Overall Score: 4.5 out of 5
* Rich and varied gameplay
* Excellent damage system
* Stellar online options
* The first true simulation of real street racing
* Limited soundtrack
* Announcers tend to annoy
It wasn't until I tuned and tweaked my Corvette to run a half-mile drag in 11 seconds that I fell in love with Need for Speed ProStreet. To put that in perspective, that's eight football fields in 11 seconds. At that speed, well over 250 mph, your hair is known to catch fire.
Sure, it takes great driving and cat-like reflexes to clock such a time. But this race was won before it ever started, in the garage. After tuning everything from gear ratios to suspension stiffness to nitrous timing to even the shape of the front bumper, the top speed of my 'Vette shot through the roof. Precious seconds fell off my drag times and I came away feeling not only like a master driver, but also as a master mechanic.
That's the real beauty of ProStreet, the latest installment in EA Canada's racing franchise. You don't simply unlock new cars to drive. You make them your own, an extension of yourself with four wheels and tank full of nitrous. This is all made possible because EA scrapped the old, arcade formula for which NFS was known and opted to create the first ever street racing simulation. Now that the cops have cracked down on illegal midnight races for pink slips, street racers have taken their cars to closed tracks like Infinion Speedway, Tokyo's Shunto Expressway and parts of the Autobahn. Instead of looking in your rearview for police lights, you can look forward to a world of sponsorships and the all important race day.
The core gameplay in ProStreet is designed around the race day, where racers bring their cars to a closed location to compete in four different events: grip, drag, drift and speed challenge. Grip is your traditional race mode; drag tests your reflexes in quarter and half mile strips; drift is about mastering control of your car through tough turns; speed challenge forces you to redline it through 20 km of track. Fans of Burnout will be pleased. Each of the events has a distinct feel to it, and you'll enjoy improving throughout your career.
The race day is designed to bring a spectacle. Teams bring cars specially tuned for each of the four events -- and even a backup car in case you total one of your starters -- and show them off to scantily clad race groupies. A DJ calls the action from the booth while techno music bumps over the speakers. This realistic representation of street racing is a radical departure from the canyon-jumping, police-evading days of Need for Speed's past, and that's a good thing. The end result is one of the most well-rounded racers that EA has ever created and arguably the best game in the entire franchise.
Sure that's a bold statement, but this time around EA manages to make you emotionally invested in your stable of high-performance rides, something very few racers or sports titles in general have ever managed to do. Consider that you buy a car, a car you've had your eye on for several races. Once in your garage, you paint it, add decals and graphics. Then you pop the hood and add new engines, nitrous systems, drive trains, superchargers, brakes, tires, wheels and body kits. You tweak each of the parts to your liking to maximize performance. You could spend hours just painting your car. Finally, you begin to dust the competition.
That level of customization is not uncommon in other racing titles. The true emotion comes when you hit a bump at 250 mph in your custom Camaro Concept and watch as your state-of-the-art speed machine shatters to pieces, a bumper here, a fender there, aftermarket parts everywhere. The big crashes are truly spectacular to behold, although your career will be better served if you avoid them. That's because crashes now have consequences. If you total your car, you'll have to pay to get if fixed. Even minor collisions will crumple your car's body, thanks to an excellent new damage system.
In the lengthy career mode you play as Ryan Cooper, an up-and-coming street racer that owns a piece of crap Nissan. It's ironic that ProStreet has such a high level of customization but you can't even change the name of your driver during career mode. Presumably that is because the DJs compliment you during events ad nauseam, saying things like, "That's my boy Ryan Cooper, you got to watch out for that guy." Eventually it just gets annoying, as does the limited soundtrack that constantly repeats itself, one of the few negatives of ProStreet.
The pacing in the career mode is excellent, if somewhat puzzling. Initially most of the game's 55 cars are locked, even if you have enough funds to make the purchase. In what is either a stroke of genius or an evil attempt to empty your wallet, EA made it possible to purchase cars and high-end parts using Microsoft points. It sounds lame, but if you paid to download my custom Corvette at the beginning of the game, drag racing would soon become a bore as you easily dominate the competition. Instead, you work your way up the ladder, earning cash, upgrading your car and eventually purchasing or winning new ones. It won't be too long before you own a top tier burner, so patience is key.
The goal of the career is take down the "kings" of each of the four events and win their cars in the process. Finally you take on the overall showdown king that excels in each discipline, Ryo Watanabe. He'll also make appearances after some of your big wins, talking trash in an attempt to add some energy to this rivalry. While you will grow to care about some of your best cars, this rivalry feels forced and artificial and the career mode lacks personality. Whatever. Racing is about the cars.
Although the ProStreet is geared toward simulation enthusiasts, EA did a nice job of making the game accessible to fans that enjoyed the arcade style of previous titles. Three levels of control assists will appeal to hardcore sim fans that love Forza as well as to arcade style racers. If you're not into customization and tuning, you can purchase a simple upgrade package instead of individual parts, ensuring you spend most of your time on the track instead of the garage.
EA also went the extra mile with its online offerings for ProStreet. Along with the standard ranked and unranked races, you can design your own custom race day with a variety of events from any of the tracks around the world. You can share the events with your friends and compete for a high score. What's more, you can also share your car's blueprints after a lengthy tuning session. If you manage to push a certain car to its maximum potential, players can download the blueprint, which will earn you points on the tuner leaderboard.
Visually, ProStreet is a treat, with almost photo-realistic cars, dynamic damage and excellent smoke effects. It blazes along at 60 frames per second, although the environments are not terribly spectacular. They are real-world tracks, but they lack that certain visual flair that the rest of the game has.
While Project Gotham Racing and Forza Motorsport improved upon their winning formulas in their respective sequels this year, EA completely overhauled the Need for Speed franchise to create what is arguably the best game in the series. Not only that, this well-rounded and addicting gem will be a certain nominee for racing game of the year.