If you were in the Headstart week of Need for Speed World, in which early birds could tour the world a week early, you'll have experienced a discouraging sense of isolation. The first multiplayer race I tried to join was a matter of sitting in a lobby with a single, silent avatar chosen from the small and self-consciously macho collection available.

The minute-long lobby wait was so pregnant with tension that I typed an embarrassed “hi” into the chat window, with 30 seconds left to the race. Fifteen seconds later, I got the reply “bailing if only 2”. He proved himself no liar, and some seconds after I was kicked back into the world. Was he rude? Was I expecting too much? Is it mentally ill to fall in love so easily?

As the week dragged on, it became clear that I couldn't honestly review the game as an MMO racing game on the basis of the races I was having. There simply weren't enough people. I experienced the reasonable but testing difficulty curve of single-player games - and their inferior Rep (NFSW's XP) rewards - and I initiated a lucrative set of familiar solo pursuits with the police force. But those multiplayer races - surely the entire point of a genre with MMO in it - were attracting a maximum of three participants, whether I was on the American or European server. Generously enough, you can take your drivers onto either server, a boon to anyone who keeps odd hours.

It doesn't help that the basic, free-roaming world is almost completely aimless. Your physical relationship with other cars changes depending on what you're doing. In the free-roaming world, other players are ghosts that can be freely driven through. Collisions are possible with server-operated cars and cops, which stutter into existence as you drive around. But anything that you might want to elicit a reaction from - say, a human being - is untouchable.

So, unless you're keen on setting off a cop chase, or chasing a stranger around like a ghostly Labrador, there's little to be gained from roaming. Gaining a familiarity with the world might be a benefit, maybe, if you could define and invite people to your own races - as in Codemasters' poorly-reviewed Fuel. But otherwise, the thoughtful convenience of being able to teleport to a race start location renders a wider knowledge of the world redundant.

In turn, the ability to remotely join the queue for a multiplayer race renders the teleporting option redundant. This means that there's a inertia with free-roaming and the logging-in entry points are the busiest places. Occasionally, someone does a reverse donut.

If you want to interact non-competitively with people in a more substantial way, you can join a Stadium event. This is an area in which you can do anything you like - in less charitable words, there are no goals, and no point. Pose, ram each other, chat, take snapshots. Show off your new vinyls from the impressive - if not Forza-standard - customisation shop. See if you can spell swear words with the shapes. The first stadium - and the only one you'll see for a while - doesn't have ramps or banks, or anything to encourage driving around - it's a simple baseball diamond. Donuts it is, then.

About the author

Jon Blyth

Jon Blyth

Contributor

Log wrote about video games in most of the magazines for eight years. He left to run a pub in Nottingham in July, which upset everyone so much that GamerGate happened. He's very sorry.

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