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News Opinions 10 February 2023, 17:01

For Need for Speed to Work Again, It Needs to Go Back to the Past

It's quite obvious that NFS lost its way somehow. It had to concede to Forza Horizon as the kind of arcade racing, but all is not lost for the venerable franchise. Here's my idea for the perfect Need for Speed.

Source: Electronic Arts

Unfortunately, Criterion did not do it again. With Unbound, they did not restore the Need for Speed series to its former glory. It turned out just a nice, flashy game with and a small step in the right direction, but that's probably all. They tried to recreate the magic of Most Wanted and Underground 1 & 2, tried an interesting visual style (many of the bells and whistles can be disabled), but above all, the game wasn't as enjoyable as it could have been. Something was amiss. Sales were decent, but it wasn't a smash hit. It's not the same magnitude of success as Underground or Most Wanted. Forza dethroned NFS. However, I believe that Need for Speed can still put up a fight. It just has to go back to the past, take the best ideas for the formula, draw the right conclusions and, as the pedigree of the series demands, release a new, tuned and refined version. Need for Speed needs to look back at the older installments. But not the ones you're thinking of.

Forza Horizon will probably continue to sell beautifully in the future, because it's just a great racer. The driving model is fun (if someone doesn't mind a few tiring, hidden mechanics and trifles), but it's a game without a spark; it doesn't show teeth. Need for Speed Heat and Unbound tried to show some verve, but it didn't come out too well in the more juvenile version. It's a bit of an exaggeration of style over substance, and in addition, it's not terribly up-to-date; more of a boomer's take on Gen Z, rather than a Gen Z game per se. As I understand it, this was an attempt of capitalizing on the nostalgia for Most Wanted and Underground and turning it into trucks full of EA's profit. But it didn't work – not enough to delight the players, not even to make them care. Say what you want about Forza Horizon 5 – at least a lot of people care about the game's condition, as you can also see in Draug's reviews.


That's why I think Need for Speed should look the other way and reach for a different style of gameplay and presentation to regain its soul. Especially since the installment in question is the work of none other than Criterion. Go back to 2010's Hot Pursuit style. Make Need for Speed wild, raw and subtly elegant. Criterion flashed a genius and then bet on simplicity, stripped NfS of frills and showed the essence of this series. At that point, it was only a matter of giving it the right looks. The racing in the game was sharp, brutal and spectacular. In that game, even the scenes displayed in the sleek menu oozed gasoline – and commanded a sort of respect for the four-wheeled monsters. Even if many former employees are no longer there – it's high time to repeat this achievement. In order to do that, you've got to look at what's most important in Need for Speed.

I'm not saying to transfer this game 1:1, we can't turn back time, but when it comes to foundations, it's worth using the best possible templates. Why not be inspired by the spirit and develop on that idea, rather than try to conjure up a zombie that is unlikely to have the same appeal as 15 years ago. You see, the power of Hot Pursuit was that the game was specific, yet at the same time universal. The atmosphere crafted subtly, hidden behind the economy of the menu, HUD and all the frills. The impression was that we were in contact with an essentional racing game. It was in the art and driving, in the roads that we drove on. And it was so damn good.

For Need for Speed to Work Again, It Needs to Go Back to the Past - picture #1

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Electronic Arts Inc., 2010

The advantage of the minimal, but at the same time expressive artstyle is that even if it is not 100% digestable for everyone, at least it should not repel anyone, like the neon-lit Heat or the tacky Unbound. A lot in this matter was done by the roads that the creators used, namely interstate highways. The great, asphalt ribbons crossing mountains, forests, desert and small towns. It felt alive and real – and void of redundant embellishments. It was only sand, asphalt, lakes, rivers, trees and occasionally some industrial or residential facilities. In all of this, there was enough room for drifting, fighting sharp turns, and pushing hypercars to their limit. It was an "American road game," without tiny alleyways and perpendicular corners. Or at least with fewer of them than in the urban installments. At the same time, the routes were still demanding.

And the driving model corresponded with this. It brought a unique, brutal sense weight – and even if it wasn't very realistic, it felt like trying to tame a V8 monster. There were roads that could take you even up to 250 MPH. The cars stuck to the road like chewing gum, but at these speeds, one mistake was enough to get the ride totalled. The crashes were also beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Each machine felt a little differently, they had their own weight and whims. And that's despite the fact we couldn't change even a screw in them, because there was no tuning (which we will get to later).

And oh damn – the police chases from the title mode. They were absolutely beautiful, emotional and brutal. The way we wrecked police cars and they wrecked us – never again has a Need for Speed game come as close to this level of spectacularity and danger. Getting rid of each police car fed the inner racer and destroyer (some said it was a softer version of Burnout Paradisebut when I compared gameplay models, I wasn't so sure – certainly not in terms of presentation). I think fans of FlatOut or Destruction Derby must have been touched.

The prowess of all these aspects was supported by a very cinematic way of showing them. While the game didn't have an ounce of story (except this: you're an illegal racer or a cop), the directing was so good that the new Forza Horizon looks "vanilla" compared to Hot Pursuit even today. Crashes, eliminating rivals and the police, burning rubber – everything was shown in a split-second microscene, increasing the momentum. They had their own flair, power and were show with dynamic, quite original shots. A simple solution, but also a rare one that added a unique atmosphere to the game. I would love to see something like this in another Need for Speed, because it cranked the spectacularity to eleven. It showed respect for speed, and a timid respect for highways.

For Need for Speed to Work Again, It Needs to Go Back to the Past - picture #2

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Electronic Arts Inc., 2010

In all of this, there was also a genuine love of cars. Never before, and never after, merely selecting a car from the menu level was so exciting. A simple story. When we unlocked a new car, it was shown like a star in flashes and various camera angles. After confirming the choice, the engine would start, just as if we actually turned the ignition and gave it a healthy dose of honey with the right foot. Each car sounded powerful and intimidating.

In all this – the open world was just a cherry on top. We could do some free driving around it, but when it came to racing, it happened from the menu level. We didn't have to engage in free drives if we didn't want to. A race was just three clicks away at any time. It was simple, elegant and energizing. And oh, how I miss this solution. Thanks to this, free riding became just a bonus activity, but even in this there was a certain wisdom that could be developed and made the fun more appealing. All in good time.

Kay, we got a second-hand, mint condition ride. Now it's time to start repairing and tuning.


All that I've discussed is a great base for a new game, but we're 13 years later. The world, gaming and racing have moved on. And so has Need for Speed, in some respects, but somehow, it doesn't tap into its full potential. Both Unbound and Heat have decent, interesting solutions, also similar to some of Hot Pursuit's. Therefore, let's see what else can be done to distill the perfect racer.

Some of the fun can take place in the city, and some on the highways – just for variety. EA seems to like that. Sure, in both Forzy Horizon and recent NfS games, there were times when we drove out of town onto the freeways, but those were rather short, demo moments. The possibility of going further, crossing long stretches of deserts or forests would bring a completely different experience. And maybe it's time for a game that will neatly combine this – with more momentum, both visually (with some genuine open roads, not just suburbs) and gameplay-wise. The mechanics could support such diversity – e.g. cars would have to be configured differently for the highway and for the city. Races and chases could also look different – one of these zones could be more fitting for easier driving, while the other would be the domain of ruthless illegal racing that can be interrupted at any moment by the highway patrol.

The symbolic, but effective model of damage with a "health bar" was cool in Hot Pursuit, and it also returned in Heat (where it was a bit bizarre) and in Unbound – and it could also work in the new game. Tuning could also include the durability of the car (the developers have actually done it in recent installments, and it was neat), which would have to be taken into account, for example, in a mode reminiscent of night races from Heat or Hot Pursuit (I prefer the latter – gosh, it was epic).

For Need for Speed to Work Again, It Needs to Go Back to the Past - picture #3

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Electronic Arts Inc., 2010

Power tuning is a lot of fun, as it allows you to get cozier with your car, and in this respect, every NfS with tuning is superior to those without it. I'm not a big fan of turning cars into christmas trees, but why not make it possible? It shouldn't hurt the game, and maybe it could be only available in the city mode. Anyway, talking about the location...

It would be good if the open-world gameplay wasn't a chore, but rather a diversion that you can use if you feel like it. Let's say that the open world is there for you to move from point A to B to start a race if you so please, but there's also a fast travel option – we can dive straight into the race from our garage, without the need to unlock access. Something along the lines of: if we want, we drive there, and if not – we can jump right in from the menu.

So, how else do you encourage players to use the open world? Simple – give them valuable collectibles (unique cars, money, and even parts) to find, which can't be accessed in any other way. And voila, we've got a choice. If we don't want to drive through the city in-between races, because we only have time for two races, we can use the menu, and when there's a moment to play free exploration – we get another cookie. That would be great.


And there are also issues, let's call it, of artistic nature. I already mentioned the graphics, so let me just add that if someone needs this new approach, let them have it, just make it optional. However, there's one problem that both Heat and Unbound share, and it would be nice if someone addressed it soon.

Please, dear EA developers, Criterion, or anyone else who will be working on this series. Another thing is the soundtrack – why not make it more universal, diverse? I don't expect anyone to have the guts to put Rob Zombie or Mastodon back on the playlist, but some variety never hurt anyone. I mean, EDM and Latin-based disco pop can only be so much fun. I mean just look at the older games, the soundtracks there spanned dozens of genres in some cases. I mean, are those people even listening to music today? There's plenty of more up-to-date styles to feature in a supposedly youthful experience.

For Need for Speed to Work Again, It Needs to Go Back to the Past - picture #4

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Electronic Arts Inc., 2010

Fun fact! The first Fast and the Furious were created mainly for the Latin American market, where such music as that from Heat and Unbound would fit perfectly. But even in that film, there was some rock and nu metal, not to mention a decent dose of techno. I mean, you can't really generate tension, adrenaline or a sense of danger on the road, if these the music playing in the background sounds like an afternoon in Ibiza.

And there's a place for such a sound in the game (the tracks in Unbound are decent, but not very intense, apart from a few cases). But please, enhance it with more genres. I understand that you are targeting the youth, but do you realize those kids actually have a broad taste of music? Just remember how half of the internet got excited about the dance from Wednesday or the Metallica-fueled sequence in Stranger Things. If you want to be so juvenile, at least try to understand that you are dealing with a group of recipients with diverse taste.

And the plot? If players and developers need it, then sure, go ahead. Cops, racers, fast cars and constant suspense – that's the recipe for some nice B-grade silliness, if there even must be a story. Personally, I can go with something like Forza Horizon – a light outline of story with just a few subplots, just make them more interesting than overcooked pasta. Instead of pats on the back and calling the player a champion from the get-go – we could use a bit of a spin, a challenge and an atmosphere of climbing the ranks from rookie to pro. It's simple, but if done with a bit of intuition – it will always work.

And this is how my dream Need for Speed should look like (if you have a different vision, I encourage you to share it in the comments), modeled on Hot Pursuit. In general, Rivals tried doing something reminiscent of what I'm talking about, but it had some strange solutions dictated by its online nature (the inability to pause the race, for example), so there's still plenty of room for improvements. Competition is not the only thing EA must face – there are also the weaknesses of the series. But the can deliver an awesome Need for Speed again, making the franchise reassume its position as the embodiment of racing games. The one to rule them all.

Hubert Sosnowski

Hubert Sosnowski

He joined in 2017, as an author of texts about games and movies. He's currently the head of the film department and the website. Learned how to write articles while working for the Dzika Banda portal. His texts were published on,,, and in the Polish Playboy. Has published stories in the monthly Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror magazine, as well as in the first volume of the Antologii Wolsung. Lives for "middle cinema" and meaty entertainment, but he won't despise any experiment or Fast and Furious. In games, looks for a good story. Loves Baldur's Gate 2, but when he sees Unreal Tournament, Doom, or a good race game, the inner child wakes up. In love with sheds and thrash metal. Since 2012, has been playing and creating live action role-playing, both within the framework of the Bialystok Larp Club Zywia, and commercial ventures in the style of Witcher School.