Need for Speed, Don’t Call it a Comeback (Reboot)

Need for SpeedElectronic 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 SpeedNeed 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.

Need for SpeedThe 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.

Criterion Games Co-Founders Leave Studio

Burnout Paradise

Two of Criterion Games’ co-founders have left the Electronic Arts studio famous for creating the Burnout franchise. According to a statement released by Electronic Arts, vice president and creative director Alex Ward and studio director Fiona Perry both decided to part ways with the company. Executive producer Matt Webster will assume leadership of Criterion Games.

Criterion Games was seen as a bit of a golden child within Electronic Arts. Burnout Paradise was one of the best racing games of the past console generation and their first entry into the Need for Speed series, Hot Pursuit, was seen as invigorating for the stagnant franchise. In 2012, Criterion was given creative control of the Need for Speed franchise and saw the release of the well received Most Wanted.

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit

But just a year later, confusion began to swirl around Criterion Games. Development of the next Need for Speed, Rivals, was given to the new studio Ghost Games. While Electronic Arts had historically tossed the Need for Speed franchise between multiple studios (recently Black Box and Criterion), the announcement of Ghost Games taking the point was followed with the startling news that a large number of Criterion staff were transferred to Ghost Games, seemingly to assist with development of Rivals.

Fast forward to August, just months after the announcement of Rivals, and Electronic Arts dropped the news that Ghost Games would assume creative direction of the Need for Speed franchise moving forward. It seems that Criterion Games had lost favor within the EA conglomerate.

Need for Speed Most Wanted

Criterion’s fall from grace is startling, especially considering the studio has never created a truly terrible game. The Burnout games consistently improved upon themselves and their Need for Speed entries were top notch. Even EA acknowledged the talent within the studio, by moving the vast majority of the company into Ghost Games.

I sincerely hope the Burnout franchise doesn’t die as a result of Criterion’s potential crumble. But it wouldn’t be the first franchise to fall victim to studio mishandling.

Need for Speed Rivals

As for Ward and Perry, the pair have decided to branch off on their own and create a new studio together. Here’s hoping they bring back crash mode in their spiritual successor to Burnout.

Polygon – Co-founders of Criterion Games, creators of Burnout, leave studio

Top Ten Tuesday E3 2013 Edition – Biggest News to Come Out of the Pre-Show Presentations

E3 officially begins today, as the show will open to denizens of reporters (not named Theory Flaw) ready for terrible food, hourly deadlines and product demos galore. But while many games will get their moment of glory in the coming days, the major players have already opened their hands for heads-up poker. Franchise reboots, new exclusives, new consoles and product strategy highlight this list of the biggest news to come out of the pre-show presentations.

10. Crimson Dragon

I had to try my hardest not to write Dragoon because this is clearly designed in the vein of the stellar dragon riding series Panzer Dragoon. Even bringing back Panzer Dragoon series director Yukio Futatsugi this Kinect based Xbox One game features massive bosses and gorgeous dragon-borne aerial combat. While I fear it may play a little too closely to Child of Eden, this is clearly a bold move by Microsoft.

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Need for Speed Most Wanted Review – Recapturing Glory

Need for Speed Most Wanted

2005’s Need for Speed Most Wanted is probably the pinnacle of the long running racing franchise. Sure there were great entries like Hot Pursuit, Underground and especially Need for Speed 2 SE, but Most Wanted was a perfect blend of technical design, challenging gameplay and undeniably fun moments. When Criterion was tapped to remake a second Need for Speed (the first being 2010’s Hot Pursuit remake), my excitement was palpable.

Criterion’s Hot Pursuit was a glimpse of what the studio, then best known for the Burnout series, could do with a brand name franchise, the backing of a major publisher, and a stable of licensed vehicles. The results were impressive to say the least. Hot Pursuit not only cemented Criterion’s legacy as one of the top racing development studios but it brought Need for Speed back into the limelight, after many had written the series off as stale and repetitive.

Need for Speed Most Wanted

The first thing that I noticed when driving into the city of Fairhaven is that Most Wanted is a stunning game. The city skyline pops, the road has just the right mixture of sheen and grit, and the sunlight dances across the meticulously modeled cars. Your first car in the game is an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish painted in classic silver. The Vanquish’s engine lets out a low growl as you pick up speed on the highway just to throw the rear wheels out for a high speed powerslide. As you are getting a feel for this British beast, you are directed on your GPS to your first landmark, your second car: a Porsche 911 Carrera S. Continue reading