It would be fair to say that anybody who is into video games has heard the iconic Need for Speed name at some point, even if they’ve never experienced any of the games first-hand. Renowned for its fast-paced racing and high performance cars, the series has spanned more than two decades and many different gaming platforms. Over the years the focus has shifted as different trends have come and gone, but the goal of trying to improve upon the previous entry has been at the fore.
Electronic Arts has now decided that it’s time to reboot this venerable franchise, and so the sun-soaked supercars and open roads seen in NFS: Rivals are left behind in favour of another street racing title. Keeping it short and sweet with the self-titled label of Need for Speed, the game is heading back to the darkened night skies and downtown drifting madness seen in previous entries such as Underground 2 and Carbon.
First things first: the live-action movie clips are back. With mediocre acting and cheesy dialogue, not a lot of improvement has been made since the last time EA tried this gambit. There’s a bunch of actual race drivers thrown in there for some star power, but it’s obvious that they are far more comfortable behind the wheel of a car than fist-bumping poorly-dressed bogans and toasting Monster energy drinks.
What is refreshing, however, is that nothing’s being taken too seriously anymore. There’s no thriller story, no last-minute backstab – it’s just a bunch of wannabe racers doing what they love, while trying to impress their heroes within the racing scene. A lot of people are going to find it irritating regardless, but as a vehicle for pushing the player through the career, it’s enjoyable enough.
So after a five minute introduction from the friendly locals, it’s time to get racing. Given three entry level cars to choose from, it’s a short load screen and then you’re out on the slickened city streets and speeding off to the start line of your first race. If you’ve played an open-world NFS game before, you’ll be well versed in the game’s MO: earn rep and cash, buy faster cars, and progress through the events which get steadily harder.
The event types that appear throughout the game are actually quite diverse, particularly the different forms of drift race. Touge makes a welcome return, and there’s a new drift train mode where the player can only score points when drifting close to other racers. Sprint and circuit tracks are obviously the go-to for those players interested in going fast rather than sideways, and if stirring up trouble is your thing, then the lawbreaker career path will quickly have you running rings around the bumbling police cruisers.
Also present is the infamous rubber-banding of your competitor’s cars. This is something that has been a part of this series since the days of old, but this time it really jumps the shark. Early events are almost impossible to lose as the AI will hoof past you at the start only to slow their cars to a crawl if you happen to drop behind. It’s obvious that the game is trying to cater to new players which is an admirable goal, but it still makes the first few hours more of a chore for anyone who has played a driving game before.
As you progress the difficulty ramps up nicely though, and provides a hearty challenge. The automatic catch-up still feels like it’s set too strong, but it does keep the racing close. There are occasions where you may run into a brick wall as the competition has you beat for pace, but this can be overcome by simply purchasing a faster car. The exception to this rule are a couple of the late-stage drift battles set on some diabolically narrow routes. A steely nerve and a steady hand will be needed to overcome these contests.
Also coming into play is the car setup, and it’s clear a lot of work has been put into this area. Rather than just buying every part available for your car to make it go faster, you can now tune it to focus on grip or drifting handling styles. There’s a great deal of customisation to be had here, and even though the handling model is basic, playing with the tuning sliders will have a noticeable impact out on the streets.
The livery editor is a great addition as well, though it’s not going to dethrone any of the Forza titles as the technical execution isn’t quite where it needs to be. Making a beautiful custom paint job for your car is certainly do-able, but it take far more effort and time than it should. Ultimately many will be put off by the complete absence of mirroring functionality and buggy camera, which is a real shame as the potential is there for amazing car body art.
And if you think your pride and joy looks great in the garage, just wait till you see it screaming through the streets of downtown Ventura. Smoke billows out from squealing tyres with buildings silhouetted by the strobing lights of the police, and the drenched road surface reflects the street lamps through twisting overpasses and shadowy alleys. The game looks truly gorgeous when travelling at speed, and even though this isn’t the first NFS game to feature the Frostbite engine, it is certainly the most visually delicious by far.
Unfortunately, there are a few critical areas that have taken a big step back in this outing. There is no customisation of the controller setup allowed, and there is also no manual shifting either, which is blasphemy in a drifting game. It’s like playing in an alternate universe where aliens abducted every stick shift automobile and left only the autos. Whoever thought this was a great idea needs to stick to driving their Volvo on the school run and stay away from developing driving games.
Following on from that, there is no support for wheel and pedal sets (at least on the PS4 version). The game isn’t necessarily suited to them anyway, but having the option would have been nice. And an online connection is required at all times to be able to play, though surprisingly this had no negative impact for the week I was reviewing this game (I guess EA got it right this time). Any of the above could be deal breakers to some unfortunately, and it is unlikely that these issues will be fixed.
But despite these flaws, Need for Speed is an excellent joyride as it jumps head first back into the world of street racing. It’s fun, challenging, and has plenty of features that make it well worth a look. It’s not without a few serious shortcomings, and there’s plenty of room for Ghost Games to make improvements, but on the whole it’s a great addition to the NFS line-up.