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- Need for Speed Heat
There probably wouldn’t be a Need for Speed franchise in 2019 without The Fast and the Furious. The popularity of Vin Diesel’s violent car ballets transformed the games from an arcade racer also-ran to the weird tuner culture hybrid they are now. Especially under the stewardship of Ghost Games this generation, Need for Speed seems destined to eternally try and fail to capture the strange magic of the film franchise. What’s the secret? How can Need for Speed Heat succeed where others have failed?
Need for Speed Heat | I only race for pink slips
Each new Need for Speed has a slightly different focus reflected perfectly by its theme. There’s Shift, which tried to “shift” the franchise to a simulation focus. Both The Run and Payback attempted to add narrative arcs and big single-player components. Criterion’s Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted tried to combine Need for Speed with its own Burnout Paradise. Even the move towards the Fast and Furious style is a change from the origins of the series, but it’s also one of the only consistent threads throughout the franchise. If Need for Speed has any soul at all, it’s in that Hollywood funhouse mirror of car culture.
Considering this, the gameplay goals of a new Need for Speed should be clear. A player should be aiming for a huge car collection, and the only way to achieve it is through races. You don’t earn cars randomly for completing events, you don’t find them locked away in some barn; you have to beat them under the neon lights. This is similar to how Burnout Paradise let you expand your collection, although Need for Speed should focus on racing rather than ramming rivals off the road.
Need for Speed Heat | It’s all in the (Fast and Furious) family
Who are these rivals? It’s a good question. Because of the constantly shifting tone in the series, Need for Speed really hasn’t had any consistent story beats or characters. Similar franchises have achieved this despite a similarly varied output, with Call of Duty producing enough characters to fill a battle royale mode. Despite the focus on cars making this type of storytelling a bit more difficult, there’s no reason why these games can’t produce personalities with clinging to.
That’s where Ghost Games’ first effort truly shined. 2015’s Need for Speed brought the series back to its FMV roots and delved into characters like other recent releases haven’t. Sure, these scenes were pure cheese, but they did inject life into the game in a way that Payback‘s panning shots of car bumpers didn’t. The only real problems with that game were the developer’s inexperience leading to a less exciting racing game and a rather generic set of characters.
Now on its third solo entry, Ghost Games is a much better developer. The racing of Payback was its only highlight in a sea of horrible microtransaction systems and weak storytelling. If the team can combine the gameplay of its newer efforts with the story ideas it had in 2015’s entry, we might just have something great. We’d just need characters that can truly become staples of the Need for Speed brand. Thankfully, we may already have that as well. Just like Hollywood looks to the past for inspiration, so too should Ghost Games.
Need for Speed Heat | A story is certainly Most Wanted
Let’s go back a decade and a half. The launch of the Xbox 360 brought us Need for Speed: Most Wanted. This game also had FMV storytelling, centering around a gang of street racers led by Clarence “Razor” Callahan. Despite there being around 15 minutes of storytelling in the game, fans still fondly remember taking down Razor’s crew of rival racers. Known as The Blacklist, the entire concept provided a great driving force throughout the campaign. The performances also tapped into that cheesy FMV fun, a key component of why people flock to Fast and Furious films.
Now, you could go all the way back and revive the world of Most Wanted. There’s already a direct sequel in Carbon, even if that game missed the mark by having almost none of the cast return. Razor is probably the closest that Need for Speed gets to one of those signature characters, even if it’s purely for the wrong reasons in some circles. The developers know this to a certain extent, as he has popped up from time to time in wink and nod references and at least one event in the mobile spin-off.
However, the smarter move would be to use Most Wanted as a template going forward. EA probably isn’t going to stop making Need for Speed games, so you can use that as a vote of confidence to plan ahead. Make a cast that players want to see evolve over multiple titles; maybe a crew of racers with different specialties, something you already see in most games of this genre. Each new release could focus in on a single character while keeping the rest of the crew involved. Maybe you join said crew in the beginning and rise the ranks against rival crews or named cop characters. It doesn’t even have to be as focused as something like The Run; just surround the signature races with a world worth revisiting.
Again, just like The Fast and Furious movies, people love that ensemble cast of likable characters and it’s probably the biggest reason they continually draw in crowds. That series gets characters and Need for Speed should learn from that. After all, they don’t go to see Vin Diesel’s acting talent.
Need for Speed Heat | Looking towards the next quarter-mile
Only time will tell us how Need for Speed Heat‘s single-player component stacks up. It seems that the developer has at least learned something from Payback‘s failures, so that’s something. Honestly, any arcade racer of quality would be welcomed with open arms in 2019, as the genre is dry as a bone. However, to gain long-term success, Ghost Games should look back at what people have enjoyed from these games and take note.
Heat marks the 25th anniversary of the Need for Speed franchise. It’s had countless identities in that time, but only a few have really hit paydirt. Of those, only one goes back all the way to the very foundations. When Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed began, it was full of FMV nonsense and arcade driving. That spirit has carried over into the series’ best entries, and that’s what really sets the games apart. If Ghost Games really wants to make a fast and furious good time, it’s only logical to build up a Need for Speed family that can thrive throughout the next generation.