The Need for Speed franchise has never been afraid to take risks, from an arcade methodology that is underground to a more simulation-centered Need for Speed: Shift. The Underground series has always been a favorite of mine and for the first time since 2001, the franchise has taken a break. Since then, the developers, Ghost Games, have upped their game in an attempt to take NFS back to its roots, but what they ended up accomplishing is a spiritual successor to the Underground series.
Need for Speed takes place in Ventura Bay; an open world that lacks any kind of inventiveness in its bland architecturally built roads and designs. Everything feels dull and identical with only two different environments present: racing in the city or in the mountains. However, and due to its monotonous structure, you will find yourself slipping into a small-scaled that will have you feel like you are driving around in circles.
At the start of the game three cars are offered to you for purchase, showcased behind live action scenes. The photo realistic car designs were so convincing that I couldn’t tell the cars were being generated in-game. Speaking of live action cutscenes, Need for Speed has quite a few of them. You are put in a first person perspective as the new comer who is a silent protagonist looking to become an icon in the racing circuit. The result is very cheesy at times since your character doesn’t reply to anyone, making conversations feel out of place.
Here are your mission givers: Spike who pushes you to race as fast as you can, Manu whose races focus on drifting with style, Robyn who earns you crew points, and Amy’s missions rank up your build points that leads to unlocking a wider choice of tuning capabilities for your cars. There is also the outlaw who is all about destruction and evading cops.
On paper this sounds like a fresh idea that potentially leads to a variety of gameplay styles. Unfortunately, the ideas fall short. For instance, Robyn’s and Manu’s drift focused races provide their own rank points but there was never a moment when I felt that I needed to tune my car to perform better for their respective missions. As a result, the game fundamentally falls into two categories: drifts and speed. The most annoying objectives are of those of outlaw, the notorious troublemaker who informs me with a text that I need to evade the cops for a specific period of time to unlock his next mission. Entering the “heat zone” provided a difficult task as the spawn rate for cops in free-roam is very low, so I’d end up cruising for long periods of time looking for a police car to smash into and start the mission.
Staying on the subject of texting, do you remember the infamous “let’s go bowling” phone calls from cousin Bellic in GTA IV? Well imagine that nuisance and multiply it by five. My phone was ringing every ten seconds to a point where I wanted to throw my controller at my screen, curse, and beg to have a moment of silence. But no, I had to endure throughout my 20 hour of game time constant phone harassment in the middle of a race, while upgrading my car, while free roaming…it was like one of those flies that refuses to leave your room, as it buzzed around testing your patience.
At this point, I need to point out how badly Spike’s dialogue is. His script reads like senior writer sitting around a table discussing what’s new and hip with the youngsters, with the result being a copious amount of internet slang like “bae,” “kk,” and of course, “hashtag.” He is your typical easily scarred rich boy who gets picked on by the other members, and tries way too hard to blend in with the street kids. He ultimately turns out to be an unlikable, obnoxious person.
Need for Speed’s car sounds are spot on, with their roaring engines, and metallic rattling noises coming from their exhaust pipes. You can even hear the turbocharged noise when the driver lifts off the throttle and the engine speed drops. Add to that the screeching tires when drifting across the mountain roads, and you can see why all this sounded like music to my ears.
Ghost Games has decided to make their game online-only. Personally, I don’t have any quarrels with that if it immerses the game’s experience. Unfortunately, I am yet to see any benefit from this feature, and to be frank, EA’s serves are not perfect. There were times, for example, when I was being inexplicably locked out of my account, but once I was in-game, everything ran falwlessly. I never stumbled with any kind of lag even while playing with friends, though I wish there was an offline mode when you are free-roaming to prevent randoms from joining your game.
Where the game does shine is in its fairly expansive customization and tuning. You will quickly learn that trying to balance your car to fit all types of races is a misstep; it’s required of you to buy a separate car just to modify and suit the drifting or speed races. If you are a creative person, the visual customization part would be very attractive as there are a bulk of decals, paint jobs, front bumpers, hood, headlights, rear fenders and so on to tinker with. Because of their broad quantity, the cars in the game shape out to be unique for each player.
However, there are always chinks in the armor. For example you cannot duplicate your decal on both sides of your car, so you end up going back from one side to the other just so you could replicate your first design. Worse still, you have no option to drive in manual. I have always played racing games on manual and I was shocked to find out that the feature wasn’t there.
This Need for Speed reboot does not quite reach its predecessors in regards of experience, but I do believe its on the right track to likely be a marvelous game. It certainly looks and sounds the part, and Ghost Games just needs to reevaluate their ideas for the next iteration.
Need for Speed is available on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC. A review code was made available to us via EA.