Just imagine, you could download a brand-new, fully featured, online multiplayer-enabled, high-definition copy of Need For Speed directly to your PC and play it with your friends for free. Would you do it?
Electronic Arts is betting you will, and it’s going all-out to make sure it will be worth your while. Need For Speed World is being developed by EA Black Box and EA Singapore as essentially a free-to-play racing MMO set in the world of the popular racing franchise. EA was showing off an early version of Need For Speed in San Francisco during the Game Developers Conference this month.
NFS World takes on the gameplay style of Most Wanted and Carbon, focusing on illegal racing, tuning and police chases, and adds classic MMO elements to the mix such as special abilities. World also features the cities of Rockport and Palmont, the cities of Most Wanted and Carbon respectively, into its map design, along with a full night and day cycle. It also features co-op gameplay and team based game modes where the players play as the police. It will have the most licensed cars, upgrade parts and game modes ever in the series history.
If you’ve been following games like Battlefield Heroes, you’re aware that EA is experimenting with games that are free to play but cost money to customize or take to a more serious level. That’s the setup here, too, although EA isn’t getting specific about the exact pricing just yet.
Need For Speed World is strictly for PCs, and EA was demoing the game with mouse-and-keyboard controls only. But the final version will support both gamepads and steering wheel controllers. Driving a car with arrow keys isn’t my favorite way to test out a new racing game, but even with those limitations, the cars in Need For Speed World felt responsive and fun to drive. And fun is what EA is focusing on, here. This isn’t a simulation; the racing is arcade-like rather than pinpoint accurate.
When you log into Need For Speed World, you’re dropped into a massive hub world you can instantly begin exploring. When you want to race, just hit a button and you’re seamlessly matched up with up to seven others. If you have specific events you’d like to compete in, just bring up a world map, find the correct icon and click it – bam, you’re in.
Once underway, races are intense affairs with a good mix of pure driving and strategic use of extras like nitro boosts and power-ups. The interface and heads-up-display are still works in progress, but EA is going for a fairly minimalist look. The environments are super-sharp, and the cars look just as good as they would in a traditional, full-priced retail Need For Speed game.
The maps in Need For Speed World are ripped right out of Need For Speed: Carbon and Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and EA plans to expand the drivable sections of World by gradually adding maps from other Need For Speed games. The developer is even bringing in popular modes from past Need For Speed games, including Pursuit, a cat-and-mouse game between street racers and police. Although the demo wouldn’t let me play as a cop just yet, EA said that police vehicles will be drivable in the final version.
A quick trip to the garage showed an impressive customization suite, including a paint shop, upgrade system and decal/vinyl area that uses a slick drag-and-drop interface. EA is planning to include about 250 cars in Need For Speed World, about 50-100 of which will be available when the game officially launches. The demo I played featured Mazdas, Dodges and Lamborghinis, all of which looked great.
So what impressed me about Need For Speed World? Two things. First, the game looks sharp and runs well (even in 3D), which is what I expect from any top-tier racing game, no matter what its pricing scheme. Second, there are tons of gameplay options. You can pick your race mode, build your own routes, play cops-and-robbers, race against friends or AI, compete in special live events and collect/build out cars to your heart’s content.
Need For Speed World is based on reputation and cash – level up to unlock cars and perks, and spend cash to build out your rides and item stockpiles. And that’s where the game becomes a business.
NFSW is billed as a free-to-play game, and it is. But if you want to go further, you’ll need to pony up some cash. EA isn’t saying exactly how it plans to make money from Need For Speed World. But chances are you’ll be encouraged to spend real-world money to gain quicker access to items and powerups. EA also told me that they are not ruling out the possibility of a tiered membership service what would allow paying customers access to premium content.
For now, Need For Speed World is a slick PC racing game without a set pricing structure. Will it be worth your time and money when it launches later this year? The great thing about free-to-play games is that there’s nothing to lose by trying them out. The downside is they operate on a sliding scale, and it can be frustrating to become invested in a “free” game only to find out it’ll cost you to go deeper. But if the game experience is solid enough, a few bucks here and there shouldn’t matter. We’ll keep you posted on Need For Speed World as it gets closer to the starting grid.