Need for Speed: Is Criterion’s return to the series good for the franchise?

The iconic franchise is moving homes, which promises a strong presence on next-gen consoles.

George Howson by George Howson
need for speed nfs ea criterion

Last week brought the news that EA had axed their deal with Ghost Games ahead of the release of the next generation of consoles.

Ghost had produced the previous four Need for Speed games but had disappointed overall, despite some more promising titles like Heat.

Criterion have picked up the gauntlet of NFS once again in what is the most recent attempt to revive the franchise’s glory days.

 

As one of the biggest racing games in the world, this is no mean feat for any developer but are Criterion up to the challenge?

Need for Speed’s troubled recent history

Need for Speed Payback
DISASTER: Need for Speed Payback was a flop for Ghost Games

We wrote about why NFS can never recapture its former glory last year and the same tune still rings true. The main reason for this is time, the world has moved on a lot in the 25 years since the first game in the franchise.

Part of the blame undoubtedly lies with EA and their chosen developers’ camps though, as mistakes have been made on both of their parts.

READ MORE: What we want to see from Heat’s next update

Ever since Prostreet in 2007, there’s almost always been a fundamental issue with each game. Whether it be the puzzling direction change to a simulation racer for the Shift games or Payback’s endless glitches and headache of a currency system, basic decisions have consistently been wrong.

And let’s not even talk about the film made in 2014…

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Heat’s January update

Heat was a better game than most of its predecessors, but it still suffered from a lot of the same issues. The story was short and cheesy, and the police were way too powerful to name a few problems.

Heat didn’t quite hit the mark overall and we are still waiting for a great NFS game to hit shelves again.

Is it the right move?

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit
RETURN TO FORM: Need for Speed Hot Pursuit was a resurgence in NFS

Criterion’s pedigree is a good one, the British developer has made some excellent games over the years, including some NFS titles. 2010’s Hot Pursuit and 2012’s Most Wanted are the only two NFS Criterion has made in full.

Most Wanted and Hot Pursuit are still the most impressive NFS games since the PS2 era though, and Criterion’s back catalogue includes far more than those two entries.

The Burnout series was exclusively made by Criterion from 2001 until 2008’s Burnout Paradise, one of the greatest open-world racing games ever. Burnout was not too dissimilar to NFS in that it was a highly action-orientated arcade racer that also peaked in the mid-2000s.

READ MORE: How to drift and drive fast in NFS Heat

The main difference between Burnout and NFS was that Criterion knew when to pull the plug on Burnout, they recognised when it’s time in the sun was over and concluded the franchise on a high.

Need for Speed arguably should’ve done the same in the past, but we find ourselves in this situation. The only thing that will prevent a future NFS game is if the franchise is no longer profitable and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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Criterion also produced Black, one of the best first-person shooters of the sixth generation. In more recent times, they’ve also contributed to recent Battlefield and Star Wars games, showing the range of games that they’re able to work on.

Where it goes from here

NFS Heat
BETTER BUT NOT PERFECT: Heat was an improvement but some way off what we expect from NFS

The next NFS game will likely be available in 2021, as the series’ games have been released every other year since Rivals in 2013. This should be ample time for Criterion to produce an excellent arcade racer of the quality that we’ve come to expect from Burnout and their stint with NFS.

Many of Heat’s issues were to do with the gameplay and should be able to be fixed during the almost two years Criterion have at their disposal. Graphically and audibly Heat was brilliant and its amazing customisation options were top quality.

If any developer can recapture NFS’ glory days, it’s Criterion, as they’ve consistently delivered through their history and innovated in their products. I expect NFS 2021 to continue this trend, but this franchise could now be a poisoned chalice ready to claim another victim.

George Howson