To some, Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed represents a more different time for the franchise. Until the Underground series ushered the franchise into a new era – for better or for worse – of heavy car customization and narrative, these features were either thin on the ground or practically non-existent. Need for Speed had a different identity back then, a more straightforward one.
But this is not to suggest the change wasn’t well received, far from it; the inclusion of characters provided some really memorable acting and quotes (I still remember Nikki’s PSA from the opening of Carbon), police chases became more advanced, and overall the franchise started bringing fresh elements to its gameplay. Given the fact that the very first installment had FMV (full motion video) and the obnoxious Mr. X who served as the game’s antagonist, if anything Need for Speed went back to its roots.
Porsche Unleashed is among my all-time favorite video games, and if I were to rank every NFS installment I’ve played, this one would be near the very top. Despite the nature of racing games that invites aggressive competition and high-octane racing, the gameplay of Porsche Unleashed feels more like a commemorative than anything else. At no point does it ever feel I’m in a race of my life; but rather participating in a parade that happens to have light racing thrown in for fun. Every genre has that one example that is a touch different than its peers and doesn’t immediately feel like it belongs to said genre: Porsche Unleashed is that game.
If you’ve read my previous article on North Country from NFS II: SE, then you know tracks from racing games don’t often provide much in way of critical or literary analysis, and the best anyone can talk about is their associated feelings with it. With that being said, let’s travel to Normandie: arguably one of the most beautiful tracks ever to appear in a racing game. Once again inspired by rural countryside, Normandie employs a very scenic route with wide open roads and fantastic ambiance. Trust me, this particular track is better experienced with the music turned off.
Starting off in a forest, the warm autumn tones at once give off a cozy, quaint vibe. The visuals and colors are reminiscent of those romantic cards which feature silhouettes locked in embrace. The forest track immediately branches off into two routes, with the right housing remnants of a broken building; a church perhaps. I remember these details being rather impressive back in the day. This route is ostensibly a shortcut but you’re better off taking the left one because there’s no danger of crashing into anything. Even in a relaxing racer such as this, there’s always the chance of A.I. drivers bumping into you. The forest segment is short and serves as a wonderful way to open this track.
The next segment is the main highlight of the game. Exiting the forest, the track turns into tarmac and opens into a vast rural environment, with a pleasing skybox and lens flare to finish the effect. This is the segment where the ambiance pays off. Farmhouses and barns are intersected with rows of beautiful farm fields, complete with rolls of hay and appropriate sounds of livestock (though they themselves are nowhere to be seen).
Driving further reveals a town; grain silos and more neatly stacks of hays populate this area. If you take what is ostensibly the shortcut through the town, you’ll come across cozy-looking homes and what looks to be a woman on a rocking chair. I’m being hesitant because the charmingly outdated and low-res blocky models and textures can only allow for so much assumption. Next to the woman is another model, stuck in perpetual slow-motion sweeping action. The low quality is understandable: they are background elements and meant to be noticed by the corner of your eye.
Back in the early 2000’s, I’d often slow down by the woman and just… stare at her. She may very well have been the first time I ever paid attention to a minor, background character. The creaking of her chair and the surrounding ambiance (remember: the music is turned off) still brings a smile on my face. I can only hope my retirement plan matches the calmness of this scene; though I can imagine myself getting annoyed if a Porsche 911 randomly started doing doughnuts in front of my face.
Exiting the town leads to open, winding roads and scenic scenery all the way to the finish line. On either side of the roads you’ll see wonderful farmhouses, rolling hills, and mountains with jaggy edges. Once again – like how it did in my North Country article – this section strongly reminds me of the more interior places of Oman. I’d love to take a walk alongside this scenery.
Re-visiting this track for the article was a wonderful nostalgic trip indeed. I was surprised by how much I’d remembered about the track, even after all these years. If you’ve wanted to experience the concept of Hygge in motion, Normandie is perfect for you.