Nov 12, 2007
Ryan Cooper. Don’t worry if you’ve already forgotten the name since you’ll be hearing it a few times in Need for Speed ProStreet. It’s the moniker of your driver in Career mode. He’s not the most charismatic character. In fact, he’s practically mute - and you only ever see him with his helmet on - but that doesn’t stop the commentators banging on about him. “It’s Ryan Cooper about to light this race up,” praises one MC. “If it’s too hot in the kitchen get out of Ryan Cooper’s car,” another remarks, nonsensically. By the time we’d finished our first few races, the name ‘Ryan Cooper’ was the equivalent of scraping nails down a chalkboard to a Mika song. Thankfully, this is one small annoyance in an otherwise solid racing game, which marks a welcome return to form for the faltering series.
OK, so you can’t create a character like almost every other EA game, but rather than chuck in a load of pointless cosmetic features, EA have gone under the hood and tinkered with the engine. What’s new? Most racing is done during the day so there’s no more eye-strain as you try to pick out distant bends. Career mode offers five different disciplines, while online play caters for 1-8 racers. Most noticeably, NFS ProStreet has taken racing off the streets and handbrake-turned onto more legal ground - that is, proper tracks and cornered-off courses. The only traffic you’ll face here is from other racers, not unfortunate Sunday drivers. This is interesting for two reasons because a) the action feels more linear and compact, as opposed to the free-roaming bits of old where you hunt down the competition and b) it could spell the end of the illegal street racing that NFS has become famed for. Sure, a lot of people enjoy cruising around fictitious cities and weaving through motorway traffic, but Need for Speed ProStreet feels far more focused and immediate - you can hop into races and competitions at the drop of a clutch.
Need For Speed has always been a showcase for pedal-to-the-floor racing since its early days on PSone back in ’95 and, after diverting down weird (playing as the cops in Hot Pursuit) and wonderful (embracing the tuner culture with grateful arms in Underground) side roads, it’s come back to the basics of high-speed simulation racing.
Races fizz with menace, amplified by foggy knots of smoke, chunky car models and twitchy steering. The Autobahn section is almost too fast, easily a match for Burnout 2, or Wipeout’s giddying highs, as one false move will see you plough into the central reservation and ignite one of ProStreet’s new features - slow-mo crashes. If you total your car - and you will at high speeds - the action slows as your vehicle flies through the air and comes apart in tiny details. Yup, there’s certainly far more realistic and exciting handling than in NFS Carbon. Squealing into corners in a Lamborghini Murcielago at 170mph will see your wheels puff out more smoke than a power plant as you desperately flick between gas and brakes. A four-wheel drive powerhouse like a Subaru Impreza feels like it’s glued to the asphalt and you’ll easily take bends at speed, but try the same trick in a rear-wheel drive BMW and you’ll oversteer and flip like an eel out of water. It really pays dividends to know your car’s limits before getting behind the wheel in NFS ProStreet.
Damage is governed by real-word physics. Stove your motor headlong into a wall and its bodywork will fold like an accordion. There are two types of damage - ‘light,’ which means your side mirror or bumper might fall off and pose a hazard to other drivers for the rest of the race, or ‘heavy.' That - after a nasty prang - will see your roof fly off into the distance and your speedometer flash red. Thankfully, it only looks horrific and barely affects the steering or engine, because we’ve had a few nasty smashes and still easily blew the opposition away.
Back to the Story mode: EA have ditched racing for pink slips and dirty cash in exchange for a carnival show complete with dancing ladies, an over-the-top MC giving shout-outs and, of course, loads of tuned up cars. If you’ve never been to one of these events, then you’ll be initially left cold by your surroundings. Bear with it, however, and you’ll enjoy the moment as enthusiasts walk by your car, snapping pictures of your latest creation. Then there’s your nemesis, Ryo. He’s the King of Showdown racers, but before you can even think about challenging him for his crown you have to beat his entourage of drivers at special events first. Doing well in lesser showcases will give you the cash to buy the rides to take these fellas on, so be prepared to put the time in.
Online you can race up to seven others, and create your own multi-stage race day for people to join - and you can even post the blueprint of your wildest car for others to follow themselves.
Though it’s largely enjoyable, ProStreet does have problems. Menus are needlessly complicated and you’ll need to flick through about three or four just to get your motor out of the garage, while on race days, you can’t tune your car without leaving the event and all the points you’d accumulated. And why can’t we create our own racer? ‘Being’ Ryan Cooper gets dull.
ProStreet looks gorgeous as you bomb along at crazy speeds in a blur of rich colours (although it can look a little juddery at times) and spend ages poring over every contour of your motor, modifying it with the still-awesome Autosculpt mode. But after prolonged play we realised that our enjoyment had been replaced by OCD - we were playing the races just to unlock new equipment and areas. It’s not that the excitement stalls, it’s just that the routine of dipping into race days to earn cash to spend on your car and doing it all again triggers the completist in you, until eventually having the best motor is the most important thing of all.