It's been interesting to watch EA's ongoing approach with the Need For Speed series over the past few years, and it now seems to be getting rather more complex. The past couple of generations of the series (it's up to around a dozen games now) had each game delivered with a new "angle", beyond simply being the next generation in the franchise, with ideas such as career structures, silly plots, realistic damage modeling, or open-world play. The last NFS game I played, Need For Speed Undercover, didn't really seem to deliver any of these notions convincingly, so it'll be interesting to see if the two-pronged reboot of Need For Speed: Shift and free racing MMO, Need For Speed: World Online, create something worth paying attention to, and breath new fumes into the series. Continued below...
First on the grid is Shift, which is being talked up as the fresh, hardcore, simulatory racer. Presumably the threat from Burnout games, and forthcoming games like Split/Second, means that the arcadey approach for retail, single player Need For Speed games no longer seems valid. Instead they're going for a more serious, competitive theme, with a more sober presentation. There's some talent from GTR 2 and GT Legends teams involved in the development of this one, and EA are claiming that their approach will make the game even more realistic than the GTR sequel. Expect lots of drift, lots of cars, and some realistic handling. There's a cockpit view, to buff that realism, and the big physics issue is g-forces, which will apparently effect the driver (somehow). Realism indeed. From the footage we've seen so far - the game is due in September, so it must be relatively complete - it's definitely looking like a strong showing. Whether the traditional Need For Speed audience will digest the changes, however, is something we can only guess at.
Or perhaps they won't have to care for too long, because they are also due to get Need For Speed: World Online, which is going to be a free-to-play racer - so probably employing a money model along the lines of Battlefield Heroes. EA have already proven that a paid-for racing MMO doesn't seem to cut it - with the now-defunct Motor City Online - but they're nevertheless willing to try again with the free model, and I like that prospect. Not many solid details yet, but the announcement promises lots of cars, which seemed like a given to me, but hey, the game is also going to feature environments from a bunch of the previous games, such as Most Wanted, and there's going to be opportunity for plenty of online cops 'n' racers game modes. The date for this is a vague "Q4 2009", but I wouldn't be surprised to see it shrinking back to 2010 in the West, even if it does make it into Asia this year. The first image also seems to show it being played in a browser.
Here's the trailer for NFS Shift:
Here's the teaser for NFS World Online: