exciting and varied options for race locales. Since Most Wanted is also an open-world game, you have to construct racing circuits out of city street layouts. Worst of all, Most Wanted rides the "Fast & The Furious" fad for all its worth, dating the game considerably.
What I want is a Need for Speed game that takes all of the "you really are driving" concepts from Shift and applies them to a game like Hot Pursuit 2. As I fly through a sawmill in the forests of upstate California at 110mph in a Lotus Elise, I want to feel it. I don't want to drive through another city I'm going to forget in ten minutes - and I don't want to drive through locales that were inspired by famous street racing movies, either. Hot Pursuit 2 has you ramp over lava floes from a recently-erupted volcano in Hawaii, for crying out loud. Has any Need for Speed game done anything that cool since then? I'd argue it has not.
C'mon, EA and the Need for Speed Team ! Show some creativity again! Or at least put Beetle Adventure Racing on Xbox Live, or something.