The Need for Speed series has struggled to find an identity for years, despite takes by numerous developers. Between the forgotten titles, we've had the Fast and the Furious-inspired Underground, the cops vs racers of Hot Pursuit (twice), the straight-faced track racer Shift and the open-world attempt by Criterion in Most Wanted.
This latest game has had an extra year of development, breaking the habit of releasing a NFS game every year. The subtitles are gone, 2015's game is simply Need for Speed. Although, given the nature of the game, EA must have been pretty tempted to call it Need for Speed: Underground 3.
The emphasis is once again on the street racing and car modification culture, which is something many fans have been crying out for. What they've not asked for is an intrusive story, putting you in the shoes of a new racer, invited to hang with a crew that worship the ground you walk on like a tire-shredding messiah.
Live-action cutscenes play out from your first-person perspective. Early glimpses weren't great, but they couldn't have prepared me for just how bad they are. Acting is stripped back in favour of painfully enthusiastic 'street' dialogue; you'll be hammering the skip button whenever you're allowed to skip a scene. And I thought watching a Made in Chelsea advert made me want to burn things.
What's worse, the cast serve almost no purpose whatsoever. You're a new racer, trying to get the attention of the best racers and modders in the city with your crew desperately clinging to your coattails. Everyone seems to be drinking from blatantly empty cups and cans too. It's all just so sad. It'd be less embarrassing having your better half/parents catch you watching porn than this garbage.
Your crew are constantly calling you when you're driving too, and as your character never utters a word, it's all the more bizarre. What's worse, two people will conference call you at the same time and just natter to each other. Just give me the map marker and fuck off already you twunts.
Ah, yes, the map. NFS is an open world game, but only in the sense that there's a city to explore with a few optional items to find like viewpoints or car parts. There's nothing fun to find, there are no free cars hiding behind a gas station, no billboards to smash or anything like that. Thankfully, the developers have wisely included a teleport option, allowing you to fast travel to any event. This is ace, and a great way to save time and just get on with things.
The entire game takes place at night, minus the brief twilight intermissions, which immediately rolls into night again. The city itself is nothing special design wise, but the graphics are damn close to photo-realistic, the cars too actually. This really an excellent looking game technically.
Sadly, while it looks like real-life, this makes for a poor racing environment. City roads that split off or turn are very difficult to see ahead and even the blue racing line is tough to judge on some road gradients. The passing streetlights look great, but they don't highlight the road or obstacles well at all. Unlike past Underground games, track corners don't feature neon arrows guiding you around, meaning it's easy to miss a turn and effectively ruin a race. There aren't really any shortcuts to discover either.
As to be expected, events are made up of races, time trials, sprints and drift competitions. What is surprising though is that most events are drift based. Be it in teams, against the clock or over a distance. This is made even worse by the incredibly inconsistent drift controls. Sometimes you'll be able to get the backend out no problem, and others it just flat out refuses. It's a maddening experience.
In many events you're racing with a teammate. In a drift competition, you'll only score points if they're nearby, which is harder than it should be as they either drag behind or sod off and leave you. Better yet, the idiots will ram into you, cancelling your points or even making you crash in the middle of a race. Many events add additional AI cars to the mix even though you're only trying to reach a certain time/score target; they're just there for the sake of it really.
Races are just the right length, which is about the nicest thing I can say really. The AI clump together, with painfully obvious rubber-banding meaning you'll never open up a decent lead. There's no real skill to races either. If you've upgraded your car and know the track enough to avoid the potential crash sites you shouldn't have any difficulty winning. You'll know when you need to upgrade your car because the other racers leave you for dust on the starting line.
NFS: Most Wanted generously gave you any car you'd stumble across while exploring the map. There's no such luck here, instead you'll have to build up points by completing events. After your first car, you'll need to save up for ages to buy something that will genuinely offer much of a change. So from my opening Mazda, which I upgraded the hell out of, I bought a Lamborghini Murciélago for about 170,000. Imagine the devastation to find out that, aside from easier drifting and a higher top speed, my new ride felt all too similar to my opening one. There's no test ride option and free cars awarded in the story are a rarity. Actually, the free Porsche I won was considerably worse than my current ride that I'd had since the start of the game.
There's too much of an emphasis on sticking with one car and crafting it the way you want it. The depth of the handling options feels like a smokescreen. Sure there are plenty of sliders and upgradable parts (pricier parts means more MPH), but the difference the technical sliders make is negligible. Don't even get me started on the non-event that is the nitrous button.
That said, if car customisation is something you've been missing since, the Underground days, there's a lot to enjoy with paintjobs, vinyls, wraps, body kits and individual parts to change. Or you can leave as is, there's no additional Rep points awarded this time. Nor are there any neon options! You've changed, Need for Speed. It's all moot though, as you'll only enjoy your car's looks in the garage. Outside, it's too damn dark to admire any of the fine detail, design or even colour.
The game also requires a constant online connection, which could be problematic for those of you with unstable connections or if EA's servers get slammed (brace for the weekend). To be fair, I didn't experience any issues at the time of writing. Oh, you can't pause the game either which is great if you don't own a doorbell, phone or never need to sneeze.
The online nature means that there are usually a handful of other human racers on the map, competing in their own events against the AI, or enjoying ever so short sprint, race or drift events with each other, initiated by pulling up behind them and pressing R1. There's an option to form crews and play the game's story events together, but I'm not seeing people go for this option at all so far.
There's no proper multiplayer option to select a track or a random event and wait for people to join as you'd have in most games. Instead, the multiplayer feels very bite-sized. As such, unless you're going to play with people you know for a decent stretch at a time, there really isn't much longevity to the game at all.
This isn't helped by the decent cars being so expensive, you'll be using the same car for hours on end until you can afford to buy a new one and then spend hours building up money again to upgrade it. If they actually felt much different and the races offered up any real challenge (or at least a sense of fun) it wouldn't be an issue. But they don't so it is.
- Appearance customisation options are good
- Looks incredible....
- ...but turns and dangers are hard to pick out
- Car rotation is poor
- Events are rarely fun
- Story scenes and phone calls are horrendous
The Short Version: The live action cutscenes make Need for Speed painful to witness and the bland events and dull tracks mean you'll soon tire of hanging out in Ventura Bay. It's a shame, as the graphics are fantastic and the customisation options are top quality. If EA continue with the Need for Speed brand, they need to focus more on what's under the hood.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One | PC
Developer: Ghost Games