Need for Speed
has been around since 1994 and has dabbled in almost every form of racing imaginable, from Shift
's focus on racing simulation and Hot Pursuit
's fox and hound gameplay to The Run
's cinematic cross-country dash. With such a storied history and variety of gameplay styles it would be fair to say that each of the differently named titles in the series are reboots in their own rights. So, how does Need for Speed
, this latest reboot, fare?
First, let's deal with the fact that Need for Speed
requires a constant internet connection, even if you are playing solo. Of course, this means that if the server goes down or you experience technical issues with your own connection, you'll get dropped from the game. These are, of course, worst case scenarios and disconnects only occurred on a couple of occasions. What the online requirement brings with it is a city populated - if somewhat scarcely - by other players that can be challenged to spontaneous races. You aren't likely to come face-to-face with other players while doing your own thing, though, especially if they too are just getting on with the events at hand. As such, this feature feels tacked on and unwarranted.
Storylines in racing games are as much of a point of contrition as platforming heavy sections in first-person shooters; a point can be made for their inclusion, but they really aren’t necessary. Need for Speed
, isn’t the first game in the series to attempt at wedging in a meaningful narrative, yet it fails to create an engaging plot line to which it is worth paying much attention. You play the part of a nameless and silent street racer who has been invited to a local racing event. Once you prove your skills on the road you join a crew, with each member typifying a different aspect of Need for Speed
's racing, split between pure speed, stylish drifting, driving alongside your crew, and car building. From here you slowly build your REP (experience) in order to get noticed by real world driving icons. The story is told through live-action story sequences with real actors playing your crew, but their performances always seem a little too fake. This may prove to be quite a divisive point as people may warm to the characters, but others will wish for these FMVs to end so that they can finally head back to the streets.
Need for Speed
takes place in Ventura Bay, a rain-soaked city that is veiled in perpetual darkness where the glow of neon signs, headlamps, and street lights all reflect beautifully off the surface water. The map is twice the size of Ghost Games' previous open-world NFS
title, Need for Speed Rivals
, but it's hardly memorable and many of the locations look very similar. To top it off, traveling at high speeds doesn't really give you time to take in the scenery as most of your concentration is focused on the road and the blue glow of the GPS' guiding line.
The open world of Ventura Bay often feels empty; while there are a scattering of collectible car parts, donut spots, and “picturesque” vista photo opportunities (which serve almost no purpose), the desire to set out and explore the streets is never that compelling. One of the story arcs, Outlaw, requires baiting the cops, outrunning them, smashing road blocks, and other such law-breaking activities. Some of these activities can be accomplished during other race events but, in order to progress, players will likely have to search for the very few police cars that are dotted around the city. The problem is that finding them isn't a simple task and they are far too easy to lose once engaged in a pursuit, making completing many of these objectives very troublesome. Need for Speed: Underground
seems to be the greatest source of inspiration for the title with its focus on performance upgrades and customisation. Every aspect of your car's performance can be altered. By purchasing adjustable parts, upgrades and sliders become unlocked within the handling menu, giving gear-heads plenty of opportunity to tweak the specifics of their chosen ride's performance. A single “handling” slider at the top changes all of the individual settings to adjust the set-up to be better suited for drifting or provide more grip for racing. This lets even the less technically minded adjust a car's setup for different events without too much trouble.
Visual customisation is just as in depth as the performance upgrades. Once certain levels of REP have been achieved, new parts become available. Eventually the hood, headlights, mirrors, bumpers, canards, fenders, trunk lids, exhausts, license plates, wheel rims, calipers, side skirts, diffusers and spoilers can all be changed to suit your style. Almost any colour of paint can be applied, which can then be adjusted - again with sliders - to change the levels of metallic and clear-coat to be exactly how you want it. Once the colour is down, decals and logos can be applied to your heart's content giving players an almost a limitless number of ways to change the look of their vehicles. Despite the always online requirements, players can't share any of their creations for others to download.
Of course, this is a racing title, so one of the most important aspects is how the cars handle. Thankfully, it feels blisteringly fast and responsive in races, while the drifting mechanic is difficult to master but extremely satisfying to pull off. Unfortunately, the AI opponents are infuriating at times. Drifting events, which comprise the majority of the game's events, become pile-ups as opponents stick fervently to the racing line without a care for your position on the road, frequently ramming the side of your vehicle and breaking any style points that you have accumulated during the corner. While in races, the AI opponents wont let you make up much of a lead before breathing down your neck, no matter how much extra horsepower you have been able to squeeze out of your engine. This often leads to situations where the first 90 percent of a race is more about sticking with the pack, rather than trying to get ahead. Only when you are nearing a race's conclusion does it feel like they are actually giving you a chance. AI opponents won't stop before the line just to let you win, but it often still feels like a cheap win.
Finally, Need for Speed
's achievements are pretty straight forward with the vast majority of them coming from completing events for the various members of your crew. Outside of the main storyline there are a few achievements for things such as tuning a car to max out its drift or grip settings, reaching a REP Level of 50, completing 15 daily challenges, and maxing out all five scoring styles in a single moment. The latter of these is the one that requires the most skill, but with a little practice it shouldn't be too difficult for anyone to achieve; in fact, none of them are overly taxing. Oddly, none of the game's collectibles factor into the achievement list, which further adds to their earlier stated pointlessness.
This latest entry in the Need for Speed
series seems to be a reboot in name only. It neither feels like a reimagining of earlier ideas or a refining of the series' roots, but more of a mishmash of parts from the franchise's long history. As such, it lacks any sense of real identity. Ventura Bay often feels empty, the story is inconsequential, and the AI opponents are infuriating at times. That said, vehicle handling is quick and responsive and makes driving a real joy, while performance upgrades and customisation gives players an almost unlimited number of ways to make their cars their own. Those looking for a racing title to surpass all others should look elsewhere, but fans of the series' earlier street racing scene won't be disappointed.
- Fulfilling performance upgrades and customisation
- Responsive handling
- Rain-soaked city is truly beautiful
- Requires constant internet connection
- Inconsequential storyline
- Frustrating AI opponents
The reviewer spent around 15 hours racing through the game's streets and personalising his select number of rides, earning 15 of its 30 achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.