Maybe it’s the effect of watching too much bad wrestling (thanks, OSW Review), but I find something oddly intriguing about dissecting what makes a creative project so bad. And in recent years I’ve found myself going back to revisit bad games from my past; ones that left such a horrible first impression, bored me to tedium, frustrated me to the point of broken controllers, or just flat-out left me disappointed.
Until the day Brexit Simulator 2019 is released, few games have been able to achieve all four of those things before.
Those that have leave me with a nagging curiosity, especially when others refer to those titles with far more rose-tinted nostalgia than I. Did I miss something with the game? Did I not give it a fair shake? Was I just not ready for this game at that time of my life?
Hence, welcome to this semi-occasional series on this very-semi-occasional blog; Revisited.
In my teens, I LOVED the Need For Speed franchise. More specifically; I LOVED the Need For Speed franchise from the moment they rebooted into Fast And Furious: The Videogame. Arriving two years after the first F&F film, 2003’s NFS: Underground tapped into the JDM tuner and street racing culture populating the mainstream consciousness after Paul Walker and Vin Diesel’s first on-screen tag team matchup. Underground 2 was a phenomenal sequel, adding an open-world map and expanded game modes, before 2005’s NFS:Most Wanted reintroduced police chases into the series and 2006’s NFS:Carbon consolidated with crew management and advanced customization features.
At that point, EA could do very little wrong.
Unfortunately, that’s the exact moment they did do a very big wrong.
2007’s Need For Speed: ProStreet was a radical shift in the franchise, taking street racing off the streets (as a very stern splash screen states upon launching the game) and into a semi-professional setting. In hindsight, taking the street racing out of a Need for Speed game was like taking the Nazis out of a Wolfenstein game. If I’m not shooting Nazis, what’s the point in even playing a Wolfenstein game? But at the time, 15-year-old me was relatively optimistic. Given my lifelong love of games like Gran Turismo, the idea of Need For Speed combining a more realistic setting with the customisation, car roster and art style synonymous with the franchise was an exciting prospect.
That optimism lasted until about ten minutes into the career mode. At which point it withered and slowly died on the vine.
I tried persisting like I was in that Simpsons segment. It’s just a little horrible to handle, it’s still good, it’s still good. It’s just a little boring and repetitive, it’s still good, it’s still good. The AI are just a little comically awful, it’s still good, it’s still good…ah, who was I kidding. Eventually I gave up and walked away in bitter disappointment, not just from the game itself but the entire NFS franchise. For me, the glory era of NFS games defining my teen years of scribbling cars with massive bodykits in the back of my exercise books was over.
Since then, I’ve tried giving it repeated second chances, only for the game to let me down time and again like that one ex-partner you know is no good for you but you keep slinking back to anyway. So basically, it became my disappointing booty call game.
And last year, I resolved to tackle it one more time, complete it 100% and give it one last chance to redeem itself.
But at least it inspired this idea for a blog.
Let’s cut straight to the chase; the flaws that put me off the game originally were not only still present, but were even worse than I remembered. The biggest and most fatal of those flaws was an atrocious physics engine; ProStreet’s attempt at a more simulation-style handling model than previous NFS games resulted in one of the most frustrating driving experiences I’ve ever had in gaming. Imagine trying to steer a shopping cart round an ice rink with Brock Lesnar sat in the cart yelling at you, and you get the idea. And ultimately, it kneecaps the entire game; no matter what mode you play, there’s nothing fun about understeering off into a wall for the umpteenth time.
This is compounded by track design that doesn’t complement the handling at all, although it’s hard to know quite what would complement handling akin to navigating the Titanic around a duck pond. It’s definitely not twisty racetracks with lots of tight turns, a consequence of the vow to take racing off the streets. But confusingly, a lot of the events take place on the streets anyway; desert highways, autobahns, dockyards and closed-off airport runways. These are even worse to try and navigate – at least real-world circuits often have runoff areas, not tight concrete walls ready to punish the player for the slightest mistake. And thanks to the atrocious handling, you’ll be making LOTS of mistakes.
Don’t worry though, because your AI opponents probably won’t be able to take advantage of your cock-ups. They are often laughably easy to beat, and frequently make ridiculous mistakes of their own. Even near the end of the game in the final boss races, my opponents would regularly veer off and crash without warning like they’d downed a bottle of Tequila for breakfast. The only challenge the game can provide is when the AI decides to randomly start cheesing; suddenly becoming Ayrton Senna for one race then immediately reverting back to Mr Bean. Between this and the awful handling constantly firing the player into a wall and out of the race, this isn’t a satisfying challenge – it’s superkick-your-TV levels of annoying.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what race type you attempt; these issues will take a baseball bat to your enjoyment. Grip (circuit) races are tedious for obvious reasons, Drift is an exercise in smashing into walls and fluking a good score on the 69,000th attempt, and Speed Challenge is a mess of shaky-cam, motion blur, craptastic AI and random crashes. What sort of tracks would suit driving flat-out and achieving the highest top speed possible? How about snaking highways full of surprise turns, roadworks and bumps that ping you off into oblivion out of nowhere like they were designed by Randy Orton. Drag racing is the best game mode simply because it’s hard to screw up racing in a straight line, and the pre-race burnout mechanic is a nice touch. But even then, most races are either a blowout victory as your opponent forgets what pedal makes the car go forward, or a frustrating loss as your opponent stumbles across a hitherto-undiscovered warp speed button.
There’s a myriad of other niggles too, such as the tediously repetitive career mode, or the cluttered and messy visual style which makes the menus and circuits hard to navigate. Or the baffling plot where everyone hypes up the player character as a racing God despite being a faceless drone with no backstory whatsoever. But ultimately it’s the moments where NFS:ProStreet threatens to show promise that make me condemn the game the most. There *is* an interesting concept buried in here somewhere, for a game that simulates real-world race types like Formula Drift and gymkhana events. The car roster and expanded customization options make it genuinely satisfying to build a car for a specific race type and turn it into a tarmac-crushing behemoth over time.
Unfortunately, showing such promise just makes it more soul-destroying when the game craps the bed.
And upon reflection, ProStreet really does feel like the end of an era for the Need For Speed franchise. There have been a few great NFS games since then, but overall the series has been inconsistent and unable to recapture the zeitgeist they held so convincingly during that mid-2000s reign of dominance. And in my opinion, ProStreet was where it all came crashing down.
And you know what? It still hurts inside.