Need For Speed Payback Review

By Andrew Ogley, 15 days ago
Since it first appeared in 1994, the Need For Speed series has been synonymous with arcade-racing and renowned for over the top races, chases, and overall spectacle, winning a whole multitude of fans in the process. From 1997 onwards — with only a couple of exceptions — it became an annual release. Need for Speed Payback represents the 23rd installment in the main franchise. For a non-sports-based franchise requiring a story or some other premise behind each title, that's a lot of games and it's clearly challenging to come up with something new each and every time. Sadly, it's really beginning to show.

Need for Speed Payback

From the title alone, it's clear from the outset that this is a tale of revenge and the titular Payback. The story proves that there is no honour among thieves after all, with one member of a car-jacking crew deciding to double-cross their team in an effort to promote their own criminal career. This singular action drops the player into a heap of trouble and serves to introduce the main characters of the story. Swapping between the three lead characters in the story, the player takes on a series of questlines in which various driving skills of the different characters are used to win over the local street racing gangs and bring down the car crime syndicate known simply as 'The House'. Drifting, street racing, drag racing and evasion missions all feature in the campaign and total just under 60 missions.

Unfortunately, the whole storyline feels contrived and derivative, a pastiche of just about every other Hollywood tale of underworld revenge albeit with an automotive theme. Comparisons to The Fast and the Furious are inevitable, and with the eight films in that series, the 22 titles in the NFS franchise and games like The Crew, it's easy to understand why the story struggles with originality. Somewhere it's been done before, a theme that unfortunately reoccurs throughout the course of the game. Ultimately, the story just provides the game with a vehicle to introduce you to the mini-games and progression in the title.

It is also self-serving in keeping the most intense moments for itself. During the campaign, the player does the legwork in the form of races and events, only to have the game take over to play the most spectacular stunts in the form of a cutscene. It all looks very good and glossy and the graphical presentation, on the whole, is pretty solid. It may not quite reach the levels of the Forza Horizon series, but other than initial texture pops, there's not too much to complain about. It's certainly believable enough to enjoy driving around and exploring the sandbox world; Fortune City does a very good impression of Las Vegas with its hotels and casinos.

Need for Speed Payback

Alongside the story, there is also free roam in which there are numerous mini-games that can be used to earn REP, and campaign missions can be replayed to grind more credits. There is a lot of content in the game, irrespective of the lack of originality. To be fair, there's probably only so much that can be done in an open world racing title and developer Ghost should be given some credit for listening to the fans and critics of the previous title.

Payback doesn't require a constant online connection and there are proper day-night cycles. In general, it ticks all of the boxes for an arcade title: easily accessible handling and physics, open world, deformable environments, numerous cars, and ridiculous jumps and stunts. The trademark police chases can even be triggered when the player discovers and makes off with a so-called "Bait Crate". All of this is backed by a thumping hip-hop and rock soundtrack. Essentially, it's all standard fare and what you would have come to expect from an NFS title, neither particularly good or particularly bad.

Progression is made by participating in the storyline races, bringing down the other crews and generally being a thorn in the side of The House. At the end of each chapter or questline, new cars become available from the local dealers. Races reward the player with XP and credits in the bank. This applies, too, for the numerous Open World mini-events, drift zones, speed traps and hunting down billboards to jump through; it is here we get that sense of Déjà Vu. There are even derelict cars to be tracked down, restored and added to your garage. This should sound familiar.

BMW M5 trailer

Mods for cars can be won by completing a race, but unlike The Crew that rewards drivers with Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum mods based on their performance, the modifications rewards in Payback are in the form of a picking one blind card from a pack of three — Chase the Ace or Find the Lady for mods — and it's pure luck if you end up with an improved part that you want. You can buy modifications from garages, but the in-store stock changes and updates over very short periods; again, it's a matter of luck if the part you want is in supply when you want or need it.

At the time of writing — and we're aware there is a change coming — the whole progression system of upgrading cars feels very much based on luck than on rewarding the driver's skill, and that's without considering the use of Loot Crates. Shipments come in two forms, Base and Premium. Base can be won after every level-up and contain a vanity item, a mod item, and a bank item, all of which have a random value. Premium Shipments contain an additional two wild cards. Both can be bought for real-world cash, but only Base Shipments can be won in-game.

Trading in three redundant car mods will earn you the chance to spin a virtual slot machine to win a new mod back. Despite being able to lock the wheels on the slot machine, it is still a matter of luck as to what comes out. The feeling is that game progression is horribly skewed towards random chance than player skill. Given that Fortune City looks like a virtual Las Vegas, one of the lead characters is a Casino Owner, the main antagonist is a syndicate called The House, the collectibles are actually gambling chips, and that you can place side bets on any events that you race, there is clearly a gambling theme running throughout the entirety of the game. To have the players progress also governed by such gambling and random chance seems a little off-kilter. It makes it very difficult to tailor cars to your own particular driving style and progression feels horribly nobbled, requiring a lot of grinding to accumulate enough REP and credits to upgrade cars and advance.

Need for Speed Payback

This slow advancement also has an effect on the Online portion of the game, with speedlists — a set of events — being dominated by those with the higher ranked cars. Racing against seven other players across a number of routes in no holds barred racing remains fun if you have a car that competes, although in early races you'll still be scrapping among the tail-enders, not quite picking up the same amount of Rep and Credits as those winning, but it all adds up. It's worth noting, though, that swapping between single-player and multiplayer is not as seamless as you would wish with the loading times for each being frustratingly long.

The achievement list will also take some time as there are achievements for completing all of the different types of events in the game. There are story progression achievements that unlock over the course of the campaign and a few achievements for completing specific activities. Looking at our own community, completion seems to be between 40 and 50 hours.

Check out our Best Racing Games article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Whilst there are moments when the arcade racing feels like fun, there is an omnipresent sense of Déjà Vu, that you've played this all before. NFS Payback doesn't bring anything original to the genre and if you've already finished with those other racing titles, you're unlikely to find anything new here. It feels like the game is following other racing games and has somehow lost its own identity in the process. It's not a bad title, but it also fails to distinguish itself. It feels like an option and an alternative; it no longer feels like a must-have title not even for arcade racers. However, the main issue is the progression system that relies more on luck than skill, and judgement that almost seems to debilitate the player's advancement. Despite the previous reboot and this latest title, Payback already feels aged and needs a dramatic rethink if it is to reclaim its crown from the likes of Forza Horizon.
3 / 5
Positives
  • Solid arcade style racing
  • Instantly accessible
  • Plenty of content
Negatives
  • Derivative story
  • Hit and miss upgrade system
  • Premium loot crates
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 12 hours bringing down the house, upgrading cars and causing general destruction on and around the roads of Fortune Valley. 17 achievements were unlocked during the course of exacting revenge and causing mayhem. The vanilla Xbox One retail copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.