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May 31, 2007 — The new Need for Speed is here: Pro Street.

Don't get confused. This isn't like other EA Street titles with over-the-top arcade slam dunks and impossible maneuvers. This is Pro Street. In fact, EA did the exact opposite and created an entire new genre of racer: the street racing simulation. «The Fast and the Furious» meets Forza.

Well, don't tell that to producer Michael Mann. His team at EA Black Box, responsible for NFS: Most Wanted, wants to distance Pro Street as far away from «The Fast and the Furious» as possible. Pro Street isn't about a glowing, fluorescent purple underbelly to your car. Pro Street is 100 percent about performance and the culture of street racing.

And if you didn't know, street racing happens to be illegal. To accommodate, professional race tracks are opening their doors to street racers in unheard of numbers. Pro Street will feature real world locations like Sears Point Raceway (now Infineon Raceway) near Sonoma, Calif. While EA wouldn't go into detail on the other tracks, it did say that you can expect a number of «iconic locations» in Asia, Europe and the States.

Live from Infineon.
What we didn't expect from EA was just how «real world» it was taking NFS. We watched a developer do a quick lap at Sears Point and this is unlike any NFS you've ever seen. It actually looks real. Sears Point was bordering on photorealism. More importantly, the sense of intense speed is gone —— this game plays more like Forza than previous NFS titles in which you dodged cops and knocked opponents off cliffs. We watched as he apexed turns and scratched our heads as he used these strange contraptions known as brakes.

The biggest question we had for EA was this: "Why"? Pro Street is a not really a sequel —— it's a distinct departure from the franchise's roots, a turn in a completely new direction. Quite simply, said EA, street racing fans have been demanding real-world believability. That all starts with the race weekend.

The race weekend will be a spectacle.
It's then that the street racing community gathers, car enthusiasts that like to build and show off their high-performance racers. They do that in a number of ways, and EA has included a few in several events that comprise the race weekend in Pro Street: Drag, Drift, Grip, Circuit and Speed Challenge. The career goal is focused around working your way up the ladder in each event and eventually becoming «king of the street.» This focus on driving culture culminates in customization. For each event, you will need to swap out parts and toggle a staggering number of options. You're not going to use your drift car for a drag race. EA's goal here is to create a system that is both accessible and deep. If you're not into customization, you can choose an event car based on a blueprint template. If, on the other hand, you live for tuning your gearbox and have a hard time deciding between intercoolers, you can build your car part-by-part using real-world, high performance components. NFS: Carbon's autosculpt system was accessible, yes, but it was purely aesthetic. In Pro Street, every modification has an effect. If you really want that new spoiler, you will sacrifice speed for grip. Thankfully, there is instant feedback that will show you exactly what effect each part will have. And unlike traditional motorsports like NASCAR, there are no rules designed for your safety or the safety of others. In fact, screw that. You can push the envelope as far as you like using brand-name, high performance parts. EA has yet to mention what brands it has partnered with, but you can bet there will be many.

The new visuals will blow you away.
Once you build the perfect car, don't get too attached to it. Pro Street is bringing the danger back to racing. Each bump, each scrape, each head-on collision with a wall has consequences. We sat in awe as a target video showed a car exploding into hundreds of pieces. Keep in mind this isn't Burnout. The car doesn't just explode and you respawn seconds later. Black Box is devoting a significant amount of time to a persistent damage system that emulates real-life collision in hope of showing the raw, violent power of these cars. Yes, there are real consequences —— beautiful, thrilling dangerous consequences that will jolt you out of your shoes, and probably your checkbook.

None of this would matter if the game looks like butt, so Black Box dedicated itself to creating a fresh visual look. If by «fresh» Black Box means «gorgeous and completely unexpected,» then it succeeded. At Sears Point, the setting sun cast an orange glow over the track and glistened off the car's pristine paint job (Cars are currently modeled with about 21,000 polygons.). When cars burn out, thick gray smoke wraps around the spinning tires and leaves an ominous cloud in the middle of the road. More than just fun to look at, the smoke will obstruct the vision of your competition, at the risk of spinning yourself right into a wall. On the final stretch of a race, blowing smoke on your opponents is the ultimate insult. You might as well get out of your car, spit on their windshields and flip them the bird.

Blow smoke in their faces.
Despite our initial surprise, we like EA's decision to depart from Need for Speed's arcade roots with Pro Street. Realistic street racing is a completely new genre in gaming. But will EA actually pull it off? Time will tell. All we can say is that we will happily run a string of red lights on our way to our first hands-on session with this new breed of speed.

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