Need For Speed Review
After deciding against releasing a Need For Speed game last year due to the lukewarm reception of Need For Speed: Rivals in 2013, Ghost games have decided to take the series back to where it all began, and while this is definitely an improvement on Rivals, there is still plenty of work to be done to make this the definitive ‘Underground’ racing game.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost Games
Release Date: 5th November 2015
Available On: Digital/Retail
The 2015 release takes place in the fictional town of Ventura Bay, where you join up with a small group of racers and compete in various races on your way to becoming the most notorious street racer around. After taking part in the initial tutorial race you’ll see the 1st of many of the absolutely awful cut scenes that litter this game. They really are atrocious, the acting is bad, and the characters themselves are not particularly likeable either, but fortunately these can be skipped for the majority of the time. There are 5 different race types you can take part in, Speed, Style, Build, Crew and Outlaw. As you complete missions based on the different styles you move ever closer to challenging a driving icon. Once you have picked your starting car you are ready to hit the streets. The game itself takes on a free-roam structure, which is more reminiscent of the Underground series. Ventura Bay itself is a pretty good looking city to drive around, although I do have some minor issues with the same look of certain areas (more on that later). Missions are sent to you over the phone, and they are pretty relentless. I don’t think I ever went for more than 4-5 minutes of playtime without some sort of text message or phone call coming through, which soon gets pretty annoying. Also the calls themselves are not that well-handled, one example that summarizes this best is when I was on a drifting race event with one of the main characters in your crew, my phone rings, and it’s that same person, calling to say they hadn’t seen me in a while, even though I am literally about 30 feet away from them.
The always online part of this game is another major disappointment, Ventura Bay feels pretty empty at times, and if anything the people who do populate your game often to more harm than good. I’d often be ¾ of the way through a race only to come across another player who would then plough into my car, causing me to have to restart. This in itself is an issue; if the police are after you at the time then you cannot restart until you have lost them, which can be rather irritating. I didn’t see anything here that really warranted the game to need to be permanently online, in my 20+ hours of playing I think I maybe encountered 4 people who wanted to actually race, the rest were content with obstructing races and smashing into as many people as they could. This is quite possibly one of the shortest Need For Speed games out there; I managed to finish all the races in around 15 hours. There is some horrible AI in the later races, where you’ll be a good 10-12 seconds ahead of the opposition, in a faster car, yet the AI will pass you as if you were driving a milk float. I absolutely hate rubber-banding in racing games, I understand that the developers want the races to be as intense and interesting as possible, but when it’s to the detriment of the game and causes a lot of frustration I sometimes wonder why they bother. I must not have been the only one who thought it was bad as since the game launched there has been an update, which has toned down the AI to make the catch-up a lot less noticeable. One thing Ghost games definitely has got right is that they have announced that all DLC for the game will be free. They’ve already released the 1st patch/update which fixed a lot of the existing issues with the game, and I hope that they continue to support the game for the foreseeable future.
The handling of the cars for the most part is on point, you can set up your cars to stick to the roads like glue, or drift around like they are on ice, the choice is yours. I personally went for a drift based approach, which makes the game a ton of fun to play, there is nothing quite as satisfying as nailing a perfect drift around a tight hairpin. The drift mechanic is nicely executed too, simply tap the brake while cornering and you’ll start to slide, the crazier the drift, the more points you’ll earn. It’s pretty simple stuff, although there are times where the game doesn’t recognise you’re attempting a drift, and will instead either slow the car to a stop, or simply make you plough into the barriers. Fortunately this doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it can be very frustrating. Out of the 5 types of event you can take part in, I definitely enjoyed the drift races the most, my only complaint about these is that the AI racers will often hit into the back of you mid drift, which causes you to lose whatever score you had at that time.
Choice is a pretty big part of the game itself, there are tons of ways you can customise your car, and pretty much everything can be changed, from the colour of the car, to bolting on ridiculously oversized spoilers, my only issue with this is that it doesn’t actually add anything to the game itself, it’s purely aesthetic. I’d have liked it if changing the look of your car helped you increase your rep, but it doesn’t. I also feel there is a massively missed opportunity here, in that you cannot trade or download artwork and designs from other users, so if you do manage to create a masterpiece on your car, unless you take a screenshot of it no-one else is able to really look at it.
The graphics in the game are great, the car models look fantastic, and Ventura Bay is a joy to look at. I would have liked to see a bit of daylight in the game, I get that street racing is mainly done at night, and the game even teases a bit of daylight at certain points in the game, but just as the sun is about to come up, it stops. There is also a permanent slick look to the roads, Ventura Bay obviously can’t be a great place to live as it seems to rain constantly, more weather effects would have been a welcome addition. There are plenty of mountainous roads that you drive up, so to see a lightning storm in the distance would have been pretty epic. Still, this is definitely on par with some of the prettier games on Xbox One. The soundtrack is one of those that you are either going to love or hate. For me, I found the soundtrack to be excellent, I love a lot of Dubstep, Rock and Drum & Bass, so it was a perfect fit for me. I did find that the audio balance was a little off at times, I turned down the engine noise to around 35% and the music to 100% yet I would still at times struggle to hear it due to the roar of my Lamborghini.
The achievement list in this game is a surprisingly easy list, there are tons of collectables scattered throughout the game, yet none of these are needed. You can get 85% of the achievements just by playing through the game and the story, you may need to put a bit of effort in for the achievement related to hitting the maximum rep, but there is nothing too tricky here at all. The recent update added 3 new achievements to the list, 2 of these are pretty simple, but the 3rd one which requires you to score 350,000 drift points in a particular race may have you pulling your hair out.
Going back to the roots of what made Need For Speed popular was definitely a wise choice, although it does have a lot of flaws, it is still a solid racing game that is a ton of fun to play while it lasts. If you like racing games to be super realistic then this maybe isn’t the game for you, but this is a welcome return to form for the Need For Speed series, anyone who enjoyed the Underground series will definitely have a lot of fun with this.