EA has lost its way with this series. Most Wanted was fun, cop chasing mayhem but last year's poor Carbon proved a backwards step for the franchise - this racer has stalled its engine. It's down to Need For Speed: ProStreet to set the series back on track...
Gone are the free-roaming streets, the night racing and neon. In their place are Race Days, real world race events set on abandoned airstrips, disused docks and stretches of barren desert. Need For Speed has gone legit. The street races are out and in their place are organised, legal events - a typical day will involve Grip races (standard laps of a circuit), Drags (your usual sprint to the finish line), Sector Shootouts (record the best times across a race in predefined sectors, scoring points for each sector) and Drift events (erm, drift better than everyone else.
The idea is to win each Race Day and move to the next one until you get the chance to challenge a Showdown King. Each event earns you points and if you win enough you'll dominate the day and grab the attention of the game's Kings; specialists in their field - boss characters who guard the next set of Game Days. Win the days, beat the bosses and tune your car along the way... that's essentially ProStreet's form.
To be blunt, the Need For Speed series has got real; ProStreet is Gran Turismo-lite. Without GT5 and only a handful of arcade racers to satisfy petrol heads (Sega Rally, MotorStorm and Ridge Racer 7 all in the 'unreal' lane) there's a need for a real racing experience. ProStreet is just a little bit boring.
The desert settings, and even the industrial based events where you weave between cargo crates rather than standard chicanes, just don't grab you. It's a blur of blue skies, grey roads and yellow dust. It's dull. EA has tried to spice up the circuits with giant weird inflatable balloon creatures that perch incongruously on the trackside. Huge tents straddle the roads, their canopies hiding the bland blue and yellow circuit you've been racing for two days.
No 'wow' factor
The thought of going back into ProStreet for another race was met with painful grimaces. The actual racing itself is solid. Once you're in the thick of the action everything feels good. The pack AI, on the later race days not the initial events, will compete; the controls are responsive and there's a degree of tactical thought behind when and where to use your race winning nitro.
The problem is, the bitty nature of the game's structure, dipping in and out of events, soon becomes dull. Worse still, many of the tracks feel the same - there's no single circuit that stands out as being a thriller. You'll rarely find a circuit to test your racing skills and if one pops up that you fail to score pole on, just upgrade your car and re-enter with a meatier machine.
Interestingly, car modding is where ProStreet feels fresher than before. For the first time there are distinct rewards for tuning your car.
ProStreet is not a fashion parade it's about performance. You can create blueprints for each event-tuned car - a car specifically created to drag won't do for drifting. You can even trade your blueprints online and if someone wins a race using your blueprint you'll get a 'Top Tuner' acknowledgement. Online leaderboards feature both driver stats and Top Tuner stats, so for once there's a real incentive to tune and share your cars.
There's a need for a game like ProStreet on PS3. The console is lacking a serious racing sim and until GT5 appears, this is it.