The first of the three titles, Need For Speed: Shift, is set for release in fall 2009 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and PSP, and will take the series away from the "urban underground" stylings of recent releases in favor of a more serious driving simulation. "The urban underground was a manifestation of style in some past Need for Speed games for sure, but Shift focuses less on these style cues and more on mirroring the driver experience, that athleticism of being in a wickedly-intense race, and what it really feels like to be behind the wheel," said Keith Munro, EA's vice-president of marketing.
Need For Speed: Shift will reproduce the behavior of both the car and the driver, with a 3-D HUD that will simulate head movement, inertia and G-forces. "The tech behind that game, the details that only a team with such racing pedigree could accomplish, and the ability to make you feel the intensity of a race is unprecedented," Munro added. The game is being developed by Slightly Mad Studios, which recently bought out GTR 2 developer Blimey! Games.
Need For Speed: Nitro, being developed at EA Montreal for the Nintendo Wii and DS, is also slated to launch in fall 2009. The game will be an arcade racer first and foremost, designed to appeal to casual gamers as well as experienced arcade street jockeys. "Need for Speed: Nitro on the Wii and DS will not be a Mario Kart clone - Nintendo already does an excellent job with that," Munro said. "Instead, we are evolving the arcade racer with a fresh and unique visual style that is very Need for Speed. The game will be rich and deep and will appeal to experienced arcade racers as well as casual players. What you'll see is that Nitro in no way resembles any other previous Need for Speed title."
The third and final addition to the Need For Speed onslaught is the inevitable MMOG, Need For Speed: World Online. Co-developed by the remains of EA Black Box and EA's Singapore studio, Need For Speed: World Online will be a "Play 4 Free" title which will offer players a range of licensed, customizable vehicles to race against other gamers from around the world. The game will debut in the Asian market this summer and then be opened up to Western players in winter. NFS: World Online is expected to make use of a microtransaction-based system, although Munro declined to discuss the possibility at this point.
"This 'Play 4 Free' action racing game will give Need for Speed fans the most licensed cars, parts and game modes ever in Need for Speed's history. Players will prove their racing supremacy through the sophisticated online matchmaking features and fully customize their profile and their ride," he said. "Once Need for Speed: World Online has been successfully deployed in Asia, we will expand the game's reach by offering the service to PC gamers around the world."
I can't tell if this is a surprising development or not. On one hand, EA Black Box was recently gutted, in large part because of the less-than-spectacular performance of the Need For Speed franchise, including the latest title Need For Speed: Undercover; on the other, EA's reputation for sequels uber alles makes this move seem almost natural, if not a little extreme. In any event, it's obvious that despite the fate of Black Box, EA remains committed to its flagship racing franchise. And who knows? Maybe making the games less about funkadelic soundtracks and pretend street cred and more about, you know, actual cars and racing and stuff is just what the series needs to get back on its feet.