Thunderbolt logo

Need for Speed Most Wanted: Porsche Leipzig

Need for Speed

A couple weeks back, Electronic Arts sent us to the Porsche Leipzig plant to have a look at Criterion’s upcoming Need for Speed Most Wanted and take in some laps at the Porsche Driving School. We went hands-on with the hotly anticipated racing title and behind the wheel of several Porsche sports cars.

Need for Speed Most Wanted hands-on

screenshot

Fairhaven is an amalgam of US cities. Criterion have taken bits and pieces from real places and fit them together in a way that makes the most sense for a videogame. The city cuts from dense metropolis to forested mountainous area to industrial dockside without any real regard for how cities are constructed. Instead Criterion have paid attention to how games are constructed. It all flows together organically and feels like the driving concept is whether or not a part of the city works into the mechanics. And so it all does.

Most Wanted’s driving feels tight and familiar. Cars drift easily and there’s a clear differentiation between driving them. It hits the right balance between arcade simplicity and the depth of simulation.

There’s been a slight structural change in that every car is now available from the start. They no longer have to be bought and if you find a parked car, it’s yours to drive. To balance this out, driving a car at its full potential requires winning races and using that car more often to acquire further customization options.

However, there are ten cars – the ‘Most Wanted’ – that can only be obtained through racing and then shutting the other cars down. These contests will unlock with progress through the normal missions and working up that ladder serves as the primary objective. Compared to standard events, these prove to be more difficult, and are the only places where we picked up on AI rubber banding. After taking down the opponent and gaining a large gap they always manage to spring back into contention for the lead. After only a few races they were already proving difficult.

One of the problems behind this structure is that all the ancillary races feel like just that. A large portion of the game is made up of these seemingly fluffy missions and then there are ten that matter some. Missions remain fun and varied, however, highlighting all the well-designed routes through the city and some have absurdly overstated introductions (in one, a series of cop cars join together into a giant Ferris wheel before giving chase). These shorts provide the personality and charm that the in-game content’s sorely missing.

Autolog is back and it’s relentless. Every time you drive through a speed light. Every billboard that’s crashed through. Everything you do. Autolog is there to capture it. It’s brilliantly implemented here and continues to serve as a way to connect the single and multiplayer components and provide a social layer all of the time. It also continues to work when in multiplayer. It remains one of the better recent ideas in racing videogames.

Need for Speed Most Wanted is more free-form party game than competitive racing title. It has elements of both and is well-designed enough that skill can make the difference but there’s also a looseness informing the design.

The potential problem cropped up in my first game against other press. We had to meet at a marker in order to start the race. Most of us got there and we were only waiting on a couple more. We did donuts around the gas station for a bit and after a couple minutes, they warped in. Sometimes this also happens mid-race, which is confusing: race to the checkpoint, and then wait for everyone else to see what else.

There’s also a looseness to how the races play out. It doesn’t start everyone lined up and isn’t very strict about car classes, apart from races that demand specific ones. The playlists are editable and there are enough variations that it stays amusing for a few hours and might make for a great party game.

The feeling is that Criterion’s been taking notes from Battlefield. It draws influences and reinterprets them into the context of a racing game. For example, team races are split into Alpha and Bravo teams and players accumulate bonuses for spotting enemies and also taking out the ones their team spots. And there’s a sense that they’ve captured the same quality DICE have in the online. It always feels like there’s a good rotation of game types to play and there’s never a right time to quit.

After spending several hours with the single and multiplayer components, Need for Speed Most Wanted appears to be the most exciting entry in the franchise yet. Ditching the lovely colorful aesthetic of Burnout, this is a slightly more matter-of-fact racing title but the truth is it remains every bit as fun to play. We’ll have more coverage of Most Wanted in the coming weeks. Until then, the game comes across as something worth getting excited about, for Burnout and Need for Speed fans alike.

Porsche Leipzig

screenshot

Porsche Leipzig embodies all of the qualities inherent in the manufacturer’s cars. Even the building’s entrance expresses an absolute interest in design prowess. The building hoists upward with a cylindrical center extending a few floors where it circles around with an array of classic cars. Along the sides of the entrance are garages, hatching freshly manufactured cars onto the lot. It’s all about prestige.

It’s as though a space shuttle has landed on this former military training ground and sprouted modernity and innovation all around, blending and yet also struggling to assert new value behind the veil of the city’s heavy past. The distinctive building is a place deeply in love with the automobile.

Inside we hovered around like videogame enthusiasts. After everyone arrived, we were given a short briefing on the Porsche Driving School and signed liability waivers for more than most of us will ever be worth. For a driving school, there’s little instruction. We head onto the track with the nerves of people who have only handled a sporty car in a digital way. The group breaks and ours heads for the on-road track. I joined an Editor from another site and we test drove a few cars from the line up.

The cars all drove well. They were perfectly in sync with every motion. It’s about an exacting kind of precision. Pure efficiency. The test track replicates a number of famous turns and corners from well-known tracks. It’s a wishlist circuit. During the few high speed stretches, the engines purred in a lovely way, enforcing a sense of authority and power. Later on we would have a ride-along with a professional driver and get a sense for what the cars were actually capable of.

After coming down from the thrill of the sports cars, we went off road in the new models of the Cayenne. It’s a fine 4×4 and handled the rugged terrain confidently. Whereas the on road portion had been more about responsiveness and what you can do with a car, the off-road segment was technical and about what the car can do with you. The Cayenne negotiated harsh vertical inclines and through rugged terrain before wading through a stream of water. Essentially we drove it to the next obstacle and the car handled the rest.

We were also given a factory tour. As we walked through, everyone worked at a relaxed yet purposeful pace and each part of assembly seemed to be reduced to the most efficient process. It seemed to be an idyllic plant where everything’s perfectly organized and all of the employees wear matching red overalls. They primarily assemble the Cayenne and Panorama at the plant with a daily output of about 500 cars. Our tour guide emphasized the human process. Only one segment of the assembly line was handled by robots – fitting the windows – and every other part was done by people. There was still a kind of craft and sense of pride that went into every car. The feeling is that something that is emotive, like the automobile, must also be a human creation.

Travel and accommodation provided by Electronic Arts

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

Gentle persuasion

You should follow us on Twitter.