Need for Speed
Over its 20 year history, the Need For Speed series has gone from complete obscurity on the 3DO to being a sleeper series on the PS1, and then exploding in popularity with NFS III: Hot Pursuit on the PS1 and later the Need For Speed Underground games of the PS2 era. The latter cashed in big-time on the custom car/tuner craze of the early aughts and much like the Fast and the Furious movies, this franchise has changed with the times in some good and bad ways. The Xbox 360 era saw the series infuse a bit of Burnout into it with Hot Pursuit, while The Run tried to add a story to the detriment of the experience. This reboot aims to blend storytelling alongside night-time racing to bring back the Underground glory days in a slightly different way.
NFS goes for a “rookie to riches” story with FMV characters straight out of the mid ’90s. Everyone talks to your unnamed character in exactly the same way as they would in a Sega CD game. It isn’t like the Underground series or any racing franchise for that matter has had A+ storytelling, but here, it’s especially weak. The storyline in The Run at least went for melodrama and QTEs. NFS’s story is basic C-grade car chase stuff made all the worse with a silent protagonist.
However, while the plot and characters really don’t matter – they are at least entertaining. The worst thing would be if the acting was just bad and not so bad, it’s good. Here, you can tell everyone is trying to inject some life into whatever razor-thin character they’ve been given, and they do at least stand out. Drift-master Manu is sarcastic, while Spike is a spoiled rich kid who thinks he’s God’s gift to racing – but he’s a loveable idiot who doesn’t mean any harm. Amy is the expert mechanic with a slight sarcastic bend, while you’re a guy who loves the first-person fist bump.
While the storyline takes up a lot of time (and can be mostly skipped if you really want to), racing remains the most important part of Need For Speed. The open world setup of the Underground, Most Wanted reboot, and Rivals returns here with a twist. Everything is always online, so players can join the game whenever they want. They can challenge you, or you can just focus on the task at hand and improve skills in the storyline until you want to race online. This always-online experience has some fairly long load times to start the main game up.
The racing action is worth the trouble though, as every kind of racing type is enjoyable. Sprints are frantic, while drifts give you a chance to hone skills. As time goes on, you’ll attract more attention from the police and that leads to the game’s most thrilling portions – car chases! While it’s easy to get chases wrong in a game – as some open world sandbox games have simply made them too hard by stacking the deck against you – here, you can always escape with a bit of brains and a lot of balls.
Leaving without your car smashed or your car hauled back to the shop alongside a gigantic fine means you accomplished something. You’ve done more than just outrun the cops – you’ve outsmarted them. It doesn’t matter if you had to criss-cross between going with and then against the flow before doing a u-turn in a tunnel. Or even had to ram them into a wall to find a detour – you won that particular war and lived to tell the tale. Doing so without losing money means you can improve your car at a faster rate.
Winning also does that, although you are given a fair amount of XP even in defeat and every race can be re-run if you so desire. Earning XP outside of races is easy too as chases can easily level you up a few times for longer ones. Beyond that, a PGR-style kudos system (with a PGR-style font even) rewards you for risky driving, skillful driving, or just smart driving. Slipstreaming during a race can net a healthy amount of XP and even get you a last-second victory. Those 0.0001 second victories are the best in the game, even if they are accomplished with a bit of rubberband AI. Normally that practice annoys me, but it’s done fairly well here. If you’re dominating, you’ll have your lead time affected – but a single crash will never cripple your chances to win.
In a nice touch, you can take an in-game snapshot at any time by clicking in the right stick – which is far better than the default Xbox One option for screenshots. Landmarks are also littered around Ventura Bay and you can hit those points on the map and take scenic shots of the locales. It’s a very slick system, and the whole in-game map setup is just about perfect. You can pick which missions to do right on the map and fast travel to the location right away without having to drive around. It’s very much like Burnout Paradise or Forza Horizon where exploring is part of the fun, but if you have a short timeframe to play the game, fast travel lets you get something done quickly.
Unfortunately, the interface does suffer a bit at times. On-screen messages from characters can distract you during races and game messages about things you can do are the absolute worst. They dim the playing area, which is a pretty horrendous thing to do in a game SET IN SOME FORM OF DARKNESS AT ALL TIMES. This is just a numbskull move, and it’s made worse because you can never pause the game due to it being always online. There’s no good reason for the story portion to just be online either since everyone is the same generic nameless white dude.
Visually, Need For Speed benefits quite a bit from the always night-time (sorta) look. You’re either playing at night or at dawn, so the color of the sky can really change things around a bit visually. Weather plays a part too as it seems to always be in some sort of state of rainfall – it’s either falling or has just fallen, so the streets are always slicked-down. It’s great looking and the transition from game world to real world is done fairly well.
Need For Speed’s soundtrack is a modern mix of rap, dubstep, dance, and electronica. It’s a great club mix and while that may not be something I want to hear all the time – it does work perfectly for this game. It’s a high-energy game, so a soundtrack full of lively songs fits. The acting is functional, but not amazing, and the sound effect work is quite good. The cop acting is good and they do some nice voice alteration to add some intensity to the chases. Vehicular destruction is captured well with sound effects like metal crunching offering up satisfying crashes and the agony of defeat when you slam into a barricade or another car.
Need For Speed is a better-playing game than The Run, but still falls far short of any of the Criterion games or the early ’00s games as well. It struggles between wanting to be a street racer, but having a super-sanitized story that never takes risks or turns. It just moves forward in ways that don’t seem to matter and doesn’t give you a reason to keep playing beyond just acting as a means to enjoy new races and new race types. Gameplay-wise, it’s about on par with Most Wanted and Rivals, but the overall presentation feels like a massive step back. It might make for a fine rental, but it’s hard to recommend this reboot as a permanent addition to your collection until it undergoes some tweaks and a price drop or two.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on a digital copy of Need for Speed for the PlayStation 4 provided by Electronic Arts.