Monday, April 12, 2010

Need for Wake Up Call

I came across a very confusing statement a few months back and I have now seen it repeated over and over again. Need For Speed is apparently abandoning its Tuned Golf GTI's and going back to its roots with NFS Shift.

Wait, what?

I have been looking back into my life trying to find the time I apparently spent in a coma. I have questioned my parents, considered kidnapping and interrogating my teachers and beating the truth out of my friends with a marble ash tray but for the life of me I can not understand how I have missed “Need For Speed Zero: Gran Turismo”. NFS has never been about Racetracks and who gives a damn about the in-car view? You can't see jack from that camera anyway.

You see, the only one I remember as the first NFS game was indeed Need For Speed. So apparently I have been medically incapacitated for a few years or I have happened upon a glitch in the Matrix. However, being the logical person I am I came to a better conclusion. What we have here is pure, unadulterated, 100% grain fed, home grown bull. It is marketing speak. It is an obvious lie to the people that love this franchise in an attempt to make them forget the sad episodes that came after NFS Underground.

The only problem is, when you make such a statement you usually have to make sure it is somewhat accurate. You see, with Underground, NFS broke away from what it did best, tried to save some dough on IP usage from exotic car makers and cash in on that horrid Vin Diesel movie that had about as much to do with proper cars as the broken sleep button on my keyboard has anything to do with my insomnia.

Back to its roots? I believe a more accurate statement would have been “NFS is going back to Gran Turismo's roots.” Am I the only person that looks at this title shaking my head and dying a little inside? They first made the mistake of giving us Suped-up Corollas and now they are going even further from what made the game special?

So what made NFS special? Trying to pin it on one aspect is just impossible and putting it into words is even harder but for me it was an emotion. A feeling of awe, reward and lust. I know many people are going to differ from me for this but here is what made NFS creep into my heart over and over again.

Recipe for Proper NFS (Serves 1 or more)

Take 20 of the most exotic cars you can imagine, add in 10 or so stunning landscapes, mix in with some great realism vs fun balance and serve on a mind blowing Sound Track with a sprinkle of multiplayer to wipe that smile off your buddy's mug.

That is what NFS was to me. Firstly the cars were never something you would see parked at the local McDonalds on Sunday mornings. The lowest level of wheels was the likes of Z3's and Lotus Elise's. It was filled with cars you would probably never get to drive, not your dad's Civic. I don't know if Toyota charges less for the rights to use its cars in a game than Ferrari but why suddenly flood the roster with cars that you could easily have in real life and would probably turn down, given the choice, only adding in some nice machinery at the top of the list?

Does anyone remember that feeling when you had finally unlocked the Porche GT1 or the Diablo SV? The closest I ever came again to having to change my pants was getting a Bugatti Veyron for a mission only to find out that it was slower than the Nissan 200SX I tuned and could be outrun in a straight line by a Police SUV. I mean come on! As far as let downs go that ranks just below finding out your Girlfriend is related to you and just above Softcore Porn! Porsche Unleashed gave you a sense of pride as you bought your first 911 and that boggle in your mind when you found out what a Holden was in Hot Pursuit 2 was enough to start you giggling in fits. You can hardly ever over steer in NFS games but that thing was so tail happy you couldn't help but burst out laughing as you missed another Redwood tree by 2 inches.

Then there are the tracks. Ye gods, the Tracks! They had a design quality that made them stick in your mind for years after you finish the game. I know every fan remembers plowing through the Black Forest at 300kph in High Stakes. I am certain they remember trying to dodge that damn haystack when you took a left through town in Normandy. Or how about the majestic mountains of Pyrenees? Yes? And surely you can't forget that stunning Mediterranean setting with your tail-happy Holden trying it's best to make sure you can't catch the shortcut over the ocean. NFS tracks haunted you. They were a riddle of racing lines and routes begging to be perfected in your choice of wheels. I left anyone behind with my '73 Turbo on Zone Industrielle. My room mate could get everything out of a GT1 on Autobahn. The Z8 danced round the Volcano and how could you not scream with pleasure as your Diablo SV flew through a barn? Cote d'Azure was easy to learn, almost impossible to master. All this with the best Driving Sound Track you can imagine.

Now we get to plow through a city and some farmland that always looks the same in every possible direction, sometimes with magical barriers making us go left or right or we can trod past traffic looking form some other idiot with fetish for mirror writing to dice. And while slamming purposefully into whatever most resembles a Vosloorus Taxi has some satisfaction to it I get the feeling they should have called all the later titles “NFS: Brakpan visits Joburg CBD” I have peak hour traffic and idiots in Civics to deal with in real life. If I wanted this experience I could just put a stopwatch on my Garmin. If I wanted to run to safe houses I would play Grand Theft Auto.

Ironically of all the titles, Porsche made me fall in love the fastest. The pedigree, the pride, the haunting tracks, the difference between upgrading and tarting, the unique feel of every single model and the dream of having a collection of your favourite Stuttgart models. The first got my hands on the Demo with the Carrera on Normandy and I spent months playing that one Track, perfecting it, shaving tenths off my time. It sucked you in. Testament to the staying power of these games is that I have, to this day, 4 of those titles installed on my machine and I still play them.

The only game that has lasted longer with me is X-Com: Enemy Unknown but that is another topic.


  1. Ah, Normandy...many times I played that track. I think that Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed demo caused a great number of first years at Stellenbosch University to fail their courses...

  2. So true. I think I got more playing time out of that demo alone than I got out of the entire Underground.

  3. Oh God, Please tell me you have not seen the announcement on the new XCOM yesterday!!! Prepare to weep (In a bad way!!)

  4. I have become immune to new XCom games. Between Enforcer killing all the suspense of seeing Sectoids and the vast number of half baked rip-offs along with that cartoony 3D version that looked like Toy story I pretty much learned never to pay attention to new XCom news and just enjoy the original.

    How is it that I can get jitters from the suspense in a game from the 90's ith pixelised graphics yet I yawn when playing DeadSpace?