Version tested: Xbox 360
Driving games have done a lot of odd things over the years to get noticed. Mario Kart gave you shells to fire. MSR gave you points for losing traction. Ridge Racer let you drive sideways round corners. Need For Speed was, on and off, about running away from the law. This one isn't though - this one's about street racing kids going straight. Which is an apt description, since you basically can't steer.
Things start off badly as you sit on the grid holding down the accelerator while your car visibly fits in front of you, bouncing around like a washing machine while a negligibly attired stripper pouts you down to the start. As soon as you hit the first corner you lose it, because turning further than 10 degrees at anything faster than a crawl isn't going to happen, leaving you to pump the brake for ages and ease almost completely off the accelerator in order to get the nose round anywhere near far enough. It's not that difficult to master the cornering once you accept these rules (and there are three degrees of Driver Assist options to help you if you struggle), but being proficient at ProStreet is more like being good at scouring pans than being good at, say, dancing. Or racing cars for sport.
Strangely it's all best played out in the wider third-person view, which pulls back as you accelerate, because this accentuates what speed you have and couples well to a physics model that really drags at your tyres if you let a wheel slip off the track into the dirt, and won't let you get away with mowing down sign-posts or anything like that, either. As a result, going fast is a precarious feeling, and the game's best moments involve threading your delicate, hand-built racers at pace through networks of long but slight opposing corners. The other camera options aren't really worth exploring - there's a bonnet cam instead of a bumper cam, which makes things feel floaty and slow, and a closer third-person effort, and for some reason the driver's-eye view feels more like you're pinned to the windscreen somewhere above the dashboard, so it's a bit like playing as a tax disc.
Visually the cars are generally pretty, and there is a tremendous amount of customisation to be done for those so inclined, which is of course where a lot of ProStreet's depth really lies. Not only can you buy and pin tons of upgrades to your various cars - altering driving characteristics in the process, and even doing clever things like testing downforce in a wind tunnel - but you can record your preferred set-up as a "blueprint", which you can then share with friends. Not a bad idea, that. Damage modelling, too, is done extremely well, with bumpers hanging off, bonnets getting mashed and as much crumpling as you've seen anywhere other than Burnout or your washing basket. That said, the systems governing repairs are a bit forgiving - there are all sorts of repair markers to use, or you can spend cash, but it doesn't really cripple you as it might, and it doesn't really incentivise you to drive any safer - you were already having to brake far more than usual anyway.
Equally un-groovy is the bizarre "wobble" effect that seems to have crept into Need For Speed recently as you drive around. I'm not sure whether EA's trying to compensate for the 30fps frame-rate (which is fine), or whether it's an artistic choice designed to emphasise what speed there is, but it's the sort of over-compensation that sees otherwise sensible men spend hundreds of pounds on having another exhaust pipe. You are still driving a Ford Escort.
Not that there's anything inherently wrong with wanting to make your car look pretty, whatever Holy Moly presumably says, and ProStreet's presentation is certainly clued in to the world of boy racers and shouting at you when you walk home through car parks wearing the wrong trainers, but it's not really my taste. Indeed, there's a risk of doing my grouchy-old-man routine about all the shouting neon and hot-pant misogyny if I don't watch it. But actually, objectively this isn't so much tasteless as just trying too hard. The Ryo "Showdown King" character who 'disses' you in cut-scenes whenever you win is like a gurning adolescent bully with bum-fluff and a rich dad, and the announcers, who talk over almost every screen, are the sort of people who say things like "hip" and "rad" without a trace of irony, and keep referring to "my man Ryan Cooper" (that's your name - you can't change it) in a way that makes you clench your fists until the nails cut through the skin.