The car line-up isn’t going to give Forza or Gran Turismo any scares, but it’s large enough and extensive enough to cover a reasonable range of US, Japanese and European makes and models, with BMW, Ford, Shelby, Chevrolet, Dodge, Volkswagen, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Subaru all getting a pretty good airing. What’s more, the career mode even contains a fairly deep customization system. It’s based on blueprints – with more than one available for each car – and features many of the engine, turbo, suspension, brakes and body upgrades that you’d expect from a more serious driving sim. Need for Speed’s traditional meat-head audience can still choose auto-customisation or simplified options, but it gives the petrolhead tweaker something to get their teeth into.
ProStreet even crams in a respectable damage model. Like Forza’s it’s a little bit generous and it tends to jump between basic side/bonnet damage and a full-on write-off in a way that makes you suspect the manufacturers were squeamish about too much on-screen crumpling, but it does make you think twice about taking the bumper-car approach to driving or using the side barriers as steering aids. In fact, the game even makes you pay for damage to your own cars between retries, so you tend to think a little more carefully about constantly restarting the same race as well.
Visually, ProStreet’s not bad at all. Played on my current monster system with an Intel Core 2 Extreme 6850, 2GB of PC6400 DDR2 and an Asus GeForce 8800 Ultra, it actually looks more impressive than Forza, partly because EA has gone overboard with billboards, balloons and other bits of trackside detail (if you don’t like in-game advertising, you might find it all rather repulsive). The car models look fantastic in their fully reflective, nicely lit, realistically shadowed glory, and the overall presentation is very slick indeed. 360 owners might have a better looking option in Project Gotham Racing 4, but PC owners used to GTR2 will certainly see a big difference. I’d have to ask why it still stutters on the odd corner as the view swings around, however. This system plays Crysis on High, for goodness sake!
Given all the above, ProStreet sounds like a strong new direction for EA’s cash cow franchise. Sadly, I can’t hand on heart say that it is. For a start, there’s still something a bit cold and uninspired about the racing – a problem I also found with Gran Turismo 4 and Forza 2. Whether it’s the track layouts, the AI or the difficulty level, winning doesn’t seem to be as much about high-speed thrills and risky chances as it is about getting the car right and polishing your technique until it shines. The other disciplines, meanwhile, aren’t actually as much fun as they sound. The drag racing routine of warming up your tyres then getting a good start and perfecting each gear change soon gets old, while the drift racing is comprehensively outclassed by Project Gotham’s take on the same theme.