Game: Need for Speed Payback
Consoles: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, and PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost Games
(Disclosure: Digital Copy Supplied for Review)
Need for Speed as a franchise has been around since 1994 and it’s grown in popularity over that time. Different studios have taken up the mantle and worked to make it their own. That’s not an easy task and reinventing the steering wheel 20+ times has to be a challenge. Ghost Games has had control of the franchise for a few installments and they’ve brought this street racing classic into the future in a very real way while maintaining the great racing modes of past titles. It boasts numerous customization features, even more cars, and enough content to leave even the more hardcore satisfied. It’s time to move the most comfortable chair in the house and put your phone on do not disturb. You’re going to be here awhile. By the title alone, you may safely assume that you’re about to embark on a tale of revenge. A pulse pounding ride through city streets, dirt trails and winding mountain paths. It’s the perfect cure if what ails you is a need, a Need for Speed.
Even if you haven’t played a Need for Speed title since middle school; it’s time to give this one a shot. You’ll be involved from moment one and that even means the start up screen. A great soundtrack and an easy introduction to the major characters makes it effortless to jump into the game. Just don’t be teased or ticked off. Need for Speed titles will always make sure you get a taste of what’s to come long before you can afford such fine machinery. In fact you drive the game’s best vehicle in one of the first main sequences. Again, don’t get frustrated because building a competitive vehicle won’t take long after you complete the introduction.
First and foremost you can’t talk about revenge if you don’t care. The characters have to be real and the story can’t be overly simple *cough* Fast and Furious. In this respect the game exceeds expectations. You join the street racing scene as a well established local, Tyler Morgan. He’s from the low income neighborhoods on the not so glamorous side of Silver Rock. He used to sneak out late at night looking to burn some rubber and win some races. He’s never looked back and his reputation says he’s the best street racer out there. He’s planned a heist of one of rarest vehicles in the world alongside his crew.
The always fresh and fun Sean ‘Mac’ McAlister, is a fan favorite. This bloke from London loves american car culture and never misses a chance to spray up some dirt off the main roads. He’s light of spirit and his anecdotes will leave you smiling throughout the game. Jessica Miller referred to as ‘Jess’ feels like the bad ass big sister of this group. She has a finger on the pulse of the more criminal side of driving. As an amazing wheel-woman she can get you out of the toughest spots. Running from cops is her forte but don’t expect a ton of warm and fuzzy. Lastly, there’s the mechanical wiz, Ravindra ‘Rav’ Chaudry. He’s the best friend a driver can hope to have so keep him happy with lots of fresh rides to work on. He’ll turn your car into a lighting bolt and give you all the tips you need to win.
In literally moments you feel connected to these characters. Each of them has their own distinct personality and it’s clear their interactions are genuine. They care about each other and want to help each other. They also have reservations and are critical of different situations just like a real team would be. That’s refreshing when you hear one team member say something is a dumb idea or throws a little trash talk at one of the others. It keeps you connected to the team and the game no matter who your playing. These multiple drivers are great way to accommodate the many different racing venues you will encounter. One nameless and faceless driver taking out cops at one moment, winning drag races, after drift races, and then flying over sand dunes in the desert soon after. I’m calling bulls$%!. It wouldn’t feel very realistic and in truth it hasn’t in many past NFS titles.
Everyone fits into their role perfectly and that means even the baddies. The betrayal you face is complex and although the criminal organization you go up against has a name; it wouldn’t engender the feelings of hate if it didn’t have a face. That’s where Lina Navarro comes in. She’s from where Tyler is from, the barrio. She has all the attitude and hunger he does but with none of the naivety. She’s out for herself and no one else. She’ll not only cross you; she’ll grind you into the dirt or blow up your damn house to prove a point. You can hate her, easily, but even she has her own conflicts. She answers to a hidden criminal entity, The Collector, that threatens her as much as you. In a way you can even feel for her, trapped between a rock and a much larger angrier rock. It’s always good to get connected to the villains and Need for Speed Payback does that perfectly.
There’s also the Gambler. This guy reminds you of every bad boss you’ve ever had. Telling you what to do, how to think, where to be, and all the while being a condescending ass. You need him though and he often pays the bills. It makes working for him and against him the perfect blend of love/hate. Marcus Weir is a phenomenal character and he ties into the Vegas-like culture perfectly. He even offers side bets on your races which can provide you much needed income, even if their win conditions are pretty steep. Just drift for 1,000 seconds, in this second race, with your dodge neon. I’ll decline that side bet thanks.
The game is really grounded in the dialogue and personality of these characters. Their interactions and their ability to connect to you drives the story line. They’re the greatest strength of this game in many ways and it’s a driving game. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll get to the driving, but it makes you want to race. When someone tells you that you can’t. You want to. When someone tells you to hurry up and pick up their dry cleaning. It makes it easier to drive them off the road, just saying. When they hurt your team, it makes you want to take down the The House.
Even tertiary character interactions make the game more enjoyable. Unlike past titles, you aren’t just racing a nameless crew and beating their leader with little to no motivation. In Need For Speed: Payback you challenge a crew and meet their members on the road. All the while talking to their leader and even trash talking them as you accomplish the required races. These crew leaders offer insight and often end up being friendly. They even offer you a tip on where to find a classic car hidden in the wastes of Silver Rock. These racing groups all tie in together and makes it clear that it’s everyone versus the House.
Ghost Games really put a lot of time into the characters but they put even more time into the cars. I mean look at all these cars! You can drive just about everything you’ve always dreamed about and a few things you didn’t even know existed. Just don’t get mad when a Buick kicks your ass in a drag race or a Volvo makes you eat dust in an off-road race. That means you have the potential to make almost any car your own.
There’s also a timer monitoring how much time you spend on the visual aspects of your car in the Wrap Editor. That’s probably a great sign you will be spending a lot of time there making your baby look just right. The more creative of you can really have a field day making that perfect ice cream paint job. Just remember, don’t get too caught up in visuals too early in the game. You need to accomplish tasks out in the world to unlock features of you car. If you want killer rear fenders you better save up for a second garage, but many components are much easier to obtain.
It isn’t a tireless pursuit, however; You won’t be frustrated if you can’t put your favorite piece on your new car just yet. You’ll just have to get out there and practice a new skill. Drift it up, jump it, or speed through a trap at 88 miles per hour to unlock everything you need. That’s a great way to keep you excited, hone your skills, and reward you for just driving around. Also, those abandoned cars you get a tip about for beating a street league boss. They’re like opening up your Frosted Flakes in the morning and getting the perfect Hot Wheels car. These Derelict cars are the key to some great times and some of the best rides in the game. You just have to go on a little scavenger hunt to find all the parts. It teaches you the map and boy does it look good when it’s done. It makes the grind to get to the top all that much more fun.
Better than just the appearance is the actual hardware customization. Obtain Speed Cards for winning races and upgrade your vehicle. These randomly generated cards can be farmed through racing and even repeating events you’ve already accomplished. The grinders out there are smiling and in truth it really will help you to repeat early events. Don’t just sell the bad cards or the ones you don’t need. The monetary gain is minimal but you can trade them in. Giving you much needed tokens to spin for your own speed cards. It’s may not seem worth it early on but a few good spins can end up giving you everything you need to make your car perfect.
On each speed card their is a different part of the car or engine you can improve. Turbo, N02, or even the gearbox can all receive a much needed improvement from these Speed Cards. Ghost Games expanded customization again and each card comes from a different company. With each company specializing in a specific trait or skill. Matching 3 or more of these same company cards will give you a significant bonus to a specific attribute. A few well chosen cards can improve your chances in the next race and even let you punch above your weight class without upgrading your car. Managing these well is a key to success, but it’s also a fantastic way to keep things exciting. The chance component keeps you hungering for more cards and always has you hoping for that perfect card.
Through extensive customization, great story, and a ton to do out on the map in Silver Rock; NFS Payback sets a perfect stage. How is the driving though? It’s something to get used to from other driving games, but it’s fun. It’s intuitive and each car type will handle differently depending on their attributes. You’ll find it hard to stay on the pavement or the main trail when off-roading because of how sensitive your turning can be. It can be frustrating that a slight turn of the wheel will send you careening into the wall of a tunnel at 200 mph. It’s also frustrating that all that responsiveness seems to leave your vehicle when you really need to make a good turn to win a race.
Cornering isn’t the strong suit of any car so the earlier you learn to manage drifting tough corners the better. Braking even a light amount will shoot your opponents past you like you engaged Ricky Bobby’s slingshot maneuver. Though a handbrake turn at 3 thousand miles per hour will come off smoothly and have you extending your lead in no time. If you think about it can seem a bit silly, but not nearly as silly as every car getting NO2. I mean you can literally hop in a stock Subaru or VW off the lot and don’t you know it. You have a several thousand dollar street racing NO2 kit installed.
In designing the game I understand why each car needs it. It’s your recovery system. You bump a wall and lose 20 mph after driving a perfect race. You lose, but with a quick boost your back on track. It saves broken controllers and it’s a component that can be upgraded just like any other. Without it shortcuts, jumps, and a great handbrake turn in the mountains would be impossible. I’ll have to let slide, especially if it keeps me from hearing the same quote before a race I can’t beat. Seriously, La Catrina is in my dreams now after I had to repeat one race 22 times.
The Bottom Line
Need For Speed: Payback is better than I could have hoped for. Great cars, excellent customization and ton to do. Speed Traps, Speed Runs, Billboards, Derelicts, and massive jumps keep even cruising around a ton of fun. Different car types, characters, and a great story line keep anything from getting stale.
They harness the power of the best racing modes NFS titles have ever had. It feels like I’m rocking my favorite Need for Speed: Underground all over again. Killing it in drag races and Tokyo drifting my ass off never gets old. All that before washing it down with a cool glass of high speed cop chase. The driving becomes addictive once you get the hang of it and their is a good amount of replayability. Bugs are absent and any glaring problems with the computer controlled traffic are eliminated now the game is updated for its full release.
Need For Speed: Payback is fast and fun. It’s definitely a fantastic addition to any game library and if you’ve left the franchise completely. NFS Payback makes the case that it’s time to come back.
-The Best of the NFS Racing Modes
-Derelicts and In-World Accomplishments
– Too Much Turbo
– Roaming Racers Cheat