The racing game genre has had no shortage of entrants for top of class this generation, with classic franchises like Forza and now Need for Speed mixing it up with some new competitors such as The Crew and Driveclub. Taking a year off to build a more quality title, Ghost Games has ‘rebooted’ the long running Need for Speed series for a modern audience while also trying to appeal to fans of the ‘golden era’ of the series which most would say began with the first Underground game and ended with Need for Speed Carbon. Does this new Need for Speed succeed in doing this? Read on to find out.
Taking a page out of the original Need for Speed Most Wanted’s book, this story mixes the game world with real life and puts you in a silent, first person perspective. Like pretty much every other street racing game ever, your job here is to make a name for yourself in this new city and impress the five real life street racing icons that are in the game. For someone with no idea who any of the icons are this doesn’t mean much to me but props to EA for including them as I’m sure real life fans will definitely appreciate that addition. Why your main crew like you so much when you won’t even give them a name is beyond me, but they are a pretty likable and memorable bunch even if they say and do some embarrassingly cliche things at time (fist bump, bro?). The characters somewhat evolve from their generic racer dude selves along the way, getting involved in some drama and even showing some facets of unique personality.
It’s really good to see story back in to Need for Speed. A lot of people would probably argue it’s unnecessary but I feel it gives life and context to the game and gives the player extra motivation to play as opposed to just gaining rep and money. The story will be fun for most and is at the very least harmless as those who are not interested can simply skip the cutscenes anyway. At least it’s not another undercover cop story.
The only real issue I have is the phone calls you get from each of the cast, the amount of times they called didn’t bother me as you can simply let the phone go to voice mail, but a lot of the time the phone call you get references an old event or happens at a strange time like just after you finished speaking with them which kind of makes the calls feel more like mission intro’s as opposed to calls from real people. Not a big deal but it will take you out of the immersion a little.
At it’s heart, Need for Speed is an arcade open world racing game. You drive around the city of Ventura Bay and take on missions, most of which are offered to you by your crew from the story. There are standard events such as sprint, time trial and circuit races, however there are also more unique events such as drift events and crew drift train events. The latter is particularly creative as each member of the crew takes turns jostling for top spot as you earn more points for being at the beginning of the drift train then at the back. Some of these events have different stipulations such as finish in a certain time or hit a certain speed before finishing the race which definitely helps keep the events feeling fresh over longer play sessions.
In addition there are also daily challenges to complete for money and rep and you can challenge other racers, both real and AI controlled, to a race at anytime if you see them cruising on the map. Unfortunately that multiplayer aspect comes at the cost of a true multiplayer lobby meaning there is no simple way to say race a friend or join a random race online, but it is definitely cool the few times you see an online street race happen right before your eyes.
Each type of race fits into one of the games five ways to play, from speed, style, crew, build and outlaw. This basically comes down to multiple ways to earn rep, which is your level which when it increases allows you to further customise your car and take on harder races. It’s a tidy progression system that rewards variety but also allows a player to only focus on certain events if for whatever reason they don’t wish to beat them all. If you have any friends playing the game also challenges you and rewards you for beating their scores or times which is great for some fun and bragging between friends.
Now how do the cars handle? In my opinion extremely well. Of course each car is a little different, but right from the start I had no quarrels with how my Ford Mustang controlled, it felt very natural to me coming from playing a long line of arcade racers. This is definitely a case of everyone is different, but with the amount of cars and tuning options available and the simplified grip vs. drift slider meant for beginners, I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t be able to find a control setup they are comfortable with. The racing is the core of this game and it delivers in spades with fun, responsive controls and a great sense of speed. Drifting is easy to pick up but kind of hard to master as you try to find that sweet spot your car can ride to get that perfect angle. It’s challenging but in a fun way and there is no sweeter feeling in the game then nailing a perfect drift around a tight corner on a mountain.
When you’re not racing you’re most likely spending time in the garage and I’m glad to say the visual customisation does live up to the hype for the most part. Novice players will be able to make some cool designs simply using the fair amount of prebuilt complex decals which includes both original creations and real aftermarket stickers. Meanwhile pro players will be able to use layering and simple shapes to create some truly creative visuals. There are a few issues like no mirroring option for left and right sides of the vehicle (although it has been confirmed this is being worked on for a future update) and no grouping decals to move a selection all at once, however with what is available your imagination is pretty much your only limit (unless you want to use semi circles which for whatever reason are not part of the basic shapes category). Where the visual customisation falls a little bit is with custom car’s body parts, where changing parts of the car is either extremely limited or non existent for most vehicles.
Unfortunately there are some fairly major drawbacks here that try their best to detract from all the fun you may find in Need for Speed. Opponent AI is mostly terrible, relying on old fashioned rubber band mechanics to keep races close but this creates way more frustration then tension. Imagine leading an entire race only to be taken over in the last seconds of the races simply because it was the AI’s time to challenge you and try to take over your position. The reverse is true where you see cars majorly slowing down or under performing simply so you can catch up. This system basically takes away any point of you being a skilled racer and may even cost you some races even if you dominated the track.
In a similar vein the police AI also struggles. Finding a cop in the first place is hard enough no matter how much destruction you cause, but when they do show up the police in Ventura Bay have the aggression level of a bunny rabbit and struggle to put up any real challenge even at higher heat levels. The cops in the 2005 Most Wanted were relentless, chasing you down in packs of 10 to try and bring you down where as here the most cops you can get on your tail is 3 or 4 and they are far too easy to lose, making a cop chase feel more annoying then an epic struggle against the law. I literally cruised around this parking lot at low speeds while fumbling with the control trying to take a good screenshot and the cops still didn’t arrest me! Baiting them to try and complete challenges is just a pain when it should be one of the most exciting parts of the game.
Another issue is the always online requirement. While it’s cool to have your pictures uploaded and find other racers traveling around your map, these pros do not outweigh the cons. Always being online means the game requires PlayStation Plus to play, takes longer to load up, can’t be paused, you can’t simply put your PS4 into rest mode and come back in whenever you want as the game will log out and you will undoubtedly experience the annoyance of being kicked back to the main menu at least a few times whether it be your fault or EA’s servers playing up, so have fun redoing that 6 minute race or trying to remember all the decals you put on your car before you were kicked back to the main menu. This game has no reason to force an online connection and at the very least should have been an option. Forcing online on to the user base was a poor decision plain and simple and hurts usability.
This is a very impressive game visually and at times gets very close to passing for real life. The car models, water droplets, lighting, car damage, textures and shading all look terrific as does the environment. That being said it does cheat a little to achieve this using a slight grain filter on top of the game’s world to masks it’s imperfections that itself unfortunately makes the image look slightly unclear.
While the size and variety present in the map is great, the world feels incredibly empty. Traffic is so scarce you can easily travel for half a kilometer and not see a single car. There are also no pedestrians roaming the streets making this ‘take’ on Los Angeles feel more like a deserted city. The way time of day and weather handled is also incredibly outdated. Instead of a dynamic day/night cycle and weather, these atmospheric elements are tied to parts of maps, meaning you could go from night to sunrise to night all in one stretch of road which looks as ridiculous as it sounds and takes a lot of visual variety away from the game.
The games modern menus and UI is also a treat and I’m a big fan of the way cop chases in particular let you know how close you are to getting busted as opposed to the old standard meter. The way the camera starts losing focus and tightening in on your car is the perfect way to make the player feel tense as they try and reverse just in time before getting busted.
As for performance the game normally maintains a solid 30 FPS and I only experienced a couple of drops throughout my playtime. It’s far from game breaking but does detract a little from the overall experience.
The sound effects and sound design here are 100% brilliant. From the crystal clear unique sound of each cars engine to police sirens, drifting, crashes and even the spray paint sound in the garage, whoever was in charge of the sound nailed it.
The soundtrack on the other hand is a bit of a let down. There are a few songs I enjoyed but most of the time I was pushing L3 down to skip the track, which makes that certain ridiculous key binding even more frustrating. Music taste is of course subjective but some variety would have been nice here with a large portion of the track list being tied to the house/electro genre. Those few tracks that do represent music outside of the house genre aren’t that memorable either unfortunately. Luckily in this day and age you can simply mute the audio and play whatever you want off the Spotify app so it’s not a major drama.
Most fans of the PS2 era Need for Speed games will love this game. It takes most of what people loved about those titles and brings it to an all new generation but not without it’s problems. The story is decent, the core racing experience and car customisation is excellent and the games visual and audio presentation do all three of those elements justice. Unfortunately issues like rubber band AI, weak cop chases, the always online requirement and a handful of other problems bring down the overall experience. If these issues don’t bother you or you’re interested in this game and have played some Need for Speed before then I would definitely recommend it. No doubt it’s a fun arcade racer you can sink hours into, however those who are easily bothered by the aforementioned issues should probably wait for a cheaper price point.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.