Last year's Need for Speed: Carbon took the series out of the sunlight and back underneath the bed covers. The underground night setting returned in full force for Carbon, much to the disappointment of those who found Most Wanted such a delight to play, as it featured a large emphasis on cops, and maintained the tuner aspect of the game. Well, around the time work on Carbon began, EA assembled a whole other team to begin working on a Need for Speed entry that would be radically different than what's been offered in the past years. And after two years of development would come Need for Speed: ProStreet.
ProStreet is a direction in which the NFS series has never been taken to, legalized racing events. Yes, instead of illegal street racing and running from the cops through urban and suburban neighborhoods, ProStreet takes a more professional approach. You'll partake in a large number of events, all of which feature a variety of race types, be it Drift, Speed Challenge, 1/4 Mile Drag, 1/2 Mile Drag, Sector Shootout, Time Attack, or Grip. Grip races are just regular races, and the first to the finish wins.
Sector Shootout is a mode unlike NFS has ever had. You race on a course that's broken up into four checkpoints, and your goal is to make it from point-to-point as fast as possible. If you drive fast enough, you'll control the sector; but watch out, because if your opposition does it quicker than you, you lose control. Controlling a sector earns you points, a system which is a little complicated to explain, but easy to understand when you see it. Dominate the sectors, and you'll place first.
The other modes are fairly self-explanatory. Speed Challenge takes you onto a long stretch of road lasting many miles, and your goal is to cross through each checkpoint as fast possible. The room for error here is very slim, as one mistake can potentially total your car. And the damage model is pretty darn solid, although you'd have to be an extremely poor driver to damage your car anything beyond "light damage." Fixing damage is relatively cheap, but if you happen to be short on cash, the game tends to provide you with enough 'repair markers' to fix the car without cost. In addition to repair markers, there's also a marker that'll restore a totaled car.
But you won't be limited to just one car here. In fact, you'll need to own four cars in order to partake in all of the game's events, as each car will serve its own purpose (Grip, Drift, Speed, Drag). So you won't be able to just use one car for the entire career, but fear not, you'll win cars often, and affording them isn't hard. You can change the purpose of each car between either of the four available types, and from there on you will begin building its "blueprint." So if you have a 350Z and decide to change its "mode" to Grip, the blueprint you build for it will be for Grip purposes only. In ProStreet, blueprint is just another term for customization – not one I'm particularly fond of, but whatever. You can change the mode of a car at any time you wish, but you will have to reinstall and reconfigure all of its parts.
So how does ProStreet play? Completely different than any Need for Speed game in the past. You can't just slide around turns anymore; this game actually gives the brakes a purpose. After you adjust yourself to a new game engine and really give ProStreet a chance, you should find yourself enamored with the feel of the game. Now, don't misunderstand, ProStreet is still very much an exaggeration of car behavior, but its handling and driving experience feels very solid. I have to say that I really enjoy taking turns in the game, and the Forza-esque racing line helps quite a bit. The racing line in ProStreet indicates the proper lines for you to follow, as well as indicating proper braking. If you're taking a turn too fast, you'll see the line ahead of you will turn red – on the other hand, green indicates good, and yellow indicates being ballsy. But you can take matters into your own hands, and take a turn hard as long as you know what you're doing.
Furthermore, ProStreet gives you the flexibility of three assist choices, so you can play with a whole bunch of assists enabled in "Casual", "Racer" only brakes coming into hard corners, and "King" leaves the control up to you. I sincerely hope nobody here goes anywhere near the Casual and Racer options, as they're far too forgiving and practically pointless to have. What I do like is the fact that I'm able to toggle traction control, stability management, and anti-lock brakes on or off – which helps me configure the style of driving I most prefer – smart move. Moreover, you're able to toggle in which modes you'd like those three safety features enabled and disabled.
So while the handling is pretty solid, especially for a Need for Speed game, the cars still accelerate unrealistically, as climbing to 60 feels unusually slow, but then the run to 100 is too rapid. Clearly, it's an intentional choice in designing the game so as to prevent it from feeling boring and have it moving fast. But at the same time, sometimes I feel as if this game is struggling with a bit of an identity crisis. This also translates to a gripe I have with the game: inaccurate car stats and numbers. I couldn't help but notice but the performance numbers for a large chunk of cars in the game are completely wrong.
You've got a 400HP Pontiac GTO going to 60 in 5.5 seconds? Less than five seconds is more like it. The all new E92 BMW M3 taking 5.3 seconds to 60? That one's off by a full second, not to mention it's also listed as being slower than the previous E46 BMW M3 – which it isn't. Somehow the Chevy Cobalt SS is supposed to be faster than most of the cars in the game…And then there are the mangled 0-100 times. It's absurdly comical to see a G35 or 350Z reach 100MPH in 11 seconds – it's simply impossible in stock form. And both cars also have the incorrect 0-60 times.
A 2006 350Z, for example, will run a 1/4 mile in about 13.5-13.9 seconds and trap a speed of 100-103MPH – ProStreet says it'll reach 100 in 11 seconds. You do the math. And the wrong stats aren't limited to just a few cars, it includes the 2006 Mustang GT, Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Si, and a huge portion of other cars. Someone did not do their homework, because the stats presented here are just dumb. You may think this is small nitpicking, but seconds, or even milliseconds are enormous gaps in performance measurement when it comes down to cars. A two second difference, for instance, is the distance between a 300HP Nissan 350Z, and a 640HP Lamborghini Murcielago LP640.
My next gripe is if you're going to have a dyno feature, at least attempt to make it real. A dyno is a rolling-road sort of device that measures the true output of a car's power, by reading how much horsepower it's actually generating to the wheels. Typically, after drivetrain loss (having to spin pulleys, rotating wheels/tires, disk brakes, etc.) a car is robbed of about 15% of its power (20% for AWD vehicles). The dyno in ProStreet attempts to make no such calculations of power, and instead just shows you your car's standard engine horsepower and more inaccurate statistical data. Hey, would you believe it would take 340HP, 3000lb car 7.5 seconds to reach 60MPH? Thank God none of that stupid data translates to the roads of ProStreet, as acceleration remains brisk.
So with the ranting out of the way, the statistical blunders of ProStreet don't damage the game, overall. It's still a blast to play, and most importantly, very addictive. Unlike Carbon, which could be beaten in a few sittings, ProStreet is a much longer game, and I must say I enjoy most of the track designs. The tuning aspect returns, and the AutoSculpt feature now takes into account drag and aerodynamics, another nice touch. AutoSculpt also allows you to modify the stock appearance of your car's body and its wheels – again, very cool. And performance tuning gives you some room to play around with your toys, such as controlling the spool point of your boost, the intensity of your shot, the camber angles, toe angles, ride-height, rebound settings, swaybar stiffness, tire pressure, and so forth.
And when you're not in the mood to play alone, take it online and compete against others with your customized vehicle in tact. But even the single-player delivers some impressive A.I. that will both avoid you or get aggressive and slam right into you for position. I enjoy watching the A.I. swerve out of your way as you approach a turn side-by-side; it adds a very lifelike element to the game. There's a bunch of other stuff that I haven't mentioned, but that simply goes to show you how much ProStreet has to offer.
Visually, ProStreet may not look as spic-n-span on your TV as it does in the screenshots, because the game isn't nearly as polished as it's shown to be. But make no mistakes about it, it is still a good looking title, just not without its drawbacks. Yet again, Need for Speed features a framerate that could've used just a little bit of extra love. It isn't terrible, but it's more prevalent while using certain camera views, as opposed to others. ProStreet is just a couple of frames shy of 30, and I doubt it'll bother most of you, seeing as how it doesn't bother me that greatly.
The damage model is one of the highlights of ProStreet, as cars crumple and deform with some rather impressive details. Getting rear-ended will destroy and dent much of your car's rear, as it will also damage your opponent considerably. I'd say that ProStreet's damage model is just about the best looking out there – it's not utterly unforgiving, but you also don't have to crash going 80 in order to see a dent. Car detail, as a whole, is well done. I examined the cars I know, and own, with a keen eye and couldn't find any rough spots. EA even modeled the interiors of the cars accurately; it's just a shame that there is no in-dash view available.
Texture detail is high, and the cars gloss, shine, and reflect their surroundings well. Moreover, because you're not longer in a nighttime setting, you get to see everything around you. Environments are made of good road textures and a large amount of off-road objects to not have the scenery look boring. The smoke effects are especially amazing, as clouds and clouds of smoke will build while you burnout in preparation for a drag race, or as you come off the line. If EA could just work on smoothing out some of the aliasing remaining on screen, ProStreet would've been ace.
Again, Need for Speed continues its tradition of featuring a beautiful soundtrack composed of the finest symphonies the car world has to offer, ranging from 4 cylinders to 10, with everything up to quad exhaust set ups. The audio here is is blissful stuff. The actual soundtrack, you know that EA Trax stuff, isn't so bad this time around, with a good dose of good trance tracks and a few decent rock tracks. Still, it's the rumble of the engine notes and the exhausts that I love to hear vibrate through my subwoofer. And thank God you can down/off the game's announcer – he's just corny and annoying.
All in all, Need for Speed ProStreet is yet another highly enjoyable entry into the series. It takes on a slightly more realistic approach with its handling characteristics, albeit still maintaining that classic Need for Speed sense of speed. There is a slight learning curve, but the game is without a doubt the most rewarding since, perhaps, Hot Pursuit 2. It's much longer than Carbon, with far more depth in virtually every aspect – so it's got the value thing locked down. It looks pretty solid, and sounds like a symphony of angels. It may have some really screwy statistical data, but that doesn't erase the fun you'll still have with the game. Need for Speed ProStreet is a definite buy.