The final installment of the EA Preview day saw a few of Europe's finest games journalists - and me - get their hands on Need For Speed: World.
After the – ahem – disappointing make-over of Need For Speed: Nitro, the NFS world moves into the arena of the MMO. I doubt World of Warcraft will be looking over its shoulder any time soon but, if you prefer your online communities to be made up of petrolheads rather than odd hairy, orc-obsessed men in back bedrooms in America, then this could be the one for you.
It’s certainly better than you might anticipate and you can’t argue when a big chunk is going to be free. Yes, I said free. Gratis. Zero quid. When the game launches later this year, the basic set-up – probably 10 levels, all the cars and a chunk of the world map – will be yours for nowt. Beyond that, you’ll be able to purchase more levels, tracks and game modes for, they hope, microtransactions. At the moment, there’s no indication of costs but the plan is minimal, and will depend on the size of the user base.
The basic game itself follows the usual rules. You unlock new cars and things by earning cash – of NFS Cash as it appears to be called here, not entirely originally. Win a race, earn lots. Come last, earn less. You know the drill. However, if you want to play around with a car you haven’t earned you can also “rent” – another microtransaction. While I can’t see that translating to WoW – “I shall just hire indestructible psycho dwarf army for this battle, my Mastercard number is...” – here it seems right, opening up and levelling the playing field for, hopefully, not many pence.
The game itself, certainly in the limited demo we experienced, follows Paradise City’s model: cruise around and find races and challenges. Or, indeed, as I found myself doing, destroy vast chunks of the city in a surprisingly sturdy Honda Civic while pursued by the State’s finest troopers. It wasn’t what I’d call “moral” but it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Given the PC nature of the title, there are mouse-based shortcuts which are very handy, particularly the in-screen map, although the demo allowed the use of XBOX controllers which should feature in the game proper.
The game is due later this summer, the developers explaining that they're working hard getting a "solid" game ready for launch. They also assure me there will be servers across the world, so there will be no annoying latency issues.
Perhaps most interestingly - well, as equally interesting as much of the other info gleaned - the plan is make the game playable on everything from the highest powered gaming PC to netbooks. Is that possible? I guess we'll find out in three or four months time...