Review: Need For Speed – A Fatally Flawed Underground Reincarnation
After a year in the mountains to rediscover itself, Need for Speed comes sliding around a corner into view. After years of being adrift without a paddle is Need for Speed back to its best? Yes and no. Its problems are invariably a worst case scenario of the same things which tripped up other recent arcade racers looking to take over in vacuum left by Need for Speed.
- Worth The Time?Oh hell yes!
- Things LovedThe visuals are deliciously vibrant, full of colour and motion with the dynamic weather and particle effects adding so much richness to the world; handling is an absolute blast; modifications (both visual and performance) are a treat to toy around with; the focus is on having fun.
- Things HatedThere seems to be little consistency with event difficulty or opponent AI; other players get in the way rather than enhancing your experience; there is no clear indication or comparison of how cars handle without prior knowledge; every aspect of the persistently online nature of NFS is ruinously frustrating or poorly implemented.
- RecommendationFans of the old Underground games will undoubtedly love this game. It's got the feel and atmosphere that made those games so great with stunning visuals to boot. Need for Speed will have a decidedly harder time winning over non-fans or newcomers with its poor online implementation and peculiar oversights. This game is vibrant, exciting, gorgeous and a ton of fun if you can look past some of its bigger issues.
- Name: Need for Speed
- Genre: Underground
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Developer: Ghost Games
- Publisher: EA
- Price: $60/ R879 (PS4, X1), R605(PC)
- Reviewed On: PS4
His palms are sweaty, knees weak (dude, sit down), arms are heavy (hit the gym once in a while?), there’s vomit on his sweater already… stop right there. Seek medical help, it’s just a game.
I’m hurtling down the highway in a cyan Nissan GT-R at about 230 km/h. It starts raining and the highway gives way to a main road, the little droplets glimmer like beads of mercury under the street lights; their yellow glow diffusing over my car turning it a sickly green. There’s a sharp turn up ahead, I ready myself for it. A dab of the drakes, a tug of the handbrake (intentionally weakened to make sliding around corners easier) and suddenly I’m in a violent slide. Shit shit shit. I can’t control it on this surface slick with water. I wrestle back control but by this time I’ve been overtaken and with three checkpoints left I’ve surely had it. We’re on a straight so I expend all my NOS, chasing those taillights. I take her on the outside of a lazy bend, narrowly miss colliding with the concrete barrier, flanked by a delivery truck. I cross the finish. My hands feel stiff, I’m on the edge of my seat, I then realise that I’ve been holding my breath and it’s after 1AM. Just one more race…
Need for Speed set the benchmark for arcade racers way back when with Underground 2 and Most Wanted, they were (in the eyes of many) absolutely fantastic and have both aged surprisingly well. Somewhere along the line the series lost its way but this new game… wow. It commits many sins and there is a lot that needs to be fixed here but it is incredibly fun, absurdly addictive and classic Need for Speed.
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So what’s the story here? The game is set in the fictional city of Ventura Bay which is suspiciously like LA with players having free reign over where they go and how they do it from the very beginning. You quickly get acquainted with a posse, each of which challenges you to one of the five ways to play in Need for Speed – Speed, Style, Build, Crew and Outlaw – but in honesty it mostly comes down to speed and style.
Events only really come in two flavours – speed and style. The former includes time trials, point-to-point sprints and circuits; the latter involves a wide variety of drift events (including Gymkhana), each with its own challenges. As you race you earn rep and cash. They function exactly as you’d think they would and players earn both rather generously. There’s also no shortage of events with a decent amount of variety to boot. Each course has its own tricks to master and it’s easy to pour over 20 hours into this game between building a ride up in the garage and shredding it on the streets.
Did I just say “shredding it?”
The end-goal with each of your ‘friend’s’ series of challenges is to get involved with the relevant icon. Ken Block is your style Icon, a dreaded Brit named Magnus Walker (who looks an awful lot like Watch_Dogs’ T-Bone) is your Speed Icon and so on. These aren’t rivalries or opponents to demolish, they’re just guys whose attention you need to grab in order to run with them. Once that happens the idea is to just have fun with these legends. They’re even really nice to you, on one run Magnus tells you to be safe and watch out for traffic. What a sweetheart!
So where’s all the bullshit rivalry of previous Need for Speed street-racing titles? Inside your little clique of course. One is acting really shady, the other is a sexist, the other is a trust-fund douchebag and it all gets a bit tiresome as these annoying scenes of drama are forced upon players as if you care. It’s also all delivered by means of that nostalgic full motion video way of doing things. That certainly should have stayed died a long time ago. It’s minor and can quite easily be ignored but sticks out as an unnecessary element.
Need for Speed’s biggest issues are balancing and the persistently online nature of the game. Let’s break it down, yeah?
An easy race should be easy and a hard race should be hard. This is about as basic as balancing gets. Why then can I beat the target score in a Hard drift trial twice over in a single run but struggle repeatedly on one of medium difficulty with my drift-tuned GT-R just scraping by in the end? It gets more baffling. With some speed events you start in the middle of the pack, others some distance behind and others a little in front. This seems to randomise regardless of difficulty as does the competency of the AI. Sometimes opponents will cause a five car pile-up in a hard race while a similar set of opponents will rush ahead of you on. Sometimes there is rubberbanding, sometimes there isn’t. Need for Speed doesn’t seem to play by any clearly defined rules or standards. There are very few occasions on which this genuinely ruins the experience aside from a handful of challenges which are presently quite impossible until they get patched.
No, what truly affects the experience in a very big way is the Need for Servers (I’ll be here all week). Firstly, a stable connection does not always guarantee connecting to EA’s servers, Secondly, guides, tips and general tutorial things take you out of the game into your console’s web-browser. Why is this not handled in-game? Then, because a lot of data seems to be handled online instead of via your console, there can be some hilariously (and often frustrating issues) such as opponents simply not being loaded in 1v1 sprints or coming second despite clearly winning. The worst issue though is the route not loading properly or a checkpoint not being cleared because a fractional hiccup in server connection or the server connection being broken midway through a 13km 6 minute drift trial!
This is not an online game, it is not an MMO, it is barely a shared world experience. there is no need for any of this tomfoolery.
The most confusing aspect of Need for Speed is its social features. The game puts you in a session with a bunch of other players who are also going about their merry business which means that there is no pause button. Again, because this is supposedly a multiplayer game. What does this mean? It means that when your fish is on the brink of turning black in the oven you have to choose between getting busted by cops or eating fish coated in carbonfibre. How apt.
Surely this means that there is some point to having other players sharing Ventura Bay with you? No.
I received one challenge to an outrun with another player and the rest simply chased me or bizarrely tried to ram my car. No doubt out of jealousy because I was cruising in a sleek Mclaren 570S while they were piddling about in a RX-7. the best interactions you’ll have with other players are without a doubt when you run across them roaming the streets while you’re in the middle of a bloody time-trial. You’re 500m from the last checkpoint, likely going to make it by the jutting lower lip of your bumper when out of nowhere some moron comes careening around the corner blocking your path. You two collide and you have to start all over again. Thanks friend, we should do it again sometime.
One excellent feature which accommodates for the fact that there is no pausing this game is Snapshot, a click of the right analogue takes a picture and uploads it straight to the NFS Network for all to gawk at. They come out a bit grainy but produce some fantastic shots. Most of the screenshots you’ll see in the gallery below were captured by yours truly. This is especially helpful when the PS4’s native share button doesn’t pause proceedings. It is less helpful when you can’t do anything with those snaps you shot. They can’t be shared via social media, they can’t even be saved to your console.
Need for Speed may just be the most antisocial online game ever created. It exists in a vacuum and promotes a disdain for other humans.
One of Need for Speed’s best features is its handling. Cars handle as you’d expect them to in reality but any vehicle can be flung around corners with a little effort and with the right tuning any car can become a phenomenal drift machine. Depending on your driving style you’ll want to set your car up for grip or drift. Being an arcade racer at heart I chose the latter and really can’t see how having your ride setup for grip would be beneficial in a game so focused on drifting. It’s only once you have multiple cars that it becomes feasible to maybe have one to slide in and another to sprint in.
The handling is simple and friendly yet getting a drift just right requires a finesse that makes it satisfying when you do pull it off. It’s promotes an aggressive, no holds barred driving style that may put some users off. Notably those who may be used to the stiffer, more refined controls of Forza and the like. There is also a properly good sense of speed and relative speed. Hurtling down a highway at 200 km/h can sometimes feel slow but doing that on a tight main road certainly doesn’t. It’s this dynamism that really makes driving in NFS a simple but satisfying experience.
On the topic of handling we neatly arrive at the section where we talk about the mods and customisation options available to players in Need for Speed. Again, it’s all classically Underground with rims, bodykits, various individual body part mods and even going so far as to adjust the ride height or camber of the wheels. There’s certainly a fair bit to toy around with here though the selection is very limited for some vehicles. Then you get all the performance mods. There are not only a lot of them but they’re also very realistic and a nice touch for anyone who knows about camshafts, clutches, cylinder heads and all the rest.
Players call also purchase performance parts to affect their car’s handling. Better handling performance parts allow for more scope in tuning. Tuning allows players to tweak things such as brake bias, handbrake strength, diff lock and stability control in order to set their car up for drift or grip. It seems simple and is relatively simple. Except it isn’t.
Each car handles differently and yet there is no measure for handling in a vehicle’s viewable stats so you have only your common sense and established knowledge to go on. Take the Toyota GT86 for example, most people don’t know that it specifically designed to be ultra-driftable as standard whereas you’ll have a right tough time trying to get a Porsche Cayman’s backend out.
Tuning is fantastic if you know what you’re doing but there simply isn’t enough information for players to work with if you haven’t watched every episode of Top Gear ever and are genetically (and professionally) predisposed to understand cars.
This game then, underneath all the online bling weighing it down and the noted deficiencies there is one hell of a game here. Need for Speed is supremely fun and fans will absolutely adore it but it just isn’t great in its current form. There is a little too much wrong, a few too many oversights and a godawful online implementation looming over the whole thing and cackling at bewildered users.
Need for Speed is a gorgeous bundle of fun so unsure of its own worth that it covers itself up in unnecessary features to blend in. Instead it sullies its best assets and stands out like a sore thumb for how much it seems to have wanted to fit in.