Wot I Think: Need For Speed World

By John Walker on July 29th, 2010 at 11:30 am.

Well, Need For Speed: Village

EA’s free-to-play street racing MMO, Need For Speed: World, is available to download now. NFSW it’s known as. But don’t misread that – there’s nothing below that’s not safe for work. The free version lets you play to level 10, while paying for a Starter kit gives you 50 levels and a lot more vehicles. Is it worth it? I’ve driven my way past level 10 to find out, so read on to learn Wot I Think.

To get an idea of things, imagine the result of this sum:

Burnout Paradise – smashing stuff – game modes + Test Drive Unlimited – impromptu races.

There’s a lot of complaining below. Because the game does an awful lot wrong. But I want to stress one thing before we get started: the driving is great fun. The cars handle in a really friendly way, letting you take corners at ridiculous speeds, gripping tightly to the roads in a way that may not be realistic, but certainly allows room for entertaining hurtling. If anything, the frustration of the failure of NFSW is that it’s clearly a really solid racing game, woefully short of much to do.

You buy a car, take that car to the streets, where there is little to do other than enter one of three races. Win those, and you’ll likely level up, choosing bonuses – Driver Skills – for your driving each time. Then a few more races open up. Win those, and, well, it doesn’t repeat. This time only a couple of races open up. Get to level 4 and one new one appears. By the time you’re at level 7, barely anything new to do turns up, but the XP required to continue involves winning multiple races. So you’re forced to compete in the same few races over and over again.

And to repeat myself already, the first time you play the race it’s a good deal of fun. Ridiculously fast, screeching around corners, bashing opponents out of the way, it clearly demonstrates itself as a potentially entertaining online racer. Finding races is also sometimes extremely easy. There’s no need to drive to the start of an event (something Burnout Paradise could have considered) – instead you’re instantly teleported there. The game, when it works, finds seven other opponents also wanting to try that event, and then drops you in at the start. It’s rare to have to wait around too long, and you can see before you choose which races are heavily populated.

You gain money along with XP (or “Rep”, although I won’t remember to call it that again), as well with bonus ‘cards’, Race Rewards, that let you pull off special moves during races. Perhaps a nitrous boost, or a Traffic Magnet, something that causes the NPC traffic to veer into the leading car in a race. There’s a bonus that lets your rubber-band your way toward the front, and another that creates a temporary shield around your car. The effects of these bonuses can be improved when you choose your new skills for levelling up. The money is spent in your home base, where you can purchase new cars, or tweak cars you currently own.

There’s literally two race modes open. A straight 8 car race, or an 8 car race with laps. The Race Rewards add a peculiar dynamic, almost a Mario Kart tone to things. Issuing a Traffic Magnet means the person in the lead is at an instant disadvantage – something that makes splendid sense in Mario Kart, but very little here. Do well and the traffic will crash into you, and if it catches you badly you’ll definitely not win. Why isn’t there an option to race without Rewards? Why can’t the private races with friends let you pick which rules apply?

Tweaking cars you currently own? That sounds good, right? Well, no. You can add one of three unexplained packages for features for a car, which aesthetically changes the skirt of the vehicle, and increases the stats for the three meters – Top Speed, Acceleration, Handling. Want to improve your tyres? Tweak the engine? Crank up your nitrous? Sorry, not in any tangible way. You pick a pack, and wonder how it’s different from the other two available.

More specific tweaking comes from the similarly ambiguous options chosen during levelling up, where you’re given no visible feedback about how these change your car or your skills. Choosing Ram makes your car heavier when driving into others. How much heavier? How much better than it was before? No information.

Visible feedback is pretty much absent throughout. Buying a new car requires taking a screenshot of your current car, then switching back and forth between it and the game so you can compare its stats with those available. The game doesn’t appear at all interested in helping you with this. So instead you keep grinding for new levels, in the hope it will open up something interesting.

The other alternative for gathering XP is spotting a police car and driving into it. This triggers Pursuit mode, where you must attempt to escape the constantly increasing police response.

This, as it happens, is the most fun part of the game. While it may sound like the most irritating aspect of a GTA game (I want to trigger this mission, but I can’t until I’ve shaken my police tail…), it is instead quite a potentially fun escalating chase through the big city.

Potentially. Because it fails to live up to its possibilities. How the chase goes appears to be completely random, and has little to do with your driving skills. If you’re lucky the game steps up and throws loads of police after you, making for a fun time. If you’re not you inexplicably lose them, and it’s over.

There’s techniques for shaking your tails. Various objects in the world are highlighted by attracting red arrows, indicating that if you plough through them they’ll collapse, squishing anyone immediately behind you. While this is an odd design – you’ll only see your success if you look behind you, something you don’t really want to do in a high-speed chase – it is reasonably effective at taking out cops… sometimes.

But the biggest failing is getting “busted”. If the police successfully stop you, then you’ve failed to escape and while you’ll still get XP, you lose a bit of cash. However, the criteria for being “busted” are ludicrous. Because the cars don’t take much meaningful damage, beyond losing tyres if spiked, there’s no way for them to grind you down until you can’t drive any further. So instead the game deems you arrested if you’re moving slowly with police cars near you, despite the fact that you’re reversing away from them at the time. This became even more ludicrous the time my car landed on top of two cop cars, and apparently this was enough to do me in.

(Oh, and all this is only possible if the police car you hit isn’t one the game has decided isn’t active any more. Sometimes you can roll them on their back and nothing happens.)

But it’s free, right? Well, in the most part, yes. But if you want to have advantages over other players, you can buy your way to them. And if you want to get at more than 11 races total, past level 10, and access anything other than the most basic cars (without renting them), you’ll need to fork out the $20. But things get even more confusing when it comes to SpeedBoost.

SpeedBoost can be bought for real-world money. And the game is determined for you to spend it at all available moments. And it’s also determined to make it completely unclear what you’re spending, how much you have, and if you need it.

So finish a race and the XP, money, and Race Rewards all appear in various windows. Also, you’re told you can get, say, a 10% bonus in nitrous if you click the yellow button. It doesn’t explain what Boost is, tell you why you have it, nor at this point how much you have. So assuming it’s another in-game thing I receive, I click. And the offer appears again. And again.

The game’s help guide never once mentions Boost. It’s conspicuous in its absence from all the specific game guide information. However, click the icon top right and the Boost window explains all:

“SpeedBoost is the virtual currency of Need For Speed World. You can use this currency to buy digital content such as car rentals, powerups, and amplifiers. Boost can be used in the game and at world.needforspeed.com.”

Well, no. The in-game currency is dollars. I currently have $15,787 of them, having bought myself a new Volkswagen and a Dodge. You’re given this money when you compete. It’s what you use to buy cars and kit. SpeedBoost is a real-world currency, with a pretend name. However, that section entitled “What Is Boost?” doesn’t feel the need to mention that it’s real money at any point.

The next tab is the SpeedBoost Store, where I can buy Race Rewards without earning them. 5 Traffic Magnet cards will cost me 330 Boost. Is that a lot? I don’t yet know, because even when it’s letting me spend it (and the same is true at all other opportunities to spend it in the game, and they are legion), it won’t tell me how much I have.

It’s only when you click on the Add Boost tab that we’re suddenly told what we’ve got. I have 5,900 apparently. To add more I must leave the game and go to the web page it will open. Still even at this point it’s not telling me that this will be real money.

And at the website, at last, it is clear. 1,500 Boost costs £4. 17,500 Boost costs £30.

If you buy the game’s Starter Pack for $20, it comes with $20 worth of SpeedBoost, a unique car, and 40 more levels to climb through than the unpaying masses, who are limited to the first 10.

And so on I grind, driving toward level 10, trying to find out what lies beyond the unpaying customer. At level 8 there are now 11 races available, each offering only around 400XP for a win, and middling 200s for a middling finish, with 4,800 required to get to level 9. And of course 8 of those 11 races were the ones trudged through multiple times during level 7, and so on and so on for ever and ever and ever. Pursuit mode can gain you lots of XP at once, but only if you manage to navigate its nonsense, ideally by finding exploits.

Play against NPCs rather than real humans and the XP for a win is below the amount you’ll get for coming last in a multiplayer race. Why? It’s definitely slightly easier, but when the MP is laggy or broken, it should be a way to rack up some sensible points.

Reach level 9. 5,850XP required to reach level 10. No new races appear. Then eventually one new one pops up at a seemingly random moment. The game now starts flickering as I race, the picture vanishing whenever another car in the race gets close. Switch out of Windowed mode and this seems to disappear, but the lag is increasing, opponents vanishing and reappearing all over the track, strobing in front of me.

The issues keep on piling in. It crashes frequently, load times for multiplayer races can be enormous (as much as two minutes, and then when they finally finish they can be badly bugged), random NPC cars will madly veer into you for absolutely no reason (and I stress when you don’t have a traffic magnet on you), flipping your car and putting you too far back in the race to ever catch up. The forums are alive with complaints that people are using “speedhacks” and the like to win at races. But most of all, despite the litany of issues, the problem is they’ve released an empty game.

These few races before level 10, by the way, are all in one area of the city. And as such most of them have huge stretches of road in common, letting even this scant few blur together. The short-cuts become familiar, the corners well known.

And I make it. Level 10 is reached. I’ve broken into the pay-for content. I’ve got… access to a couple more cars, imperceptibly better than my current ones, and one more race. ONE. And I carry on, and nothing changes. Race, Pursuit, Race, Pursuit, Race, Pursuit…

The process of grinding this far was mostly tedious. Which is immensely frustrating, as there’s clearly a solid online race here. The first couple of times with a course are often great. After that, familiarity breeds contempt, and the AI and lag issues become the focal point. If they’d only bothered to put more features into it, this would be worth celebrating. Instead it’s sparse to the point of barren, with a horrible lack of ideas.

It is claimed that more shall be added as time goes on, with larger updates every two to three months. So perhaps in six to nine months time, when the game’s been given the content it should obviously have had at launch, perhaps it will make use of its engine.

For now this is echoingly empty, madly repetitive, and often infuriating. Back up the content lorry, empty its load, and then we’ll come back.

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42 Comments »

  1. SquareWheel says:

    I loved the beta, but I hate games that try to gouge you for money at every turn. It’s the reason I don’t play Battlefield Heroes.

    • Zogtee says:

      I have started to dislike this approach as well, just about when it’s starting to catch on too. My timing is flawless as usual. I’d rather they just sell the game to me. Throw it up on Steam, put a price on it, job’s done. Running it like an MMO is like meeting beggars on the streets. There’s one on every fucking corner, all holding their caps out. “Please govnor! Just a few quid, so me and the wife can eat! I’ll give you some extra XP, I will, and a new paintjob for yer car! Cough, cough. Oooh, me health isn’t what it used to be…”

  2. Diziet says:

    My god, so what I played briefly in beta was in fact the whole game at launch? Oh dear, it was so empty at beta. I amused myself mostly with the complete lack of collision detection on the world map rather than anything in the races.

  3. Freud says:

    I enjoy racing games that are laugh in the face of physics and that you can control with WASD. But this game seems a bit tedious and I really hate the F2PP2BAG (free to play, pay to be any good) model. I know it is hard to monetize stuff but I would feel like a junkie and a bad player every time I buy more speed boosts with real life money.

  4. Matt says:

    Spot on. The pursuits were the most fun part of the game until I discovered their strange criteria for being busted, and rewards for everything (pursuits and races) were far too grindy.

    There was some sort of damage modeling going on, but I never was able to understand it – it just felt like my tires were rubbing against the undercarriage.

    Ultimately, if you want to drive a Mazda 3 with extremely arcade handling and not a whole lot else to do, this is the game for you.

  5. Daniel Klein says:

    When will people start getting this right? In a free to play game, you don’t sell power. You sell a reasonable amount of convenience and all the aesthetics you want, but you never sell power. It’s the quickest way to alienate your non-paying customers, and once you’ve alienated those and they’ve left, the paying customers (all three of them) have no one left to play with.

    Thanks for the review; I know now that this is not a game I want to check out. Waiting for Criterion’s NFS.

    • Koozer says:

      *cough*worldoftanks*cough*

      The ‘gold’ (bought with real moolah) buys you 50% more credits/xp rewards from matches for a limited time (a premium account), the ability to convert xp for one tank into free xp spendable on any, or converted straight into credits.

      The gold also buys you premium tanks like the Churchill or Stuart, which are in effect mostly for show but do have low maintenance costs, and HEAT shells for every gun, which in effect are exactly the same as AP shells but with ridiculously high armour penetration. They are theoretically only useful if you’re in a rubbish tank trying to kill a bigger one, but noone really uses them in the beta at least.

    • Nallen says:

      Yeah, make a bloody good game and then charge for the fun extras and bragging rights.

      I wonder how CCP would do if the halved the subscription cost, but say let you pay 50p to paint your T2 ship. I could see a lot of pirate corps wanting matching war paint.

      I can also see a lot of Goons invading with a fleet of dongs…

    • pepper says:

      Koozer, WoT has a completely different set of problems, as in the gameplay is rubbish, and as soon as you have the first set of tanks its just a big boring grinder, in which if unfortunate have to play the same levels over and over again.

  6. Heliocentric says:

    These people made burnout paradise. Buy that instead, I’ve seen it for £5. That game has nonsense drm as well such as “unlock everything” for about £5.

    Instead, play the game to unlock things, its fun.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Err no Criterion are making Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. They had nothing to do with this game, it is a completely EA developed property.

      I do agree with buying Burnout Paradise though. I don’t play car racing games in general (i’ll happily do stuff like Wipeout though) but I love Burnout Paradise to a ridiculous degree (on PS3 I must stipulate although I expect it’s just as good on PC with a reasonably good gamepad attached).

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Burnout Paradise is notable for having very good keyboard controls*. The cars are eminently drivable, and even the motorcycles handle well with keyboard, which is almost unheard of.

      *For driving. Not for the UI and menus, they’re certifiably insane, of the “pick a random key to do the job of this gamepad button in the menus” variety.

    • Heliocentric says:

      I’m playing burnout with a 360 pad but yes, otherwise the menu controls are of the “think of a random letter” that does “think of a function” variety.

      Now, when i said the same people, i meant ea, after all they do own both studios don’t they? Surely resources could be crossed.

    • terry says:

      The only thing missing from Burnout Paradise was a way to pop a cap in DJ Atomica. Seriously.

    • Jake says:

      Having played all the Burnouts and SSX games to death I quite like DJ Atomica, he is like an old familiar friend that you would probably shoot in the balls with no hesitation if the opportunity to get cleanly away with it arose.

      Did you know the same actor did the voice of Sten in Dragon Age?

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Now, when i said the same people, i meant ea, after all they do own both studios don’t they? Surely resources could be crossed.

      You’d be surprised to learn that some people actually think letting developers develop games without external pressures/influences is a good thing. In my experience, dragging people from project to project expecting them to polish someone else’s turd never works & devalues all associated projects as a result.

      Hot Pursuit is the first NFS game Criterion have ever worked on even though EA have owned them for 6 years now & from what’s been shown so far, it’s essentially Burnout: Need for Speed which is also a good thing in my book. It’s the first NFS branded game I’m actually considering buying since the first one around 15 years ago on the 3DO.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @Malibu Stacey: Gamepad? Silly you! That’s like playing a shooter with a gamepad! ^^
      I play it with my t(h)rusted (*cough*) Thrustmaster Force Feedback Racing Wheel (yes, it really has that name ^^). It’s old, but it was cheap and it’s one of the best ones ever made. Also it works really really well with Burnout, Richard Burns Rally, and Codemasters games.

      I like Burnout Paradise, because it’s incredibly fluid. I have yet to see it stutter even once. I’d love to work with those engine programmers (and “not adding too much content”…ers. Hats off to them! :)

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @terry: Seconded. In the German translation, she was even worse. And there was NO option to stop her. When I play it again, I consider replacing all audio files with her with zero-length ones.

    • James says:

      @BAReFOOt: I didn’t think we was that bad.

      Wait. “She”? “Her”? Oh, wow. I have got to find some youtube footage of the German version.

  7. Malibu Stacey says:

    The other alternative for gathering XP is spotting a police car and driving into it. This triggers Pursuit mode, where you must attempt to escape the constantly increasing police response.

    This, as it happens, is the most fun part of the game. While it may sound like the most irritating aspect of a GTA game (I want to trigger this mission, but I can’t until I’ve shaken my police tail…), it is instead quite a potentially fun escalating chase through the big city.

    I found that one of the most fun parts of GTA3. On the first island grab a reasonably nippy vehicle like the Dodge Viper from the car showroom near where Eightball’s house is, get yourself to 2 stars wanted level then burn around for as long as you can without getting arrested (you can choose whether you’re allowed to jump into a new car or not). I guess that’s what people talk about when they mean “Emergent Gameplay” though.

    • Jad says:

      I found that one of the most fun parts of GTA3. On the first island grab a reasonably nippy vehicle like the Dodge Viper from the car showroom near where Eightball’s house is, get yourself to 2 stars wanted level then burn around for as long as you can without getting arrested (you can choose whether you’re allowed to jump into a new car or not).

      You have basically described dozens upon dozens of hours of my life exactly.

  8. PHeMoX says:

    “So you’re forced to compete in the same few races over and over again.”

    Wow, so they’ve basically managed to put horrible MMO grinding into a racing game? Wtf is this world coming to.

    Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try the free version though. I might like it.

    • PHeMoX says:

      (the pursuit stuff seems interesting. Although the new Driver game may be more to my liking.)

  9. leo says:

    Clearly other companies want to replicate the TF2 model of regular updates, but ship a half-made game instead of a full game, hoping the updates will make a full game later on.

    BUT. it’s free, I think I have something to do next week.

  10. Clovis says:

    I don’t like the idea of escaping in pursuit mode. Did it work that way in the first NFS? It seems like more fun to just keep ramping up the response and giving the player points for keeping the pursuit going for as long as possible. When you actually get away the fun is over. I remember playing pursuit in NFS for hours on end.

    Why no multiplayer pursuit? When a player starts it, you give APB style notice to other players who get to join in as cops.

    • John Walker says:

      They say they are working on this, and hope to put it in a future update.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      The next installment in the NFS series (Hot Pursuit by Criterion Games) is essentially that as a whole game if I remember the feature in last months EDGE correctly.

    • -Spooky- says:

      The escape is part of NfS: Most Wanted / Undercover

      Need for Speed Hot Pursuit – Trailer / Gameplay E3 2010 EA Press Conference

      Their will be MP Pursuit ;)

  11. Sondar says:

    The shocking thing is that this could have so easily worked well. Look at the normal NFS games – Underground 2 and Most Wanted are the ones I remember most – and it’s obvious. Every 5 levels you unlock a new kind of race, and keep the speed camera + pursuit things from Most Wanted in so there’s stuff to do while driving around.

    Paid for content is obvious – there are loads of vinyls and colours and visual parts for your car that you could sell people, that was some of the best bits of Most Wanted.

  12. Ira says:

    <3 Mazda3

    At least I got to see my car in a racing game for once.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Devan says:

    I played in the beta for this game and while was often buggy or laggy, I still had quite a bit of fun. I just completely ignored the speedboost transactions and almost never used any powerups because they’re consumable. If you can play like that and still place well then it’s fairly enjoyable.
    Also, I suspect there will be a very large number of level 10 players out there, so theoretically it should be one of the best levels to be at (most availability of opponents, and reasonably fair matchmaking)

  14. BAReFOOt says:

    There’s a important reason Burnout makes you drive around: You get to know the city. Which is essential to winning the races. Also, the things you learn are by themselves very interesting. (Like whole areas that look like a forest on the map, but are actually a large playing ground with jumps and speeding tracks and all.)

    As usual, EA is synonymous for “games” created by what are slaves in all but the title, which only barely passed the “can be sold” barrier, and where EA tells you to fuck yourself, as soon as you did so.

    Every EA person I know either is an alcoholic, or takes worse drugs. If I ever “buy”* a “game” from them, please kill me instantly.

    * There is no such thing as buying a game. You can buy the service of making the game. But since the game itself is just information, it can of course not be owned. Which is why the thing says “license” at the beginning.

  15. Thants says:

    Wait, players can slip some money to the game company to make their car go faster than their opponents? That sound suspiciously like cheating.

  16. IncredibleBulk92 says:

    Shame. I was hoping this would just be Need For Speed with microtransactions (which I’m happy to ignore for a while). I guess I’ll wait until a decent patch adds normally accepted features to the game

  17. Jason Harris says:

    As one of the three people who actually played Need For Speed Online, this game sounds like a step down in almost every way.

    NFS:O didn’t have a free city mode…you picked your track, joined a lobby and raced other people. It also didn’t have a pursuit mode.
    However:
    - It was classic/muscle cars, which to me was more fun than current econo boxes
    - You could customize your paint, get one off awesome paint jobs in special events, etc.
    - You had insane level of control of your actual car…shocks, tires, cylinder heads, camshafts, ignition systems….pretty on bar with your Forza/GTA sim games when it comes to customizability
    - The racing was pretty reliable and not horrifically laggy.

    It was still grindy and you ended up racing on maybe 10 tracks over and over again, but it seems pretty silly that damned near 10 years later they seem to have taken a step backwards.

  18. NekroJakub says:

    Looks like EA did it again. You can rely on them to be greedy like that.

  19. mcl says:

    It’s amazing but they released something even more vacuous than APB.

  20. Rick says:

    Heard a lot of complaints about this game. Level R seems more interesting and for the people that complain about the cash shop, if you register Level R via gamecoach TV you get a free premium package worth about 10€, contains nitro, racing line and extra brake/acceleration performance. Registered there and playing with these benefits right now. Fun to play with friends and heard it has a lot more to offer than this game.