Home / Things / Games / Need for Speed: The Golden Years

Need for Speed: The Golden Years

  • Games

Need for Speed is a series that needs no introduction. Everybody knows about it already, the name is ubiquitous with the racing game genre. Heck, I know some people who have never even played a video game, some well past retirement age, and even they know what it is. For any piece of media to become such a powerful household name that it breaks boundaries is quite an achievement to say the least. However, not everyone knows so much about what’s behind the name. Granted, if you’re reading this then I’m pretty sure you know what I mean by that.

One of my earliest memories was playing Need for Speed III Hot Pursuit at my aunt’s house on her computer without asking and getting caught, but then she praised me for doing better at the game than she could. I was three, maybe four years old at the time. Then there’s a big blank spot where I remember absolutely nothing, and the next thing is me playing Underground 2 on a crappy, absolutely massive laptop using a Thrustmaster joystick for some reason. My grandma was upset that I had that game because there was a woman on the cover showing a hint of cleavage, never mind the part about the whole game being about illegal street racing. I still have the original CD for that game in fact. Since then I got every new Need for Speed game as soon as I could when they came out up until Shift 2, because uh… well…

About that time was when Need for Speed The Run came out and I heard it was a full priced game and only lasted two hours and plays out more like a Michael Bay movie than a decent video game. Maybe that’s not true, I don’t know, haven’t played it, but that’s what I heard. That turned me off the series ever since, and caused me to look back and see what I hadn’t noticed before. The writing on the wall. You may have heard of the so-called “golden years” of the series. Turns out, that’s where I started. The series allegedly hit its peak in the mid 2000s before losing its identity and steadily declining.

Recently I felt an urge to return to these games for some reason. Haven’t played any of them in years and with the recent games only capable of making me feel disappointment and sadness, I figured I’d go through them all again and reminisce about the good old days for a bit, because I am an old man and these darn kids with their Rocket Bunnies need to get off my lawn.

So why not start at the turning point, where everything started falling apart to set the mood, eh?


Need for Speed: ProStreet


Need for Speed ProStreet cover art

If it isn’t obvious to you already, this is what people mean when they say the series lost its identity. What was once all about street racing is no longer on the streets. But hey, at least it’s got… some kind of mood? I guess? The “street scene” without the streets? Then Need for Speed Shift came along and things got really legal but whatever, none of that really matters to me, I’m here for this game right now. I remember sometime around when this game came out, I was… somewhere out of town with that same aunt I mentioned and we were shopping for… something. But then I saw this game on a shelf, and I didn’t even know there was a new Need for Speed game at the time, so I begged her for it. Incidentally, this is also when I first learned about checking reviews before buying a product, because she had already known about the game and told me some of the things the bad reviews said, but I was insistent and she relented and… I don’t remember the rest. All I know is that I never beat the game, but I don’t know why, and I don’t remember how I liked it. So this is a fresh experience.

I went in with the expectation that what I heard about the game would be correct, that ProStreet would be a sinful homunculus of festering mistakes responsible for poisoning the entire franchise, but uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, nah, I don’t see it. Game’s not that bad. I definitely have a lot of things to complain about, but I also have a lot to like about it.

Let’s start with the most obvious, those graphics. Look at them. They are good. For a game released in 2007, these graphics hold up astonishingly well, it’s actually quite beautiful as long as you don’t look too closely at the vinyl and decal resolution. Or some of the shadows. But the rest though, hoo, nice. Also nice is the sound design, again ahead of the curve as far as I’m aware, because while the engine sounds in this game aren’t pure and accurate recordings of the real thing or whatever, they’re still just, mmm, so good. I especially like that the rotary engines sound good instead of like broken blenders like they do in some other games, because if a game has an RX-7 in it I will without fail pick the RX-7. The reverb on the announcers voices is a bit off the mark though, seems excessive. While we’re on the topic of sound, I don’t completely hate the soundtrack, and I’m notorious for hating licensed soundtracks in every game. There’s a couple stinkers in there but there’s a surprising amount of actually good and appropriate music here, and it all fits the aesthetic of the game very well. It helps that there’s a bit of an original soundtrack sprinkled in there too, which is very good.

And speaking of the aesthetic… I really really love it. The visual themes in this game are so good, it appeals to me so strongly… well, except for the apex glide team, that design isn’t very nice, but everything else is. Especially react team sessions, I just love looking at it. I want more games to explore this kind of aesthetic. Some of the cutscenes and especially the game intro screen take this aesthetic and turn it up to 11, which is even better. Listen, I just want a game with cars held together by zip ties and duct tape, but now I’m getting sidetracked to avoid talking about the actual game.

So the good news is I had a lot of fun with this. It’s very fast paced, races are short and sweet and the game is always throwing more at you to keep momentum high. That’s one of the strongest things about this game. The next strongest thing is the sense of speed you get from driving. Surprisingly, it’s one of the best in any game I’ve ever played once you get over 120 miles per hour. Unfortunately everything below that feels like slow motion, and also the camera shake over 150 is obscenely bad. I, uh… the urge to complain is boiling over. I held back as long as I could, take cover while you can.

WHY is this game so EASY?! I’m pretty sure I played on the hardest difficulty, but I still had no challenge whatsoever up until the very end of the game. And if you think I mean the bosses, you’re wrong, because all five bosses, also known as the so-called KINGS of what they do, are actually the EASIEST opponents in the whole game. Except Aki Kimura, at least he tried a little and got higher drift scores than most of the other drivers, but Nate Denver, the SPEED KING, could only go 170 mph, Karol Monroe, the drag king who supposedly has the fastest street legal car in the country, barely manages a ten second quarter mile when the rest of the drivers are in the high sevens and low eights, and Ray Krieger the grip king is just so bad at driving that I lapped him with an underpowered car even after making several mistakes on track. Look at this Rudy Chen guy, he should be the grip king, he actually gave me more trouble than anyone else in this game. Even some of the earliest races in the game are more challenging than the kings. The only part of the game where there’s any actual challenge is some of the later Super Promotion and G-effect events. The game doesn’t even understand its own difficulty, because every race has a “target time” to reach, but if you run on pace with that, you’ll be coming in last place a lot.

Ryo is really annoying too. Who is this guy anyway? Why does he hate Ryan Cooper so much? Why is he such an incredibly sore loser that he can’t even comprehend the idea of one of his teammates losing a race? And why is he so BAD? How is he the leader of apex glide, and how did he supposedly not lose a single race in four years when his own teammates are faster than him? And at least they don’t total their cars so much during big races. No wonder they all leave him when he loses, he’s horrible, like spoiled rich middle school kid. He’s so egotistical even that he forces all his teammates to plaster his name in giant letters on their cars, because that’s part of the apex glide livery. All he does throughout the game is get mad at you, make angry faces and complain about everything for no reason whatsoever.

I’ll give him a bit of a break though, it’s actually very easy to total your car in certain places, because the game is very unforgiving and not only immediately totals you the second the car flips over once, but also makes it very very easy to flip in the first place. Especially on the Nevada highway, where you race Ryo, which is just a huge nightmare all around. Narrow roads, high speeds, lots of places to flip, lots of stuff to hit, lots of hills to give you airtime that you do not want… it’s horrendous with only one car on the track, then you get seven opponents and it becomes absolutely hellish. And I haven’t even mentioned the controls yet.

The handling in this game is unfathomable. I mentioned before that the sense of speed is great above 120 and slow motion below it, and that’s not just a visual thing, it’s the controls themselves. When you’re going slow, the entire game becomes slow, heavy, and unresponsive, but when you’re going fast, it gets twitchy and sharp. There is no middle ground. It’s also impossible to take corners at all in first gear, because when you’re going that slow you also have to deal with apocalyptically bad understeer. And as if that’s not bad enough, there’s a whole lot of input lag, sometimes upwards of a full second before the car fully responds to you. But oh, does it ever get worse. The drift mode… it’s the worst thing I’ve ever played. You have practically zero control here. All the same problems I’ve mentioned exist but several times worse, and there’s some new ones too, like how sometimes your inputs just do absolutely nothing, and other times on the same corner doing the same inputs, they’ll work perfectly. Sometimes you’ll turn left and go right. Sometimes you’ll try to transition to the next corner but just keep drifting in a straight line. This is not functional, it’s disgusting that this was considered acceptable. The drifting in this game runs on nothing more than hopes and prayers.

And for a nice little cherry on top, there’s a lot of performance and stability issues here. Even with a powerful computer by today’s standards, this game from 2007 still has frame drops and lots of stuttering. And I don’t mean microstuttering, I mean really big half second stutters. At first I thought it was bad vsync, but no, that’s just how it is. Incidentally, this game also has the worst screen tearing I’ve ever seen with vsync off, so bad that I actually can’t stand it, and screen tearing has never bothered me much before.

I could complain more but I don’t want to. I must make it clear that even with all these problems I still enjoyed the game and had fun playing it… mostly. Those final races on the Nevada highway really grind my gears, but apart from that, I even had fun with the drifting when I got a faster car and figured out how to abuse the physics. Because of that, I don’t know what to think of this game. Is it good, is it bad? I have no idea… and I don’t think I care. I just want to move on to the next game…


Need for Speed: Undercover


Need for Speed Undercover cover art

So I can explain why THIS is the game that deserves to be in the crosshairs. This game makes ProStreet look like a game of the year contender. I don’t understand how you can go from what is already a low point in your franchise and STILL manage to do literally everything worse while continuing to move in exactly the wrong direction. This game reminds me a lot of Ace Combat Joint Assault.

The graphics in ProStreet were so good that they still hold up today, and while this game seems to use the same car and damage models, they look worse. The lighting is worse and makes everything look dull, which they tried to correct by blooming everything to hell and back, then added a whole bunch of other visual effects that only make things look worse overall. The whole game feels like a fever dream because of all the bad effects, blinding lights and blur trails. You can turn the effects off, but then the whole game gets very dark and the frame rate goes down somehow, which is extremely noticeable since the overall performance of this game is abysmal. It can’t even render the world in a stable way, let alone maintain a stable frame rate. The engine sounds seem to be taken from ProStreet too, but they also somehow sound worse. I can’t even begin to understand how some of the audio weirdness this game has came to be, like how the sound of the engine gets louder depending on how close you are to another car, whether you’re going uphill or downhill, how close you are to a wall, among other things, and the echo effects of going through bridges and tunnels are just downright weird at the best of times. The soundtrack also is terrible. Are the songs themselves terrible, no, Pendulum is in here, but maybe two songs on the whole soundtrack actually fit the tone of the game appropriately, let alone the rest of the soundtrack itself. Some of these choices are incomprehensible, like they put all the songs they had a license to at the time in a hat and picked the soundtrack that way.

I will give credit where it’s due though. They realized the problem with the physics in ProStreet and they tried to fix it. Controls are actually responsive now with no more input lag, and the car actually turns. Good job, the game is functional this time. Too bad the car will still seemingly ignore inputs from time to time, and it’s also light as a feather now so your opponents can spin you out with a light tap. Fixing the controls seems to have come at a cost though, because the whole sensation of speed is just gone entirely for most of the game, the difficulty is so low that it makes ProStreet look hardcore, the fast pace is gone since races are three times as long on average, and the physics are TOO responsive if anything because it feels more like controlling slot cars than playing a video game. All of these things combine to form one of the most monotonous experiences out there, and that’s not even the half of it.

Another thing this game has is a story with characters. Too bad none of it makes sense. It’s boring, pointless, frustratingly sparse, and gives you no direction whatsoever. There’s no incentive to do anything, there’s no compelling goal, nothing to get invested in and care about, things are just kind of happening and you’re there too I guess. They even brought back police chases and stuff, but they’re just an inconvenient waste of time that they expect you to subject yourself to willingly for some reason, because they’re mostly optional. Just more events on the map. The story of this game is what I imagine it must feel like to be a person who wanted to “watch a movie” with their boyfriend, but then he puts on 2 fast 2 furious and gets seriously into the movie so the person just sits there on their phone and only looks at the movie when their boyfriend says “hey look things are happening.” Just catching bits and pieces, none of them make sense, and they don’t care because they didn’t want this and they resent being stuck watching it at all.

Playing this game, I just… I felt nothing. Nothing at all. It’s not good enough to get any kind of positive reaction, but it’s not even bad enough to make me get upset in the moment. In hindsight, sure, but I might have squinted my eyes inquisitively very slightly one time while playing, that’s the extent of emotion this game could elicit from me. I have nothing positive to say. Don’t play this game. By far the best feature is that when you press the quit button, the game disappears instantly, absolutely no delay, just poof, gone. Made it extra easy to move on to what I’m really here for.


Need for Speed: Underground


Need for Speed Underground cover art

Now this is a video game. This is where it all really started, the beginning of the golden years.

Allegedly.

As a matter of fact, I never actually owned this game. I had Hot Pursuit like I mentioned earlier, then went straight to Underground 2. I do remember having one experience with this game though. It was on an arcade machine in a pizzeria. I remember putting some coins in there and choosing a bone stock Honda Civic, then apparently driving really well because I had a small audience, but I don’t remember any details. So, this is another fresh experience for me.

And… nah, I don’t see it. Well, I kind of see it. This game is absolutely a product of its time and it shows, but its time was the perfect time – and the only time – it could have existed. It just reeks of the early 2000s. Coming out at the perfect time to be a success, selling millions of copies, it’s easy to see why so many people hold this game in such high regard and have such nostalgia for it. But I think that’s all it has going for it, nostalgia. From an outsider’s perspective and with hindsight, this game did not age well at all. This might get me lynched, but I’d even go so far as to say Underground shares a lot of the same problems as Undercover. There’s hardly any incentive to do anything, races are easy, and the story is barely there but what is there makes no sense. I felt nothing when I was playing Undercover and that I was only wasting my time for no real payoff, so I dropped it. I started feeling exactly the same way with this game very quickly, so I dropped it too. Is it as bad as Undercover, no, not even close… but it made me feel the same, and that’s close enough to lose the will to continue.

Listen. I get the appeal. It had a lot going for it in its time, and if you played it all those years ago and still enjoy it today, more power to you. But without that nostalgia to fuel me, I just can’t share that enjoyment. It feels threadbare to me, but I can absolutely appreciate the game for what it is, and having learned this makes what came next seem even greater.


Need for Speed: Underground 2


Need for Speed Underground 2 cover art

Or so I thought. Haha, starting this off with a bang, I don’t love Underground 2! Please lower your guns and hear me out.

First, the obvious. Every single aspect that needed improvement since the first Underground has been improved. A lot of reasonable expectations were exceeded. The addition of things like free roam with hidden things to find, outrun races, sponsors and photo shoots gives a lot more incentive to keep playing, even if sometimes you’re required to drive a long way between these things. Customization is crazy deep even if it can get really tacky and ugly really easily, but that’s also a product of its time I suppose. The soundtrack is infinitely better than the first Underground purely because Lil Jon is no longer present. Races are actually somewhat challenging this time, especially towards the end of the game.

Lemme tell you something about these races though. This game has my favorite race type in any Need for Speed game and as far as I know, it’s never returned. Street-X is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in ANY racing game what with its ridiculously high grip and ridiculously short and tight tracks. It’s fast and twitchy without being so risky and unforgiving like the speed challenges in ProStreet, even despite being less than half the speed of those races. Short and fast action like this is perfect for this kind of game, though unfortunately they’re also some of the easiest races in the game because the AI isn’t properly aware of the increased grip. Though, to be fair, I also picked the corolla at the start of the game without realizing it’s actually the best car in the entire game, so that may have played into that a little. Made the eventual RX-7 “upgrade” a disappointment too, since it sucked in comparison and I had to tune it a lot to make it half decent.

Speaking of tuning, that’s a cool thing this game added, full car tuning. Not just upgrading parts, you can actually get in there and change your spring and shock stiffness and your gear ratios and stuff like that. Sometimes you really need a bit of tuning to make a car handle well, which is unfortunate for the people who aren’t knowledgeable or otherwise into this kind of gearhead stuff, but I like that it’s there. Downforce is adjustable, so you actually need to upgrade your spoiler and front bumper to keep the cars gripping. The handling even changes a little when it rains, which was some pretty cool new tech at the time. I think. Could be wrong about that.

There’s a story here too. It’s barely present, much like the others, but at least I can follow it. Basically, you just got done winning everything in the first Underground and now you’re in a new city to do it again, but there’s some kind of gang thing happening and this silly angry man with a hand tattoo wants to own the city I guess, and he can’t have you winning races because that’s bad since only he is allowed to win. What a silly man. Too bad he’s terrible, and also you have to race him for ten entire minutes because of reasons. Also too bad that the entire reward for winning the game is a couple seconds of two girls saying you won the game while he sits on a curb.

This game is classic. Bayview city is classic. Rachel’s car is classic. So why don’t I love it as much as everyone else seems to, or even as much as I did years ago? It’s all because of one single complaint. The game… is too long. Way too long. After ten hours I was getting bored and by the last quarter of the game, I was SO READY for it to be over. I started avoiding circuit races wherever possible because so many of them are over five minutes long for a single race while every other mode is three or less… except URL, which is just the worst thing ever. Imagine spending seven minutes in one race in a game that’s supposed to be fast paced, and then there’s a round two… seven more minutes, and then round three. That’s over 20 minutes in one single event. And they’re required to progress. Why? Isn’t this game supposed to be fast paced?

Listen, I know racing games are repetitive by nature but there are some racing games I could play for a hundred hours without getting bored. The problem here is that the length is unwarranted. You can tell that it’s trying to keep things fresh by changing the track layouts every time, but once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, and there’s no rewards for improving your time on the same track or anything like that, so it just ends up becoming a slog. If this game was ten hours long, it’d be great, maybe even timeless, but no, it’s double that for no good reason. Making a game take longer to finish doesn’t add any value if it’s not fun to play for that extra time. Padding is not the same as content, and content doesn’t necessarily equal fun, especially when it starts taking away from that itself. There was a fair bit of cut content in this game, some of which I restored with a mod, like cabin mounted neon and hood decals, but there was an entire other race mode that’s just gone, and there may have even been police in this game if it just got a little extra time before release. That could have broken up the monotony so well, maybe then 20 hours would have been acceptable.

That’s my only complaint with this game. I have nothing else to say about it. That one problem is big enough to knock it all the way down to average, nowhere near the pinnacle some still claim it to be. That said, the problem only really applies to the career mode, and since everything else is so great, I can absolutely see why some people still cling so hard to this game to this day. It’s still a blast to play… just make sure you have a 100% save and stick to quick races.


Need for Speed: Most Wanted


Need for Speed Most Wanted cover art

Now then… Ladies and gentlemen… Welcome… to the BOOMER ZONE.

This is the game everyone talks about, the one everyone clings to harder than anything else. Some people think Underground 2 is the best Need for Speed game ever made, but probably a good ten times more people think that’s actually this one. I saw it with my own eyes, every single Need for Speed game that came out after this one, the people cried and whined “Most Wanted is better, go back and do it again.” Even today. This game is 14 years old now, probably older than a lot of people playing the new games, and still people refuse to move on. “Just remaster it” they say. Therefore, it is the boomer zone.

However. There are a couple reasons for that. Rose tinted glasses, obviously… and merit.

I called the previous game classic, but this one… Need for Speed Most Wanted is iconic. Look at the cover. You all know this car, everyone knows this car, some people who have never played a Need for Speed game at all still know this car. This car is so famous that it overshadows everything it touches, including its own game, iconic as it is. The city of Rockport is so well laid out for street racing and police chases, it’s kind of unbelievable. Different areas are visually distinct and connected in such a way that even I can do a decent job of navigating the streets without needing the map, and if there’s any single thing you should know about me, it’s that I’m usually incredibly bad at navigation. I’m the guy who spent a solid ten hours in Dark Souls just being lost and not progressing.

Some compromises were made with this game compared to Underground 2, but they were for the greater good as the game is a quantum leap ahead of the previous. More cars, more speed, way more of a sense of speed, more things to do, and a whole lot more incentive to actually keep playing, not to mention the addition of intense police chases. One of the biggest improvements was with the pacing, as most races are a fair bit shorter on average and you don’t have to do nearly as many to get your next reward, and on top of that there’s a whole lot more small rewards throughout the game. Like, that’s the whole point of the game, going through 15 small objectives, being the blacklist racers. They really nailed the police chases too because not only are they present, very fun, and sometimes quite challenging, they’re also integral to progression because you need to complete milestones like evading a pursuit after no more than two minutes or dodging a certain number of spike strips, and you need enough total bounty to challenge blacklist racers. Later chases can get so intense that even now, so many years later, nothing really matches the feeling. Unfortunately they didn’t quite nail the pace throughout because races and chases start getting longer towards the end, and you end up being required to do more and more of them at a time. Feels almost like Black Box was making the game at the pace they wanted but then EA told them it needed more hours of playtime during beta testing, so they just tacked on some races and inflated numbers right at the end.

The biggest compromise made here is customization for sure, because it’s gone from having a HUGE variety of options to having basically none. All the different body options are gone, now you only have four preset body kits, there’s far fewer hoods and spoilers, and WAY fewer vinyls to choose from on top of only having a single layer now. Performance tuning also got mega simplified because now you have seven sliders that go from plus to minus and you don’t really know what they do, you just tinker with them and see what happens, though to be honest the only thing you ever need to do is turn the turbo slider up to max and then turn up steering if the car feels sluggish. The improvements I mentioned make this really easy to ignore though, especially as someone who likes simpler looks on cars anyway.

The importance of the pacing improvements cannot be overstated though, because even though Most Wanted is only a couple hours shorter than Underground 2, it didn’t feel like it was starting to drag and slow down until the very end. There’s more variety in the gameplay and a lot more small rewards spaced throughout like I said, and it would have been great from start to finish if they only didn’t add so much padding at the end requiring you to do more things AND making the things take more time to do simultaneously. When I finished the game, I was glad it was over and was ready to put it down, but at least it didn’t get anywhere near as bad as Underground 2 did where I started to actually dread playing it. But for the other 70% of Most Wanted, it was great fun that kept me coming back for more. Extremely addicting, very rewarding, a near perfect iteration of the formula. This is the real reason Most Wanted is still so popular, why people keep clamoring about it even today, why people use it as a baseline comparison for every other game in the series. If you like arcade racing games but haven’t played Most Wanted, you owe it to yourself to rectify that, even in spite of its flaws… like the drag racing. That’s a big flaw. This is not an amazing game by today’s standards, but it’s worth understanding firsthand if you can.

There’s a lot more detail that could be unpacked here, but I don’t want to, and there’s a lot of other videos out there if you want that. There’s one in particular I like a lot, check out the Need for Speed Most Wanted 13 years later video from Raycevick on YouTube, man’s got a lot to say and his videos are definitely worth your time. He’s actually part of the reason I write these kinds of things at all, even though I (at least currently) have little interest in going as deep as he does.

Also the story is very cheesy and it’s great. Get a load of this guy. Wonderful.


Need for Speed: Carbon


Need for Speed Carbon cover art

So that leaves us with Carbon. After playing through this I sat down and tried to write about it, then ended up staring at a blank page for days on end because I couldn’t think of anything to say… and I guess that says a lot in itself. I loved this game when it was new and probably put more time into this one than any other in the whole series, but now after playing it again, I look back and wonder why.

This is basically just Most Wanted but worse. Sure, the graphics are improved a lot, but that’s half the good things already. I guess autosculpt is pretty neat, this is the game it first appeared in and remains the one with the most options for using that, but… I can live without that, it’s not exactly vital. Free form vinyl placement was introduced here and that’s really neat, though the implementation is pretty clunky. Races are too easy again, especially since you now have a crew member racing with you, some of which are impossibly fast and able to rubber-band so hard that they can do 500 miles an hour or something ridiculous like that, so if you aren’t winning your race somehow, your crew member will be. Police chases are also super easy now, to the point that it’s not worth worrying about at all until you hit heat level 4 and spike strips start appearing, you can just ignore everything otherwise.

It doesn’t stop there with police either. They’re also WAY more abundant. You can’t free roam more than 30 seconds before you hear them talking about you and start seeing them appear. More than half the races you enter will be interrupted by police conveniently spawning right in front of you sometimes, and often times they’ll have eyes only for you, even if you let the entire pack go in front of you to try and let them take the fall instead. All this makes the police really annoying already, but on top of all of this, they’re now completely irrelevant to the game! You have no reason at all to deal with them, there’s no purpose and no reward. They’re literally nothing more than a constant inconvenience, making races a drag, disincentivizing free roam entirely, and blatantly padding the game for time. At least Undercover let you skip the pointless police chases if you didn’t want to waste your time.

And they apparently needed to pad for time, because this is less than half the length of most wanted which was already shorter than underground 2. Now, if you ask me, that’s not a bad thing at all. Time to beat a game isn’t as important as how enjoyable that time is, so long as it doesn’t fall on either of the extreme ends of the spectrum. Two hours for a $60 arcade racing game isn’t okay… neither is 80+. But Need for Speed Carbon, despite being so much shorter, still has a similar problem to Most Wanted and Underground 2, because I was REALLY ready for the game to be over and done with towards the end. This problem still exists in spite of the game’s biggest strength being its pace. All the races are short and sweet, you can jump straight from one to the next and the one after that, and small rewards are spread throughout the game to keep you playing. Those small rewards go away in the last bit of the game though, and the tracks get tighter and more technical than the rest of the game… which Carbon was not built to handle, so it just becomes a big ol’ drag.

Handling is a severe weakness in Carbon and I don’t understand why. Most Wanted did it so well, feeling fast and loose but still always in control, whereas this game feels heavy and slow no matter what you drive, and if you have any interest in having control over the video game, you’re pretty much limited to tuners only. Exotic class cars all have varying degrees of understeer trouble and muscle class cars just… don’t… turn. Now I did find out right at the end of the game that I was setting up my cars wrong, because “oversteer” and “understeer” are backwards in the PC version of the game and the “grip” setting on tires does far more harm than good, but even after fixing that, I stand by my statement. Exotics are still bad and muscle cars are still worse. Maybe you’ll have better luck than me with the exotics, but all claims that muscle cars handle decently in this game under any circumstances are false and those making the claims are not to be trusted.

Also not to be trusted is my sense of direction, and to be honest, this is the thing I’m saddest about with Carbon. In Most Wanted, even with the entire world using the same muted brown and yellow color palette, I could still navigate my way through it largely without needing the map, and that’s an incredible achievement considering how much of a big stupid I am. Carbon doesn’t have that. Every single police chase I wound up in that lasted longer than 15 seconds, I would get lost and loop back on myself when trying to find a hiding spot, at least once, without fail. A couple times I ended up doing that three times in a single pursuit, all in the same place. I don’t know how they did it, because the districts seem visually distinct enough and there’s some color differences that Most Wanted didn’t have, but that subtle intuitive guidance is gone and I’m back to needing a map. To be fair, at least I rarely needed to think about it since pursuits were usually really short and I never went in free roam… but that’s not exactly a good thing now is it?

All in all, the game is still fun, just… sad. I really enjoyed playing it, but It’s sad to see this game turn out so weak hot off the heels of Most Wanted, and there’s really not a lot to talk about. You don’t even need one whole hand to count the positive things I said about this, all I could do is make negative comparisons because that’s pretty much all there is. Maybe things would have been different if I played this one first, there has to be a reason I played this one the most after all… or maybe that reason is just that I was a dumb kid and liked the cool graphics.

Basically the point is Darius is the best part of the game. Get a load of this guy, what a cool dude. His R8 is actually my favorite car in the whole Need for Speed series too, I even remade it myself in Forza because I like it so much.


Wrap-up


Now that I’ve gotten through all the games I set out to… I don’t know how to wrap this all up. I’m very underwhelmed. Why did I make this anyway? I really don’t know, I only played these games because I suddenly had an urge.

I guess… if there’s anything to take away from this, it’s these two things.

One: Nostalgia is an extremely powerful force that is not to be taken lightly. It has the power to make people think much higher of something than they actually should, and it often only gets stronger over time as the memory drifts further away. If you value informed discussion or criticism of games and there’s something you have fond memories of but haven’t played for years, it’s never a bad idea to go back and refresh your memory.

Two: This franchise in particular is extremely vulnerable to nostalgia controlling people’s expectations. If your favorite Need for Speed game is Undercover or Underground, more power to you, but if you think the newer games are bad because they’re not the same, please reevaluate your opinions. At the same time, some of what the rabid fans of Most Wanted say really does ring true. There’s a certain… feeling that comes from that game that just hasn’t been replicated by anything since. So while it’s easy to dismiss them, whether it be because they’re being too nostalgic or because you think they’re just grumpy old farts who refuse to accept change, they’re not all totally unreasonable. But that’s just my opinion.

Does… any of that make sense? I don’t know, this post sucks, why did you read it?

Anyway, just a few days after I finished playing all of these games, the next one came out. Need for Speed Heat. Apparently the most well received Need for Speed game in a decade, a sort of redemption of the series maybe? Now that I’ve got these games, the ones held in the highest regard fresh in my mind, I’m going to play that game and see what it’s like from the perspective of a grumpy old fart who refuses to accept change. We’ll see what happens.