Review: Need for Speed – Porsche Unleashed (Playstation)

In this review, we go back in time as we play the Playstation game Need for Speed – Porsche Unleashed. We find out how well this racing game plays.

This game was released in 2000 and is the 5th game in the console series. It is also the final game of this series that was released in the Playstation.

We are getting more and more familiar with this particular franchise. We first reviewed Road and Track Presents: Need for Speed. The game got a somewhat mediocre review thanks to the limited gameplay it offers. We then reviewed Need for Speed II. That game took a big step back and the barely passable score reflected that. After that, we tried Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit. While it was an improvement, it still garnered a mediocre review here. Finally, we reviewed Need for Speed: High Stakes. While the quality did improve, it only pushed the franchise back to the lukewarm reception the series has gotten all this time. The question we have is whether or not this entry will finally get a reasonably positive review.

For the record, when we did our initial research for this game, we actually had some pretty high hopes for this entry. Some people suggest that this is the best game in the series as far as the original Playstation is concerned. Some things were supposed to be revamped. In addition to this, the game focuses on Porsche vehicles throughout history. The caveat to this is the fact that there are also some pretty brutal reviews as well which suggest that opinions do range across the board. So, cautious optimism was how we entered this game.

The only real storyline involved in this game are the vehicles themselves. The game does show how Porsche evolved over the years through video and still images. Some would also point out that the game also revolves around you as a new test driver for Porsche as you struggle to fit in with the rest of the crew. While technically true, once you get past the intro, this storyline only really fits into one side-driving mode.

There are several side-modes to this game. There is the Factory Driver mode. Essentially, this is a sort of timed training mode with a small storyline throughout. While the game sells itself as this being the main hook for the game, this ends up being a side-feature in-game. There are just over half a dozen training “assignments” where you need to reach a goal before a certain time. Along the way, you can incur penalties. The penalties are either a tally of cones you knock over or number of times you scratch the car. In either case, each penalty tacks on an additional 1 second to your total time. Unlike the previous game, dirt, grass, and jumps can damage your vehicle. So, extra caution is in order. If you complete this mode, you can play with a few additional vehicles in single race modes.

There are other single race modes as well. Capture the Flag has players running through “flags” (giant NFS logos). First to collect the target flags wins. Chase mode is a battle between police and suspect. If the suspect eludes police after a certain time, the suspect wins. If the police car touches the suspects car, the police wins. Time battle gives players a certain amount of time on their timer. After the lead car crosses the start/finish line, the opponents timer runs down until the opponent crosses the finish line. First player to run out of time loses. Finally, there is race mode which is a standard race.

The main guts of this game, however, lies in the Evolution mode. This mode allows players to take on a full-fledged racing career. This is complete with rally races, weekend races, and of course, tournament races.

Players start out with a certain amount of seed money. The player needs to purchase a vehicle just to race in any of the races at all. Races generally have restrictions. Some races are single race, but single vehicle races. Other races go by class. Like previous games, there are multiple classes that players can race in. In this game, there are 3 classes. Third class is the lowest performing vehicle. Second class is middle of the road. First class is the higher performing class. A fourth class is the racing class which are vehicles that can race in only very specific races (i.e. the Short Tail vehicle.). Racing class does not appear in the tournament mode.

What is new is the era system. Players start in the classic era. In this era, cars are generally the cheapest. They are also the some of the lowest performing vehicles in the game. This allows players to get used to the way vehicles handle. In order to advance to the next era, players must complete all three tournament races. While we didn’t test to see if 3rd place is sufficient, second and first place are both sufficient to complete a class. Once all three classes are completed, players will get the option to take on the next era. If players haven’t completed some of the smaller racing events, they are free to do so. If players feel the urge to take on the next era, they have to dig through the options and select the option that allows them to advance to the next era.

In total, there are three era’s: the classic era, golden era, and modern era. In a sense, they operate like the classes in a way. Classic era is the slowest and lowest performing vehicles generally. Classic era ramps things up with higher performance vehicles (and higher price tags!). Finally, players can take on the modern era which ramps things up yet again on all accounts.

When you get to the races themselves, its easy to notice one of the big improvements of the franchise. The windy roads that have plagued previous games are gone. They have been replaced by interconnected highways that give this game a semblance of realism. In circuit races, different roads have been blocked off, but in a few modes, it is an open field where can race to any part of the map you like.

In addition to this, the name you’ve chosen for yourself will also appear on the license plate just for that extra bit of personalization. This makes the game sound really exciting, but unfortunately, this is where the game goes off a cliff.

The game ramps up breakables. You actually have to go at a certain speed in order to destroy them, but it’s more than possible to break things. The problem here is collision detection. In some cases, you swear you’ve blown past the breakable only to see your car lurch as the breakable shatters. In other cases, you are just waiting for the impending bust up of a break able only to see your car harmlessly sail past it.

To make matters worse for breakables, computer opponents can’t crash into any of them. If they are on a part of the track that sees them blowing through markers, you’ll notice that the markers remain in-tact even though they clearly drove through that object. It’s most obvious in the Tokyo shipping yard track where opponents pass seamlessly through various barriers while you hopelessly crash into them.

Collision detection problems aren’t limited to breakables either. Objects that are indestructible are extremely hit and miss. Sometimes, you’ll encounter an invisible wall on the inside of a corner that stops you dead in your tracks. In other cases, you can actually pass through the corner of buildings. It is also possible to fly through fences and guard rails as you crash into various objects behind them. There is even the occasional invisible wall in the middle of track sections that you will have to navigate through. Sometimes, a small hole on the side of the road in and of itself is enough to stop your car instantly. In some cases, you can drive along, then mysteriously fall through the track briefly only to crash into the road. The physics engine briefly freaks out as it tries to place your car back on the road.

To make matters worse, the handling of your car is extremely hit and miss. In some cases, especially after the classic era, the cars breaking distance exceeds the draw distance for the game. This puts the onus on reading the buggy map and track memorization to minimize crashing straight into the barriers. Combine with the way cars swerve, you sometimes feel like you are driving on ice even though you are driving on pavement. Don’t even ask about the few instances of gravel road.

To add insult to injury, the game also struggles to produce accurate car placement. You might be in second place on a straightaway. You might actually be about 4 seconds behind the leader. If you pay attention to the distance timer, the timer can bounce around between 5 seconds behind and just below 0 seconds. This also affects your placement in the field when you are in a tight race. In one instance, I scored a first place finish even though the computer opponent had a lead on me by a bumper. So, I won a race thanks to a glitch in the system. Sometimes, the placement can even bounce around in all position reporting.

The strange way this game handles things doesn’t end once the race is completed. The championship points system is probably the strangest point system I’ve ever encountered in a game to date. The championship points aren’t affected by anything other than your placement in the races. It is possible to finish first in every race in a championship and still fall short of winning the whole thing. This is a first for me personally.

The reason for this possibility revolves around whether you choose to take on the “novice” drivers courses or the “intermediate” racers tracks. You can choose which one between each race, but you can only race in one for each location. The difference between novice and intermediate is the total number of points you can earn for placing in certain positions. Bizarrely, the game actually has 8 racers total and the results are ultimately combined after to determine standings. Because of this, racing in the novice races is ultimately a pointless exercise because you’ll never win if you just race in them.

As you advance into this game, you may wonder how you can upgrade your car. It’s not a bad thing to wonder given that the previous game allowed for vehicle upgrades. Unfortunately, this game has stripped this feature out completely. So, your success in the races is largely dependent on trying to find the highest performing car in the class and performing reasonably well with that car. The wrong car can mean you watch your competition drive away into the distance.

What has remained is the need to repair vehicles. Any bump, scratch, ding, and collision can be fixed, but it will cost you. You can either conduct repairs in your garage or between races in the championship mode. The repairs are divided into four areas: engine, body, suspension, and braking. If you are low on cash, it is possible to skimp out on repairing a thing or two, but know that the performance won’t be top notch. Luckily, money isn’t exactly hard to come by here – especially if you choose to re-race certain tracks.

Generally speaking, this game does push a few new interesting features. Unfortunately, it sacrifices way too much on gameplay in the process. The chase (AKA Hot Pursuit) mode is probably the worst iteration I’ve seen to date in a Need for Speed game. You only have one police car and everything that made the mode interesting was stripped out. With buggy physics, handling, and bizarre tournament points system, this game gets messy quick. It’s like the developers kept a few interesting elements from the previous game, wanted to incorporate the road system from Driver, tried to incorporate some of the features of Gran Turismo, and ended up with a game that fails to deliver anything noteworthy. Although I did technically complete the basics in the game, had I not been doing a review, I likely would have put the controller down long before crossing that last finish line.

Graphics were a painful element in this game. With some of the improvements made in the previous game, I was expecting a step up from the previous game. Instead, all that came out was a game that looks more dated than the previous game. You’d think this game was released before Hot Pursuit let along High Stakes. With graphics that make the game look three years older than it already is, this game becomes cringe-worthy. Even the speedometer needles aren’t properly centered.

The audio left a fair bit to be desired. The only positive thing that can be said is the effort to bring in era-like music for that extra push for nostalgia. Beyond that, the music can get repetitive as you’ll hear some of the same tracks over and over again. The sound effects were largely forgettable. Nothing really memorable here.

Overall, this game was a huge disappointment. I was hoping for a huge turnaround so I could say that this franchise had something memorable on this system. Unfortunately, this game, like the others before it, fell short of that. Although the menues were more or less intuitive and a new road system was a nice attempt at putting distance from the other games in the series, there is next to nothing praiseworthy to be had here in this game. With a buggy collision system, glitchy placement system, a rollback of features, and puzzling tournament point system, this game is anything but a joy. The graphics are dated and the audio is forgettable. This cringe-worthy game should be avoided. Worst game in the series yet.

Furthest point in game: Beat the tournaments and collected the bonus (40% completion. No motivation to get the other 60%).

General gameplay: 9/25
Replay value: 1/10
Graphics: 4/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 32%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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