The Need For Speed franchise has seen countless evolutions since its arrival back in 1994, each release trying to offer something new to the series. Previous entries have tried to play as a realistic racer, whilst others have let you take on the role of the police – it’s even attempted to mould a full-blown narrative into the driving experience. Each re-invention, both good and bad, have allowed the series to constantly spice things up but at the expense of the series’ identity. You never quite know what you’re going to get from a Need For Speed title.
After a year break, Ghost Games are back with the simply titled Need For Speed – the latest rendition of the franchise. This time around the primary focus is back on street racing and car customisation; avenues previously explored in Need For Speed: Underground and Need For Speed: Most Wanted. As a whole it’s a fun, enjoyable experience, though there’s a few underlying issues that stop Need For Speed reaching the heights set by other modern racers.
As in previous entries, Need For Speed offers a narrative element to its racing, the story told through an array of live action cutscenes. Need For Speed sees you taking the role of a rookie driver as he tries to build his reputation through the competitive racing scene of Ventura Bay, a Los Angeles inspired fictional city. The story doesn’t expand much further than that; there’s no extraordinary tale to be told here or even a villain to beat in some ultimate showdown. The primary focus seems to be on simple interactions with the cast of the game.
The main cast consists of five upbeat, hyperactive, energetic characters that make up your crew. They’re utterly zany and admittedly cringe-inducing, but I couldn’t help but to like them. Sure – the script is corny and the acting stale, but it’ll never really bother you. It never takes itself that seriously and it’s all the more entertaining for it. Of course, it isn’t the narrative that makes a racer but the driving itself, and Need For Speed certainly delivers in that department.
Driving is broken down into five different aspects – speed, style, build, crew and outlaw. Each discipline lends itself to the many events you’ll take part in throughout the game, though they also factor into general gameplay too. Performing actions from each discipline will earn you points to level up and buy new cars and upgrades. There’s a big open world to explore so you can gain points anywhere – the more skills you can integrate into your driving combos, the more bonuses you’ll receive. Your driving style actually creates a detailed driver profile too, offering you an in-depth look at how exactly you drive.
The best place to build up points is through the game’s events. There’s a selection of events to take part in ranging from races, time trials, drift challenges and of course, outlaw events – it wouldn’t be a Need For Speed game without some form of police showdown. However, it’s not the same intensity you may have come to expect after the likes of Need For Speed: Rivals; police are fairly easy to evade, not putting up much of a fight. Admittedly, I preferred it this way – I’ve found the aggression of police encounters could often be a little intrusive on the actual gameplay in previous entries.
The problem with events is that they sometimes lack excitement. Whilst there’s certainly a wide variety of events to take part in, they don’t always offer an exciting buzz. They often feel a little unfair too, the game featuring rubber-band racing that doesn’t allow you to build a big lead. It’s a little annoying, especially when you work hard driving stylishly only to have an opponent constantly catching up with you. It at least allows races to stay competitive until the end – I prefer the feeling of actually outclassing an opponent though.
Navigating around tracks can feel frustrating too. These aren’t clearly defined racetracks, but instead races across the streets – the only indication of when to turn is through small blue arrows on the road guiding you. The problem is, you’re often made aware of a turn at the last moment, resulting in you either completely missing it or crashing trying to catch it. This isn’t always the case, but it happened enough to become an issue for me.
Driving feels satisfying throughout though, and you’re able to adjust your car to suit your driving style. Whilst you can make minor tweaks and upgrades to your car, you’re able to fully adjust how strong the ‘grip’ or ‘drift’ is. If you prefer tighter controls, you can notch up the grip meter; if you prefer long drifts around corners you can prioritise that. Alternatively, you can have a balanced mixture of both, though you’ll certainly find some events much easier if you make effective adjustments to your car throughout the game.
You can also make a ton of cosmetic changes to your car, offering the deepest level of customisation seen in a Need For Speed game for a long time. There’s not a huge selection of cars to access in the game, but it doesn’t really matter when you’re able to customise each car you own exactly how you like. The further you progress through the game, the more customisation options that become available – it certainly motivates you to keep winning events and gaining those points.
Visually, Need For Speed looks stunning. The city looks great, the everlasting night really setting the mood for the game. There’s always plenty of puddles to splash through too, each looking extremely realistic and reflecting the lights of the city perfectly. The city has plenty to explore with industrial and residential areas, high-hills and landmarks to keep an eye out for. Sure, it can start to feel a little familiar at times with not much change to its aesthetic, but it doesn’t matter when ‘familiar’ looks so good. Roads did feel a little barren at times though; whilst too many NPC cars would ruin the racing experience, the roads often just felt empty.
Cars look great too – they’re perfectly recreated from their real-life counterparts and at times are hard to differentiate from the real thing, especially with the way they are cleverly integrated into the live-action cutscenes.
There are a few instances of graphical glitches when driving at high speed – the frame rate may drop a little and there’s a few issues with pop-in. It doesn’t deter from the experience though and you’ll hardly notice it when hitting such a high pace.
The multiplayer experience as a whole is a little lacking, something especially frustrating considering Need For Speed forces you to always be online in order to play. You’re always connected with others, which in theory sounds good but in practice isn’t as effective as it could be – it’s not as simple as loading matchmaking to get into multiplayer races. Instead you’re tasked with challenging these players in your game world. It would have been much more accessible if there was a simple matchmaking option so you could just play with people who want to take part in the same events as you.
Need For Speed does its job of being an enjoyable racer. It’s far from perfect – not all events offer a buzzing excitement, navigating tracks can feel frustrating and multiplayer can be a drag too with no simple matchmaking option.
It doesn’t deter from the racing experience though – the actual driving feels great and with the ability to fine-tune your car to suit your driving style it’s accessible for everyone. Add to that all the customisation options, the stunning visuals and a story that is surprisingly enjoyable, you’ll soon realise you’re onto a winner with Need For Speed. Plus there’s the promise of free DLC in the future and no micro-transactions – EA, I commend you!
– Enjoyable racing and driving mechanics
– Absolutely stunning visuals
– Plenty of customisation options with your car
– Some events can feel a little boring
– Sometimes difficult to navigate the tracks
– Multiplayer isn’t very accessible
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4