By 2008, the Tuner scene was growing up. Although it had only been seven years since the original The Fast and the Furious hit theatres and five years since the original Need for Speed Underground was released, things were changing. People were no longer cosplaying the illegal street racing lifestyle and were getting more and more into import and/or tuner car weekends. That is what Need For Speed ProStreet attempted to cash in on.
Following the footsteps of NFS Underground 1, Underground 2 and Carbon, ProStreet was unofficially the fourth title in NFS’s import tuner series. But it differed from its predecessors in that all the racing action took place on closed circuits or empty roads. There was no traffic and no cops.
The game was basically a digitized NOPI Nationals event. There was an overly boisterous announcer, scantily clad women and a whole host of racing disciplines, which included Drag, Grip, Drift and Speed.
Become the King
The Drag and Drift events are fairly self-explanatory and included three rounds each where the best overall score or lowest time decided the victor. The Grip and Speed events had various formats. Grip races were closed circuit races that included regular racing, two class racing, sector shootouts and time attacks. Speed races were either sprint style races on closed public roads or top speed runs where hitting the highest top speed at specific checkpoints on the course mattered the most.
The goal of the game was to attend various racing weekend events and advance through the four disciplines, until the player became good enough to race the King (or Queen) of each racing format. Best all four Kings and the player got to take on the ultimate, overall King.
The cool thing about the gameplay was that the player could pick and choose the order of events on the map they wanted to play and dictate, to a degree, how their career progressed. They could pick events where they had stronger cars to earn more money to upgrade their other weaker cars.
The game’s actual racing physics weren’t overly realistic, especially considering the attention to accuracy when it came to other aspects of the game like the vehicle’s specifications, the parts available per vehicle, the crash/damage modeling and aerodynamics. Trying to play the game with a steering wheel only compounded the clunking driving dynamics.
On the plus side, rubberbanding for the AI opponents was minimal and thankfully actual vehicle performance was considered for some disciplines, like how front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive cars could not participate in drift events.
Still, with average gameplay, why is this one of my favourite racing games of all time? Why did I completely beat the game three times over? Well, there are a few reasons, but it always starts with the cars.
It’s Always About the Cars
Need For Speed ProStreet had a great cross section of machinery for the true car lover. Exotics, muscle cars, sports cars, luxury cars and sport compacts were all represented. Even some race cars snuck in like the Aston Martin DBR9.
I liked that there were different versions of similar cars in-game. Players could set up pairings that would please the most heated online car forum flame wars. What’s better at the drag strip, the BMW M3 E46 or the M3 E92? Care to pit a 2003 Mustang GT against a 2005 Mustang GT on a drift course? How many mods were needed to make the regular Integra outgun the Integra Type R around a racetrack?
Each car needed to be set up for a specific discipline. So that meant a player would eventually need four cars minimum; one for Drag, one for Drift, one for Grip, and one for Speed. A drag car could not be used as a grip car nor a drift car used in a speed event. I personally liked making cars that were out of their comfort zone for each specialty. The Plymouth Road Runner was my grip car. The McLaren F1 was my drag car, the Porsche 911 GT2 my drift car and the Subaru WRX STI my top speed car.
NFS ProStreet vehicle customization was next level. Most car games still don’t offer the level of customization available in this game. Many parts could be upgraded, a trademark of the NFS Underground series, including widbody kits, headlights, wheels, etc.
But it was Autosculpt that was the real difference maker. It allowed players to manipulate the shape of the car’s body, hoods, wheels, rear spoilers and more. Players could make excessively wide tires and deep-dish wheels. Front bumper inlets could be adjusted for size. Hoods could be streamlined or set up like a cowl induction. By turning on the wind tunnel feature, players could see how these adjustments affected the car’s overall aerodynamics.
Mechanical vehicle adjustments were just as plentiful and had a direct effect on vehicle performance. This is what I loved about the game. A lot of people didn’t like ProStreet as it was missing staples from earlier Need for Speed titles like an open world map, police chases and illegal street races. But to me it was fantastic because it immersed the player in a grassroots tuner racing league. I really felt like I was bringing my high-priced machinery to the local circuit to test it and my skills against other novice racers. And for bonus points, this is the game that introduced me to the fantastic band TV on the Radio.
It may be a historical footnote to some in the world of NFS, but to me, it will always be a standout star.