December 28 2012
The iconic Need for Speed franchise has long had options for racing with friends, but in 2010 EA decided that an online version of the game was in order and Need for Speed World was born. It's free-to-play and features arcade-style street racing and high-speed chases through the re-imagined cities of Rockport and Palmont from earlier titles in the series.
The world of Need for Speed World is a rather unusual one, but then again, not many racing games strive to be "massively multiplayer." In the default Free Roam mode you're able to drive around the city, but it largely serves as a lobby from which you queue for instanced races and events. You'll see other players Free Roaming about, but you can't collide with them as you can while racing. Although there is a daily treasure hunt in Free Roam mode, it's really not the sort of thing most people are after when they load up Need for Speed.
The instanced events come in several different flavors. A Sprint is a simple race from one point to another for up to 8 players. Circuits are similar, but they have a looped courses where the race can have multiple laps. Drag races put 2 to 6 players on a typically straighter and shorter course with the option to manually shift gears. There are also 2 modes that don't involve racing. Pursuit, which is single-player only, has the police trying to chase you down and bust you. Finally, Team Escape is a mode where up to 4 players try to outrun the cops and get to a given destination without getting caught.
The courses are all derived from the huge Free Roam map by barricading off the route, which sometimes includes shortcuts. There's plenty of excitement to be had during these races as you slide around corners and achieve spectacular air time on the city's hills while trying to avoid regular traffic. Adding further to the mayhem are temporary power-ups that can be used during the race to boost your speed, make the leader a "traffic magnet," and so on.
Sprint and Circuit modes have a single-player option that lets you race against computer-controlled opponents. The rewards for multiplayer racing are much higher, but single-player is a great way to learn the courses, and if you're new to this kind of game, learn to drive.
As a F2P offering, Need for Speed World is supported through the sale of Boost, one of the in-game currencies. When the game launched, you were capped at level 10 until you brought the $20 "starter pack," but that restriction has since been lifted. The primary motivation for purchasing Boost is to get a better car, and it's the only way to buy some of game's best cars. The most expensive cars in Need for Speed can sell for as much as $50 or $60, although discounts are available on large allotments of Boost.
There are good cars that can be earned by racing, but the time commitment to do so is considerable. Curiously, you don't seem to be able to earn cars you can buy, or buy cars you can earn, or exchange one type of currency for the other. It escapes me why the system is so restrictive, both from a player and revenue-generating perspective.
It's a great-looking game with convincing cityscapes and decent physics. Unfortunately, controller options are almost non-existent. There is limited support for at least the Xbox 360 gamepad, but you can't change any keybindings and you probably won't have any luck with other peripherals, such as a steering wheel.
Like many online games, Need for Speed World could use more players. The matchmaking system seems to struggle to find 8 players for a race, so you often end up with only half that. Some races are rated by you car's class, which helps to keep things on a somewhat even playing field. Matchmaking for "open" races is a little sketchier, and there can be a significant difference between cars of the same class.
The Bottom Line
Need for Speed World has it's moments and if you want some casual track time with friends, you may find that it gets the job done at a reasonable price. The "world" part, unfortunately, doesn't amount to much of anything, so Need for Speed fans or racing aficionados will likely get better mileage for your money from one of the other titles in the franchise with multiplayer features.