Throwback: Criterion’s Ambitious Extreme Sports Game

Article By 
Alan Walsh
April 19, 2021

Throwback: Criterion’s Ambitious Extreme Sports Game

Article By 
Alan Walsh
April 19, 2021

Beyond Cars. It was the working title that British developer Criterion Games had assigned to its all-new IP. After handing over the reigns of the Need for Speed franchise to the now defunct Ghost Games, the 15 developers who remained at the Guildford-based studio were ready to explore new adventures and create something genuinely exciting. They wanted to build a unique experience, one that would not only live up to the studio’s legacy of fun and engaging games, but also dial up the action and ambition to an entirely new level. After many years of success developing the Burnout and Need for Speed franchises, it was finally time for Criterion Games to go “Beyond Cars.”

The title was revealed at E3 2014 through a developer commentary video that featured studio personnel discussing their vision for the game and how they restructured their working environment to be more close-knit, team-focused and collaborative. We also got a glimpse at some concept art that gave us an idea of what to expect from their aspiration – a vehicular action sports game that featured a vast number of unique classes, from quadbikes, jet-skis, speedboats and dune buggies to helicopters, planes, wingsuits and parachutes. This crazy combination of vehicle types would allow for all sorts of creative stunts, including vehicles jumping above each other, under each other, through each other and even tied together – just imagine a parachute diver soaring through the sky while being attached to a high-speed quadbike, or an athlete jumping from a moving helicopter to a buggy underneath that’s crossing rocky ground.

Beyond Cars also promised to offer vast terrain and unique environments never seen before in a Criterion game. As the studio put it, “our players can go anywhere, they can make any type of experience they want.” With a focus on adrenaline pumping thrills and absolute fun, Criterion’s goal was to make this the biggest game in its history. To say the vibes that I got from the video was an extreme sports twist on the Just Cause formula would be an understatement – which ultimately shows just how much promise this game had. It was something that no other studio ever tried before. Beyond Cars also had a first-person perspective to reflect the rise of GoPro videos at the time – and to really pull the player into that thrilling experience of using the vehicle regardless of situation.

After E3 however, Criterion went quiet. The game wasn’t mentioned again until the 2016 GDC convention when a brand-new piece of concept art (via The Verge) was shared – showcasing an assortment of vehicles and characters that would be present in “Beyond Cars.” The image featured aircraft, boats and ATV quadbikes adorned by a scenic tropical forest in the backdrop. It’s a truly colourful view that highlighted just how bright, bold and electrifying the game would’ve been. At the time, Criterion Producer Pete Lake joked that “more details for Beyond Cars will have to wait for a future GDC panel.” Sadly, none of this would ever be realized as the extreme sports title was officially cancelled only a few months following his presentation.

In a statement to GameSpot, EA revealed that Criterion would be shifting its efforts to support the Star Wars series of games. "While they've moved on from the previous project they've spoken about and aren't pursuing it, they are continuing to build new ideas and experiment with new IP for EA, in addition to continuing to collaborate with other EA studios," the representative said. Most notably, Criterion would assist with vehicles in the Star Wars Battlefront games and develop the Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission for PlayStation VR. Whilst it was a vehicle-based game, it’s a far stretch compared to Criterion’s previous efforts. The studio would later go on to develop the Firestorm mode for Battlefield V.

While I’ve always hoped that Criterion would revisit its “Beyond Cars” project and bring it back into the limelight, it’s highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. Last year, EA announced that it would be shuttering Ghost Games and repurposing its racing game development efforts at Criterion Games, who would be leading development on the Need for Speed franchise once more. However, that has also suffered from a significant roadblock. EA recently delayed the next entry in the open-world racing series by one year to prioritize development on the upcoming Battlefield game. That means Criterion are back to working on a first-person-shooter, again.

Outside of the Star Wars Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission for PlayStation 4, the last game Criterion launched is 2012’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Every other title it has worked on since then has been in a support capacity – and that won’t be changing until 2022 when the new installment in the Need for Speed franchise will presumably launch. Who knows, now that Codemasters is owned by EA, perhaps the series will eventually fall into their hands – giving Criterion the chance to revisit “Beyond Cars.” Although at this point, I should stop looking at the games industry with rose-tinted glasses on – it’ll sadly never happen, but I do hope to be proven wrong someday.

Alan Walsh

Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he keeps the website updated with new and relevant content, including news stories, reviews and opinion pieces for the games he likes writing about the most. He also tweets too much, probably.