Electronic Arts is calling their next entry into their iconic Need for Speed series a reboot, echoing buzzwords and happy memories of the many highpoints that the racing series has provided over the past 20 years. Announced with their signature “in-game engine” teaser trailer, a Porsche and a Mustang are sliding around a city’s late night streets as police cruisers scream after them in tow.
Whatever Electronic Arts is up to, their marketing team needs to stop using lowest common denominator terms. It is insulting.
Let’s be honest.
Need for Speed does not deserve the term “reboot”. It is a series that’s sole purpose has been racing and that style of racing has changed from title to title. Sure the early Need for Speed games were just about racing exotics through the country hills, NFS3: Hot Pursuit added police chases. Then it got crazy with Underground’s popularity, which led to Most Wanted and the proliferation of the incredibly campy (but slightly endearing) FMV cutscenes. But what did NFS ProStreet, Carbon, Shift or Rivals have to do with any of this formula?
Need for Speed does not have a formula beyond fast cars, loose arcade style physics with the modern focus of police pursuits that has been a recurring feature for over 15 years.
So to call it a reboot is incorrect. Nothing has changed about Need for Speed. EA has gotten progressively more impatient with the development studios that have done great things (and mediocre things) for the franchise. Black Box brought on the popularity of Underground but met their end after ProStreet, Undercover and The Run were underwhelming. Criterion Games, one of the best arcade racing development studios of all time, flamed out after two games. Both Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted were critical darlings, but had trouble latching on to audiences in the way that past games had. Criterion ended up handing Need for Speed off to Ghost games, which made the decent but hardly attention grabbing Rivals.
I speak from an angle of adoration for the Need for Speed franchise. I want it to do good things, which is why I stuck by it over the years. It will likely never be the best racing game on the market, but it has managed to carve out a particular following with a great combination of mechanics and loose arcade-style freedom. I trumpeted praise for 2012’s Most Wanted, despite its slightly hollow core. I played through the entirety of The Run and concluded that the best moments of the game were contained in the demo. I adored Porsche Unleashed’s 4 point physics model that was unheard of in the franchise. I modded High Stakes, became obsessed with Underground and think Shift is the most underrated title in the franchise. But Electronic Arts can not lie to us.
The phrase that stands out in Electronic Arts’ announcement is “deep customization, authentic urban car culture, a nocturnal open world, and an immersive narrative that pulls you through the game.” They can tout a reboot as much as they want. But at the end of the day, they’re going back to a game that ended up making their biggest successes. This is Underground. This is Most Wanted. This is Rivals. This is Hot Pursuit. This is every Need for Speed game that they’ve ever made, put into one product. They are desperately fighting for recognition. Maybe they should bring back Black Box.
But unless it has FMV cutscenes. It’s not a reboot.