Now we’re certainly not saying that EA’s next-gen Need for Speed debut has turned the series into a demolition derby. Nor has it gone the way of Twisted Metal. Indeed, it would be borderline sacrilegious to turn the series’ trademark gleaming car-porn into scuffed, metallic roadkill like that. But there’s an undeniable vibe of arena battle gaming--particularly that of shooters--to the open-world cops ‘n’ robbers sim. After repeatedly hammering the current hands-on demo at Gamescom, we couldn’t help but feel the twin spirits of Quake and Halo drifting gently on the hot breeze generated by those roaring engines.
With a tight 2v2 set-up playing out on a large but well-connected system of looping roads, the game’s mini-map and constantly present set of updating combat challenges eschewed any hint of casual exploration or meandering objectives, instead enforcing a strict and obsessive hunt-and-kill instinct in all players.
It sounds like a mad conceit, but the shooter parallels really are there. Although the gameplay mechanics are superficially different, the kind of moment-to-moment decisions and interplays are very similar indeed. Pursuits are all about surveying the terrain and the shape of the road in order to make the right tactical weapon choice. EMP shots are your sniper rifles; risky but powerful long-range weapons which are slow to ready but devastating if they hit, and highly susceptible to failure if aimed at an agile target. Spike strips are bullying area-of-effect attacks which require careful manoeuvring and accurate prediction of enemy movements to use correctly. Slam takedowns take the place of melee attacks, often scoring an instant kill but demanding careful close-range movement and timing in order to avoid becoming the victim of one yourself.
Intersections become choke-points. Handbrake turns stand in or circle-strafes. A cheeky directional fake-out at a junction can send a pursuer off on entirely the wrong path, just as a sudden change in altitude can in Halo. Don’t think you can’t enjoy Need for Speed if you’re not a fan of racers. The in-game hardware may be different, but the essence of its highs and lows is something very familiar to anyone who’s ever enjoyed a good deathmatch.
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