Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Need for Speed: ProStreet
(Playstation 3)

At first glance, Need For Speed: ProStreet looks like a massive departure from the previous titles in the series. Gone are the open-ended explorable worlds of Most Wanted and Carbon, the police seem to have vanished and the visuals have gotten a facelift. Instead of sleek urban locations, we get a hip-hop infused vibe in a series of street races in a new 'race day' structure. Additionally, the cars now take damage and you need to buy markers in order to repair them between races. These changes are disconcerting, but once you get under the hood, you'll find a familiar style of racing, comfortable controls and many of the same modes you've come to expect, along with a few new refreshing surprises. It's not the same NFS you're used to, but ProStreet is a solid racer that adds some new ideas and stylish sensibility to the series.

Need for Speed: ProStreet takes the long-running series in yet another new direction, focusing now on underground tuner street racing. It's definitely not the same game you remember - the cop chases and open-ended cities of previous games have been replaced by a new street culture driven race, the structure has completely changed to race days and there are new modes of play. The game's trademark Autosculpt feature remains true to form, though the vehicles now show off the changes in real-time. Under the hood, it's fairly familiar, but there are some pretty significant changes this time around. The main new feature this time are what are called race days, where you can compete against other drivers in a series of events on a single course. This system is fairly straightforward in terms of presentation making it easy to understand how to progress. During each Race Day, there are the usual speed races, divided into grip and drift race types, which are self explanatory. In addition to standard driving, ProStreet includes drag racing modes and a new event type called Speed Challenge. In this mode, each section of the track is divided into four sections, and the driver with the fastest time in that section wins that area of the race. These are a lot more challenging than normal races because they require you to be good in all sections of the track, so you can't realy slack off. In order to progress to the next Race Day, players have to beat their rivals on all the events, which isn't as easy as it sounds. Some of the races are fairly standard in construction, while others are timed and set up so you take turns at the starting gate. Most of the races are point-to-point, but there are also drag courses where you have to burn out against an opponent for the fastest time on the strip. Mastering the drags requires a unique set of skills because drag racing is very different from normal rounds, and involve timing your shifts perfectly more than mastering the art of cornering your vehicle. These events are cumulative and the fastest time in three heats wins the round.

During the races, the cars take damage this time around, which is another significant change. Minor fender benders cause little damage, while big crashes might total your vehicle and end the race, so you have to be careful not to do this. The more damage your car takes, the more marks you'll need in order to repair it. When you have a damaged vehicle after a race is finished, you must repair it in order to race again. The game gives you different types of cars for each race and you have one backup vehicle to use as well. This gives the player an immediate garage of vehicles to select from, making things a bit easier. Individual races take place on a real-world course, which means you'll encounter real world locations such as Tokyo and the Nevada desert instead of a fictitious city. ProStreet's overall design and structure have been changed as well, though there are still the end-of-round boss battles against the Street Kings, where you face off against a single opponent to battle for supremacy. Aside from the extensive career mode, the game also lets you compete in single races in a variety of locations, though you can't unlock much doing this. There is also an extensive online mode included, the highlight of which is to upload your designs to what are called "Blueprints" which other players can then use in their own races, which is a cool feature.

As you can tell from the screen shots, the game definitely has a more underground feel this year, and the cars' looks reflect this in more elaborate decals and designs that are available this time around. You can also make extensive changes to your vehicles' appearance, and the new engine reflects the game's more versatile creation features. This makes for a more realistic experience and the game's graphics engine has changed to reflect this. Instead of a glossy, shiny environment, there's now a grittier feel to the action that extends to the car models. ProStreet runs at a consistent frame-rate throughout and there are some intense sequences in the game. In addition to the colors and decals, you can customize your vehicle under the hood, and their ability to be tweaked gives players some impressive under-the-hood options that can significantly improve their performance on the track. There are hundreds of real world parts and items that you can put into your vehicles, each of which adds to the game. These customization features are impressive and give you the ability to truly put your own personal stamp on the game, which adds to its alternative feel. ProStreet's visuals reflect this in the trackside objects, which are enhanced by funky massive balloons, graffiti-inspired sings and a stylish presentation for the menus. However, once you get on the track, you'll find the same solid play mechanics you've become accustomed to, with glassy surfaces and a more realistic damage and AI system that eschews the previously arcade-style physics in favor of authentic feeling vehicles. The damage system adds a new dimension to the racing as well, and you won't be able to get away with as much as you did in the previous NFS games. This takes some getting used to, but the tradeoff comes with creating a more realistic and deeper racing experience. The new structure feels a bit more constrained and linear than the more open-ended approach used in previous NFS games, which is an odd choice considering the outlaw street feel the developers were obviously trying to achieve. While they made the game more realistic overall, the driving feels much more rigid and controlled, which makes ProStreet feel less free than previous titles when its all put together.

NFS: ProStreet implements some dramatic changes in this year's installment, and while some of these, like the cheesy 'hardcore' attitude don't really work, there are still plenty of solid elements in the game. The selection of muscle cars is impressive and the damage system makes for a more challenging game. However, this approach comes at the expense of the sense of freedom and exploration the older games offered. Using real-life courses instead of a fantasy city gives the game some added realism, but there new structure feels more constrained this time around. The different modes of play allow for fast progression and are still many underground challenges. Its new Speed Section mode is really cool, but the new wheelie challenges aren't that impressive. Extensive multiplayer options and a fun new blueprint mode adds depth to the online experience, and these enhanced community features should extend the game's replay value. In addition, EA is already offering downloadable vehicles and extras online, which makes this an important part of the game this year. For all the effort that's gone into it, Need For Speed: ProStreet is kind of a wash, adding and subtracting different elements to make a game that feels very different in a lot of ways. This is still a Need For Speed game at heart, and while many of the changes aren't necessarily for the better, ProStreet is still a decent ride.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: C+

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