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Retrospective: Need for Speed Porsche

Discussion in 'Other Racing Games' started by Alex Franchini, May 10, 2015.

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    Every 2 weeks, RaceDepartment delves into racing and simracing games of days gone by.
    This time, we take a look at one of the most unique racing titles ever: EA Canada's Need for Speed Porsche, released in 2000.
    This article is about the PC version of the game, as the PSX version seems to be a completely different, and inferior, game.

    I was a kid when I saw this box in the bargain bin at my local mall, around 2001-2. The mall never had video games, so kid me was curious. Out comes this big cardboard box with a shiny silver 911. It said, with a rather slick font, "Need for Speed: Porsche". I knew I had to have it, and surprisingly I managed to get mom to buy it. Turns out it was, and still is, something special indeed.

    Need for Speed: Porsche, known as Porsche Unleased or Porsche 2000 depending on which part of our globe you live in, is one of the finest racing\driving titles ever released. You wouldn't expect that from a game carrying the rather cumbersome Need for Speed name, a brand that has meant many things to many people over its (now 21) years of life. From thoroughbred arcade racing to neon-lit customization fest, to the somewhat clunky near-simulation of the Shift spin-offs, the NFS brand certainly has seen a lot of games, some great, some not so great.

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    Yet Need for Speed: Porsche is the odd one out. There certainly are quality games in the franchise, but this one is something that has never been attempted again - excluding Slightly Mad Studios's Test Drive Ferrari, which is essentially a barebones take on Need for Speed Shift.

    I'm sure Porsche (the game) has brought many people closer to simracing and to Porsche (the brand) - I know both things happened to me. And I think it's due to the fact that this is a game that's been crafted with an attention to detail that stands out today still. Somehow, EA Canada managed to create a game that's perfectly coherent in style, gameplay, graphics and sound - resulting in more than the already excellent sum of its parts.

    Porsche
    exudes a quintessentially European atmosphere: the sunbathed cliffs of the Cote d'Azur, the snow-tinged roads of the Alps, Monaco's unique brand of luxury and a large variety of cars from one of the world's most recognizable makers.

    At this point you'll be asking: "yeah, sure, we get it, you like the game. But how does it drive?" - and I can only say that it's a ton of fun. The fabled, legendary "perfect balance between simulation and arcade" has been achieved here, and it's no marketing spin. The cars are actually believable for the biggest part, and even there are clearly some compromises made in terms of realism, it's still firmly planted in our world. Sure, you can drive it with a keyboard, you can floor the gas on most cars without spinning, but driving will still take some skill.

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    Take the Carrera RS. It's possibly the first car in the fantastic Evolution mode that poses a driving challenge: brake too hard, lift the foot off the throttle and there goes the car, sliding and spinning out of control. It's not as bad as it sounds, but it's certainly driven best with a wheel or a gamepad at the very least.

    If it sounds familiar, it's because it is - it's the Carrera you can find in GT Legends, the HistorX mod for rFactor and the RSR mod for Game Stock Car Extreme. Not quite as demanding, but a condensed version of the car that everybody can drive while still maintaining its fundamental handling character.

    And the fantastic handling model is supported by a lot of content and features. Porsche has two career modes: the Evolution mode allows you to live the history of the brand and buy your roster of cars, customize, upgrade, repair and sell them, while the Factory Driver mode is a series of more exacting challenges that will see you gain some reputation in the Porsche Test Driver team. There's no story, no cutscenes. Just some very cool showroom-style menus, a great 90s style soundtrack and the opportunity to race.

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    Every car has a detailed cockpit. The AI is believable enough, even if not perfect, and it does not fall in the rubberbanding trap - unlike the Factory Driver mode's incredibly stubborn police, which will unfortunately do everything to ram the player out of business.

    So yeah, summing it up, it's the complete package, and the icing on the cake is its classy presentation. The game has descriptions and original pictures, ads and brochures for most of the cars, something that everyone with a passing interest in the German brand (or visual design) will find absolutely fascinating.

    Playing it today is kind of difficult, but no biggie if you're a tad stubborn. The game is no longer sold legally, if I'm not mistaken, so you'll have to rummage around some old corners of your house for a CD. Then you'll have to fiddle with a windows compatibility patch, but I did manage to get it working on Win 8.1.

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    But it's still worth it. I think it really is. Need for Speed Porsche is capable of taking you back to the turn of the millennium, speeding in an old 911 Targa along the windy coasts of the Mediterranean and perhaps getting a whiff of a more luxurious life.

    I doubt the original dev team is listening, but an HD remake would be quite the interesting proposition after some years of half-baked arcade racers. Even a simple GOG re-release would be fantastic - one can only hope.
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2015