After ceding the field to Forza Horizon 2 last year, EA and Ghost Games have announced the next iteration of the Need for Speed franchise. Continuing the series' confusing naming trend established by 2010's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and 2012's Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the new title is simply Need for Speed. Yeah, no subtitle.
Ghost Games intends for the new Need for Speed to be a reboot of the franchise, taking a series that's bounced around a few times in a clear direction. That direction will look familiar to classic fans of the series.
Yeah, the new Need for Speed is still an open-world racer like the last few titles, but the feel of the game's first trailer is definitely aimed at the 2003-2005 era of the series. This game looks like a updated version of the Need for Speed: Underground, Need for Speed: Underground 2, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted lineup. The press release for NFS mentions features from those titles: deep customization, authentic urban car culture, a nocturnal open world, and an immersive narrative.
To which I just have to say: Yessssssssssssssss.
It looks like we're shifting away from high-end vehicles - your Audi's and Aston's - and moving towards the tuner car scene, meaning Toyota's and Subaru's. Underground and Underground 2 felt like a reflection of their times; Underground came two years after The Fast and The Furious was released. It was heavy on the hip-hop, heavy on the customization, and heavy on the style. The night-only racing not only made the cars look better, but added a thrilling, subversive feel to the title, one the story-based career mode played up. Underground 2 improved heavily on its predecessor with more visual customization and more race types.
Most Wanted started the move away from that style with a larger focus on police chases and daytime racing. Customization took a big hit, but Most Wanted retained enough of the feel of the previous titles to skate by and the graphical boost by jumping to Xbox 360 helped. That is around when I left the franchise for Rockstar's Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, which retained many of the things I loved about Underground and Underground 2. Need for Speed's stewards lost the plot a bit until Burnout-developer Criterion took over with 2010's Hot Pursuit, but even then, those games lacked the character of Underground 2.
It sounds like Ghost Games has realized what NFS has been missing. I'm not too big on the narrative part, but everything else sounds like magic.
"For many years we have not delivered on the love of cars, I think, or really gone deep into what are the right vehicles people want to have," Need for Speed executive producer Marcus Nilsson told Eurogamer. "If you look at Rivals, we had high-end cars - absolutely fantastic and cool high-end cars - but with that you leave some of the grassroot authentic car culture cars out. And this is an area we're looking into much more."
"So the reason we go back and we call this a reboot is, imagine we went back into a room with a whiteboard and we said, 'okay, with all the Need for Speed games being a little bit all over the place during the last few years, what is the game we need to make going forward? And what do we want Need for Speed to stand for going forward?' This means we will get a creative direction starting with this game that we will probably follow for the next couple of years."
When Ghost Games say they're digging into car culture, they're doing it right. EA launched Speedhunters.com long ago to keep racing fans tied to Need for Speed between releases, but at a certain point, the site became more. Now Speedhunters is a site that celebrates all of car culture, not just the stuff that's tied to whatever EA is making. They're a resource that's been around and Ghost Games called on them to help with this reboot.
The developer didn't just reach out to Speedhunters though, they used that resource to ask who else should be consulted. Alexi Smith of drift culture site Noriyaro wrote a blog post about being involved with Need for Speed and he mentioned others who were flown in to help with the title: Bowls LA creative director Brandon Leung, Motor Mavens' Antonio Alvendia, Zen Garage's Justin Fox, and Maiham Media's Luke Huxham. The teaser image for the trailer sports branding from Rocket Bunny, a series of aerodynamic body kits by GReddy, and RWB, a Japanese Porsche tuner.
The point of all these names, which may not matter to many of you, is authenticity.
It's about Ghost Games understanding street racing, drifting, and car culture so they can turn around and provide a window into that world for others. Regardless of the type of game you're playing, games are at their best when they can take you somewhere else. The Frostbite-powered Need for Speed will look good - I don't necessarily believe the "All Footage Captures In-Game" tag at the end of the trailer - but anyone can do that now.
With all our graphics power, inanimate non-living objects are easier to render than living things. Forza Motorsport, Forza Horizon, Gran Turismo, Project CARS, Assetto Corsa; we've had awesome looking cars for years. Going just a bit deeper beyond the surface, into the actual spaces occupied by passionate drivers and tuners around the world? That could be something. It's certainly worked for Kazunori Yamauchi and his team when creating the Gran Turismo series.
So, yeah. I'm a bit hyped. Guilty as charged. I can't wait to hopefully get a look at Need for Speed at E3 this year. Forza Horizon 2 is a high bar to vault over, but Ghost Games is saying all the right things. Not they have to deliver, not over-promise.