New, new, new. Everything about the very latest in a long line of Need For Speed games is brand spanking new. Except for the fact that you drive cars, obviously. Everything else, though, has been given a major revamp - to the point where John Doyle, producer of Need For Speed: Pro Street, starts spouting worryingly cod-philosophical phrases like "new continuum" and "new playing field" when we arrive in a rainy Vancouver to see the game in action.
OFF THE MAP
To illustrate his point, Doyle brings up a slide of a straight line, with driving sims like Gran Turismo positioned at one end and arcadey crash-abouts like Burnout at the other. Ah, we think. He'll put Need For Speed somewhere in the middle. But no - then he scribbles another line off it that so that it bears no relevance whatsoever to the first one and suggests that this new area is where EA Black Box, developer of Pro Street, is aiming.
Tuner culture, where our recent titles have taken their inspiration from, is evolving," Doyle explains, standing in front of a PowerPoint presentation that looks more like a Richter scale readout than a barometer of today's racing games. "We want to be influencing that change and moving it forwards instead of playing catch-up."
And so we have Pro Street. "Real street racing," as Doyle puts it, which gives the impression he thinks previous Need For Speed games were big fat fakes. In a sense they were - all blurred neon trails and danger-free speeding, with a heavy emphasis on bling. Not any more. Now we have 'grown-up' street racing, where any alterations you make are purely intended to get your car to thunder across the tarmac faster, not to boost some cheesy respect-o-meter. There's no call for talking the talk, you've just got to walk the walk - by slamming the pedal to the metal and hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life.
The biggest and most obvious change to the game is the shift from driving through moonlit city streets and canyons to racing around closed circuits in glorious sunshine. Gone are the fictional open worlds, designed as much for parading your ride as proving its mettle, and in several circuits lifted from the US Formula Drift championship. You'll be hurling half a ton of metal around real-life tracks in California, New Jersey, Seattle, West Virginia and more, with the idea being that you partake in a series of dedicated events rather than chancing upon random gatherings as in Need For Speed: Carbon.
There's a festival air to every event; you won't be turning up at a circuit to compete in a single race, you'll be entering a series of challenges which will test every aspect of your capabilities. There're lots of beautiful people mingling with the grease monkeys and a real sense of being involved with a cool club, yet it's all strictly for setting the scene, so there's no corny story driving the game along. You're left to race, modify your car and then race some more.
Pro Speed's objective is simple: fight your way to the top of the leaderboard, taking on champions of the various disciplines as you go, until a face-off with a mysterious figure called the Showdown King to decide who takes the overall crown.
On the way you'll turn your hand to Grip racing, which is standard circuit racing; Speed racing (on dedicated stretches of open highway, in the game's only departure from its closed circuit environment); Drift racing, where you'll be speeding side-on in close proximity to a competitor; and Drag racing, the ultimate test of your vehicle's brute power. There's a lot to learn.