RealOpinions: Can Need For Speed ever regain the magic of Most Wanted & Underground?
The iconic franchise is still chasing the formula that made it a must-buy a decade ago.
Need For Speed Heat was released to mixed reviews from fans and critics last week. The now 25-year-old series’ quality and popularity has ebbed and flowed in this time, but it’s definitely in a lull at the moment.
NOW WATCH BELOW: The Need for Speed Heat trailer!
Despite the hype that the trailers generated, Heat failed to deliver, despite some positive forward strides being made by Ghost Games. It’s been a long time since an NFS title has excited us in the same way since the series’ heyday, but why exactly is that? And can Need For Speed ever be as good as it used to be?
The Glory Days
Need For Speed is a series that I’m passionate about, and I know I’m not alone in that camp.
The video game franchise was huge in the mid-2000s, it was the go-to for a casual racer. As details about Heat were being revealed, we asked what NFS had to do to win over its longtime fans, but what exactly made the games of that period special?
To single the reasons for this down to one or even a few would be doing a disservice to the developer of the time, Black Box.
EA doesn’t make Need For Speed directly, they sell the licensing to developers who create the game for EA to distribute.
Black Box developed NFS games beginning with 2002’s Hot Pursuit and oversaw a spike in both the popularity and critical reception of Need For Speed. The iconic Underground and Underground 2 followed in the proceeding years, with Most Wanted forming a trifecta of racing glory.
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The soundtracks from this time were consistently on point, they are as good now as they were to listen to almost 20 years ago. The stories, while cheesy, were perfect for the era, these titles didn’t take themselves too seriously, they were fun, which Need For Speed has to be to succeed.
Everything from the array of customisation options available to you to the sound effects and the handling model all hit the spot, these were incredibly well-made games and maximised the hardware they were being run on. It may be hard to believe looking back now, but the graphics were top-notch for the period as well.
Why has NFS declined?
Black Box stopped developing NFS after The Run in 2011, but it’d be both unfair and inaccurate to blame the downturn in quality on this change. The first Need For Speed decline began with 2007’s Prostreet, when NFS became a simulation racer for the first time since the year 2000.
There’s nothing wrong with simulation racers, titles like Gran Turismo are among some of the best games ever, both in sales and critical reviews, but this isn’t the path that NFS should go down.
There have been good games which have threatened to revive the series since the disaster of Undercover in 2008, but there hasn’t been a good run for 15 years now.
The overall quality of the games have generally been lower too. Glitches, bugs, and poor mechanics have plagued games like Payback in 2017 and Heat isn’t immune from this either.
The change in developers, coupled with an alteration in EA’s overall philosophy, has damaged NFS potentially beyond repair. Style definitely now trumps substance, at least in EA’s eyes, this is something we can see in the gaming giant’s other flagship titles, such as FIFA.
The same thing happened to Burnout, too, a series which has now been discontinued despite huge success during the sixth and seventh generation of consoles.
Nothing lasts forever
Even if all of the technical issues were fixed, there’s an underlying and fundamental problem with Need For Speed… its formula may not work anymore.
Imagine if EA announced that Most Wanted was going to be remastered for the PS4 and Xbox One, it’d be all over the news. Millennials all around the world would be foaming at the mouth ready to dive back into one of the most cherished games from their childhoods.
The game would sell extremely well, but only with those of a certain age, I’m willing to bet the kids wouldn’t be interested in it. NFS has caught itself between trying to attract the Gen Z children to its game and attempting to impress the old guard, and it is very difficult to please both.
Kids just aren’t into the same things that they were 15 years ago. Each generation is different and what was good then isn’t anymore. It would feel fake trying to replicate the mid-2000s in video-game form again today, it just wouldn’t work.
So, how does Need For Speed get out of this rut and back on form? I’d be lying if I said I knew the answer to that question.
Need For Speed is stuck in a paradox, and the only way to salvage any dignity and retain its legacy may be to pull the plug once and for all.