Electronic Arts has told Eurogamer that it plans to reinvent the Need for Speed series by launching separate core, casual and 'Play 4 Free' games this year.
Need for Speed: Shift will launch on PC, Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP this autumn - as will Need for Speed: Nitro on Wii and DS. Need for Speed: World Online will be released to the Asian online PC market this summer, before heading West in the winter.
Need for Speed: Shift will be made by Slightly Mad Studios of GT Legends and GTR 2 fame, with help from EA Black Box producer Michael Mann and EA Games Europe bigwig Patrick Soderlund.
Shift focuses on simulation racing - not just the realistic movement of cars, but also driver behaviour. This, EA marketing boss Keith Munro told Eurogamer, is what will set the game apart. Also, less baggy jeans and hip-hop.
"The urban underground was a manifestation of style in some past Need for Speed games for sure, but Shift focuses less on these style cues and more on mirroring the driver experience, that athleticism of being in a wickedly-intense race, and what it really feels like to be behind the wheel," Munro told us.
A flashy 3D HUD that mimics driver head movement, inertia and G-force will help achieve this. There's a cockpit view that lets players freely look around using the right thumbstick, too.
Munro reckons serious car enthusiasts will "love" Shift, and that mainstream racers will also get on board. He's quite excited.
"Need for Speed Shift is amazing and I think it will blow people away," said Munro. "The tech behind that game, the details that only a team with such racing pedigree could accomplish, and the ability to make you feel the intensity of a race is unprecedented. I can't wait for our fans to begin experiencing it!"
And, he added: "Regarding any new Need for Speed girls I can't comment, but I'll definitely mark down one enthusiastic vote for Josie Maran." Steady on.
(Update: An EA spokesperson has been in touch to comment on the response to the first screenshot. "That is an untouched screenshot captured from gameplay footage," we're told.)
Need for Speed: Nitro will be created by EA Montreal. Fast and fun arcade racing tops the bill, and will be matched by vibrant and eye-catching visuals, we're told.
"Need for Speed Nitro on the Wii and DS will not be a Mario Kart clone - Nintendo already does an excellent job with that," said Munro.
"Instead, we are evolving the arcade racer with a fresh and unique visual style that is very Need for Speed. The game will be rich and deep and will appeal to experienced arcade racers as well as casual players."
"What you'll see is that Nitro in no way resembles any other previous Need for Speed title," he added.
Specific details are scarce, and apparently it's "still too early" to talk about multiplayer plans for the Wii and DS game.
Need for Speed: World Online is the 'Play 4 Free' wild-card, and will be co-developed by series regular Black Box and EA's online studio in Singapore. Released to Asia first, this online PC game will let players pick and customise their choice of licensed vehicles and take on the rest of the world - well, Asia, before heading West after a thumbs-up there.
"This is not so much a proof of concept - it is a full-fledged launch in a market that we are very ambitious toward," explained Munro. "This Play 4 Free action racing game will give Need for Speed fans the most licensed cars, parts and game modes ever in Need for Speed's history.
"Players will prove their racing supremacy through the sophisticated online matchmaking features and fully customise their profile and their ride.
"Once Need for Speed World Online has been successfully deployed in Asia, we will expand the game's reach by offering the service to PC gamers around the world," he said.
Drawing inspiration from Battlefield Heroes and the free FIFA online games, World Online will no doubt adopt a micro-transaction model, but that's Munro has said he will discuss in the future.