After a slump and a movie what many would consider middling at best, EA is determined to bring the latest Need for Speed back to its prime with a proper reboot. For me and many others, the mid 2000’s gave us the best of what the franchise had to offer: tuned-out cars, police chases, and underground racing; concurrently, a magical time for those inundated with Red Bull energy drinks and the original Fast and Furious films.
All of this is coming full circle and NFS is poised to ride the wave again. In that respect, Ghost Games has made the best open-world racer they could, and layered it with enough stuff to keep long-time fans intrigued and newcomers entertained. However, not a whole lot stands out as you’re given free reign over these mean streets.
The story is light on premise as you start from the bottom and work your way up to eventually prove yourself against five real-life motorsport icons, from Ken Block to Akira Nakai. Most of this is portrayed by a number of live-action scenes all done in a silent protagonist first-person perspective, and a narrative that exudes a cookie-cutter coolness not seen since Street Fury originally aired on the G4 channel. You can expect an abundance of product placement, hashtag references, and countless “bromance” fist bumps – to remind you this world is hip, gritty, and super-serious like slammed Honda Civics with aftermarket “JDM” modifications.
But it doesn’t take itself too seriously (which is good) and gets right into the action, you can either follow the story and play through the various missions by way of accepting phone calls or text messages, or actively roam the streets of Ventura Bay looking for competition (including A.I. drivers with rubber band physics) in Sprint, Overrun, and Drift challenges. These events are all for the glory of gaining more ‘rep’ and just to keep you busy in a surprisingly quiet metropolis, which has all the geographical city, industrial, and mountainside locations.
Fortunately, the basic gameplay of high-speed thrills and general hooning shenanigans are preserved in arcade-style tradition. Much of the appeal is held up by the motivation of customizing and beefed-up performance, which offers a good amount of freedom and ease in making your ride nearly perfect for the scene. We appreciate the game sticking to its roots, but NFS just can’t escape the tame essence when going solo. Making the experience largely dependent on either getting some friends together, or building a strong crew to tackle extra events. For all the urban sprawl there should be more going on and it’s a bit of a shame, despite the occasional scenarios of outrunning the police – which feels more like minor annoyances than actually tense.
Like The Crew and DriveClub before it, many of these issues stem from the fact that this is an online-exclusive affair. Regardless of whether you’re playing privately, this game will need an internet connection and separate EA account to even get past the title screen; and that fact alone brings a bunch of compromises to the playability factor. The platform is supposed to encourage a unique social aspect to NFS but isn’t that proficient, its execution is too broad and almost relies completely on multiplayer to fill in the unfinished gaps. The concept as a whole is too ambitious for a game this straightforward, and mediocrity is further reinforced by the inability to pause the game, and inconsistent data saves.
The technical execution suffers, but the presentation will entice gearheads nonetheless. Quite frankly, the cars and effects are simply gorgeous as Ford Mustangs, Porsches, and McLarens look damn-near immaculate; the streets soaked and gleaming with rain; and individual droplets of water beading off the vehicle clearcoat. Engine sounds are throaty in an acceptably exaggerated tone, as everything else is subtly muted to further accentuate the power burbling under the hood. However, the time transitions are just plain dumb as there’s basically no periods of daytime – leaving Ventura Bay perpetually stuck between night and pre-dawn – because, hardcore street racing.
Need for Speed is one-part reboot, and two-parts soul-searching as it fiercely appeals to its core audience. What we’re left with is a franchise that continues with a solid foundation, but is fairly misguided thanks to a underworked approach – remarkably beautiful and pleasantly lighthearted, but not vastly improved from the last game.