Arguably the best racing series on consoles everywhere, Need For Speed seems to have lost its luster with its recent lineup. In the days of the earlier Fast and Furious movies, roaring engines and low-riding rice-rockets seemed like a trend to emulate. Need For Speed Underground and Underground 2 accentuated the street racing scene of attractive women and cocky drivers extraordinarily well with one of the main perks being the immense freedom players had during the online and offline player.
But somewhere along the line Need For Speed, like Fast and Furious, began focusing too much on the cinematic value of its video games and too little on the actual content. Hot Pursuit, Carbon, Undercover and other parts of the series have been good but they haven’t matched up to the sensational Underground series, which Need For Speed presumably wanted to break away from before they were defined by it.
As a result you get Need For Speed: Pro Street, Need For Speed’s hack at the world of legal racing. This time, instead of tearing up city streets and rapidly evading traffic, the player is sent into circuit, drag and drift races on race tracks. Right off the bat, the most noticeable thing about Need For Speed is its beautiful graphics. Cars are extremely detailed, and even when they’re damaged players can accurately see the details of crumpled bodywork and scratched paint jobs. When you burnout in the pre-drag racing sequence, an unbelievably realistic plume of smoke creates a thick fog that seems the closest thing to an actual recording. The visual presentation of Pro Street alongside its theme of more rugged, raw cars is something that brings out more of ‘rocker’ theme from the game, as opposed to smoothness that likened Underground more to Hip Hop, another similarity to Fast and Furious.
The player is Ryan Cooper, a rookie racer who is paired against some of the legends of Pro Street’s circuits. The game’s antagonist and his crew become jealous of Ryan and, as he moves through the ranks, he races each of them to eventually join and surpass their leagues. Pro Street’s nonlinear gameplay may very well be the most annoying thing you ever encounter in a video game. You have primary events, presumably of the most importance, which you attend to cover a major milestone in your career. Then you have a scattered assortment of other events all around that centered event on the menu screen, none of which you can tell are more relevant than one another. You choose some of the events and race in them, but there are so many it’s almost discouraging.
That’s not all, though. You don’t have to complete all of the events. After beating some of them, the next major race becomes open and you can either stay and race in those events or move on. Honestly it’s fine to move on, but you’re leaving some of those events behind, and it becomes boring to sit around racing all of them. It’s also perplexing if you choose to go the exciting route and move on, because the closest you get to completion is partial incompletion, and this simply makes for an awkward gaming experience. Usually the video game’s story gives it a sense of direction, but Pro Street has absolutely no direction. Hell, it doesn’t really seem like you’re going anywhere.
When you enter competitions, you’re presented with the same lots and you have the same annoying jackass DJ being loud and obnoxious. It’s cool that they’re going for something different in the racing scene, but it becomes repetitive and eerie. “OH WOW BRO, RYAN COOPER IS TOTALLY TEARIN’ IT UP ON THE SCENE MAN!! HE’S TOTALLY SUPER RAD CRAZY COOL DUDES, NOBODY’S GOT NOTHIN ON MAH’ MAN COOPER!” Eventually you just want him to shut up. The music in the game isn’t as good as some of the soundtracks have been, though it’s evident that its more geared toward a punk rocker crowd…somehow. The car customization in the game is excellent. You get a lot of control over how the car is running and how fast it goes, as well as the aesthetic of the bodywork and how it handles air resistance. There’s the really realistic feeling of a tight budget, because if you spend too much money then repairs could force you back into the beginner leagues to ‘grind’ as its called in MMOs and do monotonous work for the next level.
When you beat competitions or ‘dominate’ a race day, which is ultimately confusing because you’d figure that the way to victory would be to ‘dominate’ anyway, you get to choose markers and earn repairs and free parts. It’s a fun addition to the game when you have to guess which marker holds the most useful prize, but that’s not nearly enough to save Pro Street. The game still plays in a very boring manner. Driving has a very realistic feel in the game. Cars handle accurately in accordance to which car you’re driving and the customizations you add.
Need For Speed’s shoot at being a simulator makes driving a very fast but careful process because, aside from the naturally arcadeish game style, if you’re not braking accurately enough you’ll end up crashing into a wall and paying a lot of damages. Need For Speed has taken from Gran Turismo’s throttle and brake control, giving racing a more detail and a different feel. Racing can be rather competitive and you suffer when you crash, so in a sense the game is forcing you to drive rationally. You may also notice that if you drive over a strip or even make the slightest contact with the grass your car will become completely unstable, or close to it. This was probably done to prevent players (we’re looking at you) from driving through the grass and taking random, unrealistic shortcuts to get across curves. Oh…yeah, and the multiplayer is ‘meh.’
Not much to say about Need For Speed: Pro Street. To eager Need For Speed fans it was probably a disappointment, but its presentation and realistic graphics do make it a stand out game. Eventually the game as a whole becomes repetitive. The race competitions all blend in together and you certainly get the feeling of ‘I’ve been here before.’ Carbon was much better than this and even it fell very short of Underground’s greatness. Hopefully Need For Speed will reclaim its throne (if it ever had it) as being the best racer on platform for its cool features, but this game gives the player the wrong types of freedom. What made Underground fun was not only the theme of illegal street racing, but the sandbox gameplay, the limitless car customizations and the lobbies and cruise modes online that put a special emphasis on player communication. Those choices made Underground Underground, not the choice of what races you wanted to play and how you wanted to get through loosely guided levels.
Pro Street comes off as a misfire and one of the lesser installments of the Need For Speed series overall, making it a 6.5 out of 10.