After 16 years of life and “only” 18 games released, regardless of platform, the Need for Speed series has reached a point where there’s no room anymore to evolve or at least to improve the already known elements. Clear proof is the return to the classic Hot Pursuit, so the only way for EA to go was online, the part that until now wasn’t their main selling point, both in terms of gameplay and functionality.
Initially, NFS World was to be free-to-play up to level 10, after that relying on the typical MMO recipes, plus micro-transactions based on “boost”. After the launch, the game suddenly became entirely free-to-play and kept only the micro-transactions part. Tough luck, you suckers who bought the Starter Pack with shiny cars, now everybody has them and EA gives you just a kick in the ass, without any official apologies or any other concrete reward (two rental cars isn’t by far enough or fair, because I didn’t rent those guys the money I spent on the pack).
Besides the financial unpleasantness, after the intensive testing sessions that led up to this article I realized why the game became free so fast. Because it doesn’t take too much effort to understand that NFS World is a total chaos.
Where do I go?
Getting into the game for the first time is as simple as installing the client and logging in if you have an EA account. If not, just make one and start driving. Don’t get too excited though, because at the beginning you have neither the money nor the permission to own an angry Audi or a slick Nissan. I had to do with a Mazda 3 and I was away on the road. The gathering areas are different, but everybody has to take one or two single-player races to get to level two, after that having all multiplayer races at your disposal.
Everything’s nice, you level up, you start to compete with others. And you get to notice that not everything’s nice, from the AI’s erratic behavior to the lousy matchmaking where you stand no chance of winning at level 4 against racers who are level 15. Things are more balanced in single-player, but also a lot easier; the AI doesn’t really use power-ups and tends to hit all kinds of obstacles right at the end of the race, so you get to win without any special effort on your part.
On the other hand, single-player races are useful because you get to learn the tracks and you gain experience, bonuses and money anyway, even if in smaller quantities. But nothing can really prepare you for the real races, where you don’t know what to expect or what “powers” will be used.
These races are split amongst classic competitions in the city with one lap, that you obviously have to win. There are also circuits with a variable number of laps, but the final goal stays the same, just like the methods used to be the winner. Explore is just roaming around the city, but you can easily skip it using the Teleport option on the map.
By far, Pursuit is the real interesting mode, activated after you hit a police car. All lawmen will jump to follow and arrest you and, the more you go on, the more things get destroyed in town and the difficulty level increases. But if you had enough, it’s quite difficult to lose the chasers because there’s a Cooldown period involved, measured on the bottom end of the screen.
This period can be shortened if you invest points at level up, but I found it too long anyway for an omniscient AI. You just sit under a bridge, hidden from view, the Cooldown has some 5% more to go and you’re done… heh, you wish… suddenly the meter goes red, a police car shows up from nowhere and the chase is on again.
Of course, the police use specific methods to stop you, meaning roadblocks and spikes to break your tires. On the other hand, the drivers have Juggernaut or Ram to go through blocks or riding on broken tires. But, on many occasions you’ll realize that you avoided the spikes, but the tires are still deflated; other times, you just go round the roadblock (not by choosing another street) from a corner of the road that’s left unblocked. The longer the chase (plus a successful evasion), the bigger the bonuses, both in money and reputation that levels you up. At the opposite end, if you’re busted you gain some rep, but loose money.
Skills and bonuses
One of the nice, but not fully used aspects is made up of all the skills. The virtual driver has a three branch skill tree: Pursuit, Explore and Racing. Racing abilities are probably the most important, because they help to improve the car, from a perfect start with Nitro to getting an extra lap to try and win. The Pursuit abilities will help you avoid roadblocks and spikes, activate and gain fast Cooldown or create an alternate escape route if you’re surrounded.
In any race, beside rep and money, you get to win something else at the end by choosing one of the five cards: a power-up, money or experience. Anything is useful, but you get tired fast of the same 3xNitro race after race, because you rarely get something else besides power-ups.
Another annoying problem is that you only get one point per level up to invest in one of the three branches. Since each one has at least 5 or 6 options, which in turn have 3-5 levels of improvement, it all comes down to a horrible level grinding. I’d say it’s worse than gathering plants and mushrooms in MMORPGs, because there you at least get some background variety. Here you see the same areas all over again and, even if there are new tracks opening at level ups, you already know the zones by heart from the Pursuit races.