The Need For Speed series started on such basic principles when it was released on the 3DO – race and win – but that didn’t stop EA from fiddling with formula over the years, adding everything from street racing to police pursuit to full-on open-world madness. But it’s with the Underground games that the series really found its groove, creating a utopia of street races and culture that really moved its audience.
So, of course, it makes sense then that the new Need For Speed, developed by Ghost Games, returns to that level of racing, as you basically run around with a crew of would-be racers, participating in events and slowly taking over the city, either on your own or alongside real friends. Some fans will be thrilled by this, although the way the game is built is an acquired taste, especially when it comes to one fundamental that you just can’t get around – you have to be online, all the time.
The “online only” set-up works well in some ways, but then again, it serves as a hindrance in others, like with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 and its stuttery performance. With Need For Speed, it’s about at the midway point. On the one hand, it’s great to run randomly into players and challenge them to a race on the spot; on the other, the world’s kinda barren save for these drivers and the occasional traffic that’s just going around in circles. Perhaps community will grow with the game’s widespread release, but I can’t help but think an offline option could’ve benefitted Need For Speed in some way.
No matter. EA makes up for its somewhat questionable online interface with a lot of events. You’re going to be busy here, working alongside your newfound teammates to complete races, drift events and other racing tourneys to eventually become the king (or queen – equality!) of the road. The variety of events is pretty good, and you can always warp back to your garage if you don’t feel like driving along mile after mile to get where you’re going.
On top of that, the police pursuits can be fun as well – though they’re not as commonplace as in previous games like Hot Pursuit and Rivals. I can’t help but think the police are kind of on vacation here, and save for any sort of collision with them, they may not even care at all. Still, when the pursuit kicks in, it’s pretty good.
As for the gameplay, it’s mostly intact, with a good drift system, solid handling and a wide variety of cars to choose from. However, the game has a serious problem when it comes to “rubberbanding”. One minute you’re blowing the doors off competition and roaring into the lead; the next, they make a miraculous comeback and try to rob you of a first-place victory. I can understand if a racer wants to be competitive, but this is ridiculous. Here’s hoping Ghost tweaks this so that it feels more natural, instead of everyone acting like miraculous comeback kids. No one – not even Turretto – is that good.
One great feature within Need For Speed is being able to modify and purchase new rides to add to your collection. Of course. There are cars galore throughout this game, and they’re pretty sweet rides. Plus, being able to head to the garage and tweak performance where necessary is a great feature – and the interface is done very well here, allowing you to do so with minimal effort.
As for the presentation, it’s an acquired taste. The driving world you’re racing in – a huge city where, again, there’s barely anyone in it – is a fantastic looking one, and the lighting really comes alive in certain areas. The car models have a great appearance as well, and the frame rate is mostly steady throughout – depending on your online connection, of course.
There are, though, some questions with the direction of full-motion video. On the one hand, it’s a fun idea, one that hasn’t seen the light of day in a racing game for several years. On the other, some of these folks are so annoying that you wonder why you would befriend them in the first place. Not the girls, of course – that female mechanic is definitely a cutie. But others just have too much of a racing mantra in mind, not even worrying to the point of what they’ll be doing the next day. “I’mma just race.” Yeah, Turretto even took a day off here and there, son. Also, when did “#hashtag” actually become an actual term? Did I miss something?
Need For Speed’s audio is about where you’d expect it to be, with a bunch of Fast and Furious-esque tunes playing in the background. I expected a classic rock channel to be available, but, alas, not the case. More diversity in the soundtrack would’ve been welcome, but it fits the racing mold. The sound effects are great as well, especially the car engines. They sound pretty damn sweet.
Again, what you get out of Need For Speed really depends on your expectations. It plays very well and has a lot to offer in terms of events and good looks, but the online interface, rubberbanding AI and questionable characters you come across in the cinemas may take a bit to tolerate. The best thing I can recommend is take it for a test drive and see how it fits for you. It definitely has the Need For Speed ebb and flow, which is good, but there are also a few takeaways that keep it from peak performance.