The announcement that Need For Speed was set to make its debut on current-gen consoles as a “reboot” confused anyone familiar with the franchise’s track record of reinventing itself more times than Madonna. The jump onto modern hardware may have been an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, but what Need For Speed ultimately delivers is a mixed bag of tricks that the series has picked up over the years, and it’s not only the good ones.
I Feel The Need…
Developed by Ghost Games, Need For Speed is the latest entry into the series since 2013’s NFS: Rivals, also partly developed by Ghost. It drops the player into Ventura Bay, a fictional LA-esque city where the nameless driver becomes a member of an underground racing crew. From there, the player sets off to earn reputation points and cash to buy new cars, upgrade them, and become a street racing legend.
Underground Hot Most Wanted Rival Pursuit
If that sounds familiar, it’s the flimsy pretense that’s allowed us to contextualize street racing and car customization in the game since the Underground era of NFS. All the tropes are there: a city nearly exclusively populated by a vibrant underground racing community, a garage hub for your rides, and the aim to be the most notorious wheelman on the scene.
The open world map of Ventura Bay exists in a perpetual state of raining or just-finished-raining, both to encourage drifting and to show off the dynamic capabilities of modern hardware. Free roaming or missions never take place during the day, just night or dawn. Maybe showing fighting through the bay city’s gridlock so the underground racers can get to their day jobs breaks some of the magic.
Disbelief firmly suspended, the area has a dank, eerie beauty about it, with vibrant colors mixed in within harsh streetlight bloom. Indeed, Need For Speed’s subtle manipulation of color is one of the game’s strong points, setting the proper tone for the action taking place – breaking up flashing red and blue with a cool filter to let you know you’ve escaped police pursuit, or draining the saturation away ever so slightly as the long arm of the law coils around you.
The game’s subtle manipulation of color is one of the its strong points.
Similar to Rivals, the game requires an online connection so other racers randomly enter your world map for the player to engage with. For the most part, they appear as icons on a map, often involved with their own game rather than purposefully interacting with others. Unlike Rivals, where player-controlled street racers and police patrolmen opposing each other populate the same open world, Need For Speed hardly incentivizes player-to-player contact.
Mission types, doled out by your crew via in-game phone calls and texts, are spread out through the map. They consist of circuits, point-to-point races, and drift challenges. They either exist as races or single player trials in which you earn cash and reputation points, which effective act as experience points. Leveling up means unlocking different customization options in the hub garage, where players can tweak car performance and appearance as they see fit.
The Proper Tools
It’s a good thing that the garage is an entertaining place to be since players will potentially spend a great deal of time in there. At the outset, the player has loads of decals and customization options to create wraps for their car. Earn a little rep, and body mods become available. Nothing here costs in-game cash, so it’s easy to suddenly lose 20 minutes tinkering with different looks and toying with the different textures in real time.
Beyond the myriad body mods, decals, and paint options, mechanical parts of the car can be individually upgraded to influence its performance. The game allows for lots of different components to be swapped out but many of them do the same thing: up the power. That would be fine and dandy if certain upgrades balanced others out, but eight out of ten are just straight horsepower jumps.
The other upgrades depend on whether you prefer a car with loads of grip or decked out to drift. Those upgrades can be further tweaked individually with a menu of sliders allowing the player to tune their car as they see fit. It’s an almost overwhelming amount of adjustments to make, but for those who don’t want to “ruin” their ride, there’s a master slider that orients all the settings.
You’ll find yourself eventually tuning small things here and there because the varied mission types make it hard to have one balanced car. Players may not necessarily want a drift-optimized racer, preferring instead a grippier, more conventional racing loadout, but the game’s arcade-oriented style admonishes those who slow down before a corner instead of power-sliding through with reckless AI drivers barreling through to smack you off course and punish your conservatism.
If the game feels like Rivals without the police pursuit elements of the game that have been part of the franchise since its third installment, it’s because it seems as though just a single squad car patrols the streets of Ventura Bay. Even when the player encounters him, he’s not that concerned.
Sure, the player can up the intensity of pursuits by antagonizing the police, but they take an unusual degree of goading before they can be bothered to engage. Early missions task you with maintaining a two-minute pursuit, but it’s more of an exercise in tedium than tension. After driving around seemingly forever, running into the rare civilian car and destructible objects in hopes to draw out Johnny Law, the race to escape devolved into an escort mission with me slowing down, stopping, and backtracking around corners to fetch my hesitant patrolman.
Maybe it’s all a meta way of contextualizing the seemingly lawless streets of Ventura Bay where civilians barricade themselves indoors while bands of reckless street racers dominate the town.
Full Motion Sickness
The rehashing of Rivals and the watering down of Hot Pursuit aren’t the only recycled Need For Speed elements that make a return. Like a nightmare from the past, the FMV or full motion video sequences, have made an unwelcome return. The attempt at world-building has once again thrust players into sequences where actors portraying what someone’s idea of “cool people” look like spout dialogue as cringeworthy as their appearance. Prepare your face for palming as there are as many fist-bumps as “bros” acting all “cray-cray.” Your crew of a rep-obsessed weasel, an ethnic tough guy, and a girl mechanic are your guides through unskippable expository cutscenes in-between the moments where they call you with mission unlocks. In those moments, you’re at least allowed to satisfyingly hang up on them mid-sentence.
For all the reboot talk, Need For Speed mixes elements of previous games in the series with little innovation, relying on the graphical capabilities of current hardware to justify a new release. The grungy-gorgeous world of Ventura Bay, with its interplay of color, at least make the rehash visually interesting. Pair that with the jumpin’ soundtrack made of up of licensed tracks, and it’s easy to see yourself as the player, just going for a ride on the outskirts of the city. The game is fun as a temporary distraction, but once players have had their fill, they’re sure to leave Ventura Bay and never look back.
- Gorgeously stylized game world
- Multitude of tweakable car characteristics
- Engaging visual customization options
- Cool soundtrack
- Repetitive mission types
- Aloof AI