Millennials in cars getting drinks
With so many versions and gimmicks in the series over the years, it’s hard to blame Ghost for keeping the new Need for Speed to a simple premise: take your tuned-up racer on the streets and gain enough reputation (or REP) to be noticed by five separate car culture Icons in their corresponding styles of driving—Outlaw, Speed, Crew, Style, and Build. Never trapped on one path, the five ways to play all lead to their own individual tale culminating in a meeting with the appropriate Icon and unlocking their personalized car for use.
Need for Speed comes down to skillfully-assembled driving in the open-world tracks of Ventura Bay. The car-to-asphalt experience is a tremendous balance of arcade and simulation. It leans heaviest toward arcade, but the control of vehicles—specifically how they corner—can be carefully adjusted to suit your driving style and car of preference. The menu breaks it down to a slider with two biases, grip and drift, but you will still have to account for how you prefer to pilot your car based on the demands of a track, objective, or race type, which really rewards the work you are willing to put into the interplay of tuning and controls. Even with a mid-range consumer sports car like the Datsun 240z, you can upgrade it enough to suit the five ways to play and still have it respond to your tuning setup. The response isn’t 1:1, but if that were the case, it would lose the casual play distinction.
As the difficulty increases, the range of cars and setups you use does narrow. The game is harder on you for finding the right build for the occasion, which I felt was appropriately complex and balanced given that there is no real difficulty slider. A positive is that there is “no stump the chump” here, where you need to cycle through every car to find the only one able to achieve a win. You can just test and adjust your rig to an idiosyncratic playstyle. Though you can run the game relying on one finely tuned car, Need for Speed does encourage you to try out different setups. For example, in Crew—where the objective is to perform maneuvers as a group—it wouldn’t make sense to use a 1,000+ horsepower Aventador to go drifting with your friends in the hills, so maybe you should try that modest Subaru instead.
Unfortunately, AI rubberbanding persists, and can be punishing when you approach more difficult races. One imperfect corner can mean starting over as your opponent will rocket past you, especially when taking on an Icon. This can be compounded when a stray car gets in your way, or the race starts with a random car blocking the narrow take-off point of a race. You’ll have to play without the choice of a manual transmission, rendering some of the performance upgrades downright bizarre. No cockpit view is also a strange omission.
Cops are mostly brain-dead when you encounter them, but I believe the decision to remove the ability to play as the police was the correct one, as it really got in the way of enjoying a race online during Rivals. Still, you have to make an extra effort to coax the cops into chasing you and increasing that Outlaw REP.
Though the inclusion of a narrative may have you feeling that finishing the story is the main objective, it’s best to see the game as a series of tracks where the tales serves as an ode to real tuning culture. The game does a stellar job of creating interesting tracks out of roads meant for industrial use. It’s real easy to just jump into races all over the medium sized map, as completed tracks are never closed off to you. There is a decent number of events, and their replay value will have to depend on how much you are willing to challenge the posted high scores and best times.
Here’s the deal with those cutscenes that use real actors: They’re fine, really. They add a simple tale, a harmless way to string together all these hours you’ll spend on the road. It’s just too bad you can’t skip them. You’re joined by five would-be Icons who introduce you to the different styles of driving—a sort of motley crue of street racers. Yes, the actors lack nuance, and do an odd dance to make sure they are in your line-of-sight, but they stay out of your way once you hit the road (minus their pesky phone calls). Incorporating real-world, renowned drivers, tuners, and fabricators is a neat nod to the actual subculture, and they do a fair enough acting job once you meet them. Really, the “story” provides something to center the journey on—like that time you beat Amy in a close race using Nakai-San’s car, which is great because the urban setting becomes tired in short order and starts to meld all those races into a somewhat indistinguishable morass.
Cars have always been an easy way to show off new console technology, as real-world automobile geometry is easy enough to pull from and their surfaces cut light well. There are times, usually during stopping and speeding, that NFS looks absolutely tremendous. But with additional scrutiny, some of the environment textures look downright blurry, and tail lights shining through kicked up water under your rear tires can sometimes create and odd cloud effect. The fictional Los Angeles is well done, as anyone familiar with the city will notice an uncanny resemblance to the dense metropolis. Cities are gray in the night, and the added grain filter here, along with the constant drizzle, nearly drowns out the neon lights and landmarks that should otherwise stand out. It’s a setting that can get redundant if you’re not appreciative of its resemblance to L.A.
Perhaps the biggest gripe for those who turn to Need for Speed for their racing fix will be the lack of body modifications available for the selected garage of cars. Since the selection has been curated to 52 vehicles that cover both American muscle and import tuners, the lack of a deep number of body mods is puzzling. Cars do include a select few body customizations that are pulled from real-world manufacturers and even in-house created ones. I’m not asking for every mod on the market, or outlandish options from a bygone era, but given that a build master like Nakai-San is emphasized, the limitation almost seems like a bait and switch. The best way to make your car unique is from the wrap editor where, with a little work and patience, I was able to recreate a deco for my Datsun 240z inspired by Bob Sharp Racing.
Need for Speed again requires a persistent online connection to play, and while this would be justifiable if the game was packed with a rich interweaving of multiplayer components in the main game, none of that is present here. The online-only “feature” is more of a hassle as it will end your game immediately when disconnected, even when racing against AI. There are daily challenges, but nothing exclusive to the mode—just a way to give the player a to-do list and reward you with free parts that are easily affordable anyway. Sharing “snapshots” is nice, but there is no reason why I couldn’t upload the pictures on my own time. Simply, I don’t spend enough time with the online features as there is not enough there aside from comparing real-life players’ scores in challenges. It’s not robust enough to justify a persistent online connection.
Unfortunately there is the occasional technical flaw, such as dips in framerate, teleporting underneath a car, a game crash or two, and I once saw two cars driving around stuck together as one. Most of these bugs were scant and negligible; the drop in framerate, however, absolutely halts any immersion, interrupting the tense moments of maintaining a clean drift or 200 mph on a stretch of highway.
Without a clear way to distinguish it from others in the franchise, Need for Speed feels like a test bed of sorts, a great foundation waiting to be filled by more identity-defining features. It’s a fun and casual racer, that’s easy to jump into but leaves you feeling as if maybe this well-intentioned reboot threw the baby out with the bathwater. As it stands, this entertaining driver may get lost in the city.
|Developer: Ghost Games • Publisher: EA • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.03.15|
You’d be hard pressed to find an automaker willing to take an extra year to reset their car line much like Ghost Games did here with their second run on Need for Speed. What we get is a more focused and competent racer but one seemingly unwilling to risk standing out from the crowd.
|The Good||Fun balance of arcade and sim racing, encourages different ways to drive, beautiful on most occasions.|
|The Bad||Technical and visual bugs, no manual transmission, limited body mods, always online.|
|The Ugly||The missed fist bump between Magnus Walker and Spike.|
|Need for Speed is available on Xbox One and PS4, with a PC version coming later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by EA for the benefit of this review.|