Although in recent years I have clearly favored swimming racing over arcade racing, it would be unfair and perhaps outright false to say that I do not have a very special relationship with Need for Speed as a game series. The 1998 Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit is without a doubt one of my most played racing titles as I put hundreds and hundreds of hours into EA’s then innovative, gorgeous gasoline party. I lived the flea in that game and remember very well how much I loved the feeling of actually traveling along real country roads in real cars, with the police hack-in-the-heel.
Two years later it was instead Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed that managed to hypnotize me and before I had time to really nerd myself in that game, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 was released which I loved, not to mention the following year when EA and Black Box thundered out the most important game in this ancient serial’s soon 30-year existence; Need for Speed: Underground. EA rode on the Fast and the Furious wave, framed the then hot tuner culture and magic band with wonderful roads, fantastic cars and a very entertaining driving experience.
Today, as you probably know, it is not quite as cheerful in the Need for Speed factory and I personally would like to say that the game series itself has been on ice for just over ten years now. I never liked The Run. I never liked the new version of Most Wanted (while the original was brilliant) and I never liked Rivals, No Limits, Payback or the 2019 Heat. The Gothenburg-based gaming house Ghost Games has, in my humble opinion, been consistently mediocre (at best) in its pursuit of Need for Speed-branded racing perfection and I was not one of those who was surprised when EA announced in early 2020 that Ghost Games had been stripped the key to the game series and instead sat on maintenance work and support jobs in the Battlefield sphere.
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If we disregard Slightly Mad Studio’s more “serious” Shift games (which shared some similarities in terms of car physics with the old GTR 2 simulator) it was not until 2010 that a game in this series really became a success with fans and it was Criterion’s “remake” by Hot Pursuit who then won the hearts of the players. 12 years and several games later, Need for Speed is in a somewhat precarious position. Many fans have in recent years gone further, given up. We have seen clear evidence of this here at Gamereactor, and it is probably above all Microsoft’s Forza Horizon series that has stepped in and taken over the arcade racing throne without particularly tough resistance. The fact that EA 2020 once again set the Criterion (Burnout series) on restarting and trying to revitalize Need for Speed was a clear signal from the publisher that things must be done differently and that the quality must simply be raised.
On Monday, we also learned that EA fasted over all 60 developers from Codemasters Evolution over to Criterion who, strengthened and experienced, intend to convince us all before the end of the year that Need for Speed lives, thrives and is very much a game series to be reckoned with. in the future. Because it must of course be said, once upon a time, this game serial was directly hopelessly popular and that to this day EA has sold over 150 million copies of Need for Speed, many say. In comparison, the Ridge Racer series (11 games) has sold nine million copies while Gran Turismo (nine games) has sold 88 million copies. Forza has (including both Motorsport and Horizon) reached 20 million copies sold while Mario Kart (nine games) sold 166 million copies. Need for Speed is thus in terms of the market a completely gigantic brand and I thus of course have an absolute understanding that EA is now taking it in stride, that they are investing heavily.
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Criterion Games currently has 130 employees and with 60 from Codemasters Evolution (who developed Dirt 5) and the Frostbyte technology and tech support from Swedish Dice and three years of development time (in total), the chances and odds are of course good for the next Need for Speed that we know will released before the end of the year. Will it be Underground 3, the title that all fans have been roaring about after the last 15 years? Most likely not, which once again (if that is the case) will confuse me beyond all reasonableness. However, I hope I’m wrong, because even though the Fast and the Furious landscape and tuner culture has obviously changed a lot since 2003, the craving among car fans and racing game fans is still super big when it comes to Japanese car culture and I think an open world game signed Criterion, with the title Underground 3 which takes place in Tokyo and outside – Could charm the old original fans to return to Need for Speed while I think it could very much attract new ones. However it will be this autumn / winter when Need for Speed is back, I sincerely hope that it will be a blissfully superb return for a long-standing game series that deserves a better fate than where we stand today, after a dozen mediocre parts.