Turn the clock back to 2010, and you’ll find yourself in a world where all racing games were measured by the gargantuan franchise that was Need for Speed. Regardless of what kind of racing game it was, the gamers, and sometimes reviewers, would still judge it by names in the Need for Speed stables. And why not? Back then, they had arcades as well as simulators and a loyal fan base under their belt. Fast forward to present day, and the Need for Speed name is either being dragged through the mud, or worse, ignored and forgotten altogether.
How is it that a renowned franchise such as this has fallen into such dismay? A franchise almost synonymous with cars and racing is now considered a brand you’d rather overlook and not spend your hard earned money on. You’d think that having been in the industry since 1994 have earned them a wealth of knowledge and insight into the mind of the gamers, but their more recent titles feel more and more disconnected with the fan base.
It’s easy to say that EA, the company behind the franchise, is to blame for the progressively bad entries being made, but is it really that simple? Let’s go through all the possible scenarios that could be hampering this series from claiming its bygone glory.
New kids on the block
Back in the heydays of NFS, there weren’t really that many titles that could really challenge it. Rather, it was the yardstick by which other racing games were judged. However, the competition started to rise to the challenge, and newcomers were suddenly taking the virtual racing scene by storm. Titles like the Test Drive Unlimited series, Burnout Paradise, and the newly competing Forza Horizon series was showing the way forwards with arcade racing games. Unfortunately, Need for Speed did not have the same development pace as its competitors, instead stubbornly sticking to age-old formulas instead.
Up until 2002, the formula of NFS was pretty straightforward; exotics darting across scenic, albeit closed, tracks and maybe throw in a police chase or two for a good surge of adrenaline. That all started to change, however, when car culture as we knew it started to shift to a new paradigm thanks to the first two Fast and Furious movies (back when they were about cars and racing, that is). EA was smart to jump in on this with their newly rebooted Need for Speed Underground and its subsequent follow-up titles. The new formula was all about self expression through the customization of one’s car, and the new titles were providing that in spades. However, pushing the same styled content over and over again does tend to grind on one’s tastes, and unfortunately, that was precisely what had happened. EA had even gone as far as to bring back the exotics, pretty tracks and police chases in the hopes of getting fans back under the banner, but of course this wasn’t exactly what the fans wanted.
Don’t know if you noticed, but NFS has been going through a bit of an identity crisis in the recent years thanks to the inconsistent number of studios that have worked on its various instalments and that’s another reason NFS can’t match up to its competitors. Take the era of Underground for example. The first one, its sequel, Carbon, 2005’s Most Wanted, and Pro Street were all developed under Black Box games. All of these were hits with the audience and it gave Black Box studios a wealth of experience that could have filtered down to future titles. However, as history teaches us, EA has a habit of acquiring studios and then dissolving them, and as such, Black Box was dissolved, and future titles were put under charge of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout series. And that lineage showed, as Need for Speed suddenly started getting Burnout-esque crashes and lacked any kind of customization other than colours, and the same thing happened when they decided to do an arcade-y remake of the beloved Most Wanted title. With things starting to crumble, EA handed over development of the next title, Rivals, to the current studio, Ghost Games, with Criterion overseeing things. It was the first time in a long time that customization, albeit rudimentary, had popped up.
As history teaches us, EA has a habit of acquiring studios and then dissolving them, and as such, Black Box was dissolved, and future titles were put under charge of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout series.
Ghost Games seemed to have gotten their bearing with their 2015 reboot of the franchise, finally returning to the belly of underground racing and deep levels of customization. Ghost Games also has a good rapport with the community as many of the feedback was actually addressed, unlike in the past. Aside from a few technical and handling glitches, it was well received by fans and hailed as the first step to NFS’s return, and when 2017’s Payback was announced, fans waited with bated breath for Ghost’s second outing. However, the slot machine style “Speed Card “performance upgrades and EA’s new-found greed of incorporating lootboxes have otherwise ruined a good sequel.
All the problems outlined above are indeed a breakdown of things that EA should be able to manage, and yet it isn’t happening. What is happening instead is the Need for Speed name keeps getting more and more negative hits, and with games like Forza now making it’s way into the PC realm, EA can no keep the racing market all to itself. This isn’t the first time a beloved franchise went down under because of profit-making initiatives, with Mass Effect, and Star Wars Battlefronts being recent victims. Unless Ghost Games start addressing these issues and ACTUALLY start listening to their fan base, they may actually have to drag this franchise to the digital graveyard .
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and not to be attributed to HIFI Public or its editorial team in any way.