Look Ma, a Porsche. And another one...and another one!
People who collect exotic cars generally aren't known for wanting to drive the hell out of them. Exotics are investments, not the kinds of vehicles you keep in your one-car garage and work on every other Saturday. Therein lies the irony - these vicious road-eaters sit in pristine garages, never to see a drop of rain, never to feel the sting of gravel, never to get past third gear.
Face it, most of us will never even get a chance to smell the interior of a Porsche 917 K Short Tail. It's a sad situation, really. Those with the will to let these cars do what they were designed to do never seem to have the means. The Need for Speed series has built a reputation for providing a way to exercise that will. Even if you can't smell the interior, you still get to show a Short Tail who's at the top of the food chain.
Although the 911 has made an appearance in a couple of previous Need for Speed ventures, Porsches were never a staple of the series, which offered a variety of rare machines from the Lotus GT1 to the McLaren F1. Electronic Arts seeks to remedy the lack of Porsche presence with their fifth and latest effort, Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed.
For the most part, the in-game graphics look like what they were turning out for the Playstation three or four years ago, with just a touch of reflective surfacing, sparks and smoke effects thrown in for good measure. As this game is based around Porsche vehicles, that's all you'll be driving and they don't look as good as they should. In fact, if you aren't a Porsche aficionado, you'll be left wondering what all the hoo-ha is about. These are Porsches which, come to think of it, aren't that exotic after all. You see them on the freeway all the time, usually with a balding orthodontist behind the wheel.
NFS:PU boasts collisions and damage modeling. Collisions have been a hallmark of the NFS games, reaching their apex in NFS2, but they are definitely at their nadir with Porsche Unleashed. Once airborne, the cars have all the weight of a piece of dry toast. The cars actually twirl before being immediately reset, something several tons of steel and fiberglass should never do. The collisions are a moot point anyway, as your car will probably be the only one doing any crashing.
Car damage is formulaic. You'll find the same dents in your vehicle with little regard for the cause of the damage or its location. However, the damage does have a negative impact on performance. It is not impossible to win a race with a near-totaled car, just harder.
Refusing to abandon lapped courses in favor of point-to-point courses, the tracks have been a weak spot in the series since Need for Speed 2. Porsche Unleashed does a lot to correct this situation, opting for more realistic environments over some of the more fanciful ones in the earlier games.
This new pseudo-realism is a welcome relief to those of us who still think of this game as a sim and not just a flashy arcade racer. The result is an odd mix of drab looking tracks which have more realistic curves and less of the winding, twisting road angles that plagued earlier NFS games. Unfortunately, the shoulders have become pitifully slender and hazardous. The dips and jumps of the previous NFS games are a dying breed.
Porsche Unleashed offers a variety of play modes in an attempt to satisfy both casual and committed gamers. The Evolution mode is Gran Turismo-esque by requiring you to purchase and maintain your vehicles. But unlike Gran Turismo, there are no upgrades for your cars. Aside from tweaking the gearbox settings, your cars are not customizable beyond a paint job - and some of the cars cannot be painted, making for exciting races in which every car on the track looks exactly like yours.
Another addition is the Factory Driver mode, in which you become a Porsche employee working your way up through the ranks to become a top test driver. Think of it as the license tests for Gran Turismo, but with no license for a pay-off. Capture the Flag and Chase modes are reminiscent of similar and better modes in Driver.
The Chase mode is particularly disappointing when compared to the Police Pursuit modes in the last two NFS offerings, Hot Pursuit and High Stakes. The cops don't need to stop your car, they need only touch it and it stops on its own, ending the race. Since when were police chases so polite?
There is also a mode in which you can take your vehicles out and drive around town with traffic and police. Here you get a chance to fly through town and wreak havoc on unsuspecting civilian drivers. Yet ramming cars at high-speed almost invariably results in the opposing car flying weightlessly backward while your car is seemingly unaffected by a 120 mph head-on collision.
Porsche Unleashed's most apparent shortcoming is the lack of AI. Your opponents are mere opportunists. They aren't bad guys. They just want to get in front of you, though they don't take risks and they never dive into shortcuts. In fact, they drive so tamely you'll be hard pressed to find them leaving dust clouds and skid marks. Frankly, they drive like a pack of 69 year-old retired fry cooks who have saved all their lives for these cars.
This lack of aggression is devastating for a racer that doesn't give you more than three cars at a time for opposition. The game is mind-numbingly, insultingly easy.
Although the game's replay feature is the best in the series with a variety of smooth camera angles, it is a wasted effort. There's just nothing worth seeing. Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed is a forgettable racer with all the depth of a shallow puddle, better suited for a rental than a purchase. It's more a footnote to the Need for Speed series than a chapter in itself.