There are a lot of free-to-play or "freemium" games these days. From MMOs like Dungeons & Dragons Online to FPSes like Quake Live to strategy games like Travian. In fact, with a little effort, it's possible to find enough quality, free gaming content to satisfy all but the most hardcore of gamers; especially if you have access to a computer that's less than five years old and a broadband internet connection.
One sub-genre of gaming that's typically not well represented in the free-to-play movement is racing games. That's something Electronic Arts has been attempting to change with its game Need for Speed World, which is a surprisingly deep and detailed racing game set in an open world populated by scores of players and comparable in terms of scope and design to those featured in mainline Need for Speed games like Carbon and Undercover.
Another area where World shines is in the initial experience, which is surprisingly polished; sporting a thorough and well-paced introduction that quickly gets players into the game and up to speed on the driving, upgrade, power-up and competitive aspects of the game. In just about an hour, I felt like I had a good idea of how the game worked, how to progress in it and how to leverage the social aspects of it, which is something that a lot of other games in the free-to-play space often struggle with.
In a similar fashion to other EA play4free products like Battlefield: Play4Free, NFS: World doesn't attempt to push any boundaries in terms of visual presentation, instead opting to provide a solid multiplayer experience based on tried and tested technology from previous games in the series. It's no surprise that World bears a striking similarity to the Carbon and Undercover NFS games as it was coded by the same development team (Black Box) that was responsible for those games and indeed uses a lot of audio and visual assets from them such as police radio chatter and the general layout and design of the open world city.
There's some weirdness in World, like having to set the in-game camera as a preference under "Options" rather than being able to switch it on the fly or the game's tendency to ignore the presence of a game controller and present tutorials based on default keyboard controls despite USB controllers like the XBOX 360 Controller for Windows (for example) working just fine without any configuration, but these are minor quibbles and certainly no reason not to give the game a try.
The driving and handling mechanics of the game seem a little dumbed down; perhaps to accommodate players who may be using keyboard controls for lack of a better option, but they aren't too far off what fans of the NFS series have come to expect and I found them quite easy to adapt to despite having spent time with more simulation style racers of late. The controls and car handling aren't as snappy as say NFS: Hot Pursuit, but they get the job done and don't really get in the way.
Bottom line: If you're looking for a good free-to-play/freemium racing game, you could do a lot worse than Need for Speed World.