Rev your engines. Need for Speed is back and this year it has been ‘rebooted’. Recently developers and publishers seem to favour rebooting their most beloved titles – it worked for Tomb Raider, so why not Need for Speed?
The latest entry into the arcade-racing scene is a mixed bag of ideas, taking some of the best bits of the series and mashing them into one game. Starting slowly, there’s a competent arcade racer under the hood of NFS if you can stick with the ropey dialogue and dubious acting. Once NFS takes a hold of you, you’ll be hooked to Ventura Bay’s recurring night cycle for hours on end.
Yes, night cycle. Ventura Bay is a night playground where the sun never shines and it always seems to have ‘just rained’. It’s a bit strange when the sun threatens to break through then the game thrusts you back into the thick of night but I guess nighttime is underground race time! The wet streets look stunning with some excellent textures to the tarmac – complete with cracks and bumps – the cars, shiny with that just washed look, look just as stunning almost like you are bang in the middle of a Fast and Furious film.
Placing you in the shoes of a nameless racer on their drive to fame, you are thrust into a ragtag mix of street racers. The ‘actors’ interact with you during FMV sequences; fist bumping, offering you cold beverages and holding conversations about current events. It’s bad. So bad that it’s good. With a certain charm that I just couldn’t help but fall for. It’s great to see a racing game attempt a story; the absence of one in Forza 5 really drove me away from the series, with the game feeling nothing more than just a string of racetracks that I’d played many times before.
With five garage slots, you can tinker with a variety of options for each car you have purchased, and just like many over customised cars you might see on a Friday night in the city centre, the cars of NFS can also be over worked – although there are no neon underglow kits. Parts can also be installed to increase the performance of each car, although you have to navigate through numerous parts in a category to find what you need – it’s not very intuitive, but what is intuitive, is the setting options for each car. By using sliders, you can set a variety of options that will directly impact the performance of your car, or simply use the master slider to set your car to drift or to grip the road better.
For all its beauty, buildings look shoddy and with the darkness of night it’s hard to place where you are in Ventura Bay, it all looks the same. The roads twist and turn but don’t change too much. There isn’t much traffic about either, which is expected in the dead of night, but it makes the world a tad sterile. On the flip side, other cars can be a nuisance when you’re in the middle of a race, treating you to a burnout-esque crash sequence should you clip one, so I’m happy there aren’t more to contend with. Crashing is always annoying, but worse is an awkward pinball effect, slowing you to a crawl or spinning you wildly out of control. There’s also a lack of a cockpit view, which is a shame. The FMV sequences place you into the action, so why not allow you to get behind the wheel!
Often you will take to the road with one of your AI buddies, who will be able to keep up with you no matter how hard or fast you race. This extends to the competitive AI races and while it keeps the action intense, it makes the whole race feel futile until the final quarter. It works the other way too. AI will often slow and let you catch them, which can make the races feel as scripted as the FMV cutscenes.
There are five styles of race in Ventura Bay – Speed, Style, Build, Crew, and Outlaw – each one of your crew champion a style, and there’s a storyline to go with each. You can also form a crew with your friends or randoms. NFS is an online game that you play with seven other racers and while I never had cause to interact with them or them with me – save for getting in my way mid-race – forming a crew with friends before you join an online world makes for some crazy fun – challenging one another to impromptu races or challenges, or joining up to race in the campaign events.
Racing handles beautifully, the best I’ve experienced from an arcade racer, each car is at the mercy of whether you have set up towards drift or grip. A chase camera swings as you slide around corners and does so with such elegance that it doesn’t feel forced or out-of-place, delivering the thrill of racing and maintaining a real sensation of speed. The only let down is the police chases, which serve as a minor irritation more than a threat. Things do get more interesting as you progress through the Outlaw challenges, but the 5-0 are nowhere near as ruthless as they have been in past NFS games.
Need for Speed is a no-nonsense arcade racer – it might not dwell on the finer points of some of the series’ highlights – but it does deliver an extremely accessible and gorgeous looking game that has hooked me far more than any other racing title since Forza Horizon 2. It may be a Jack-of-all-trades, but it’s certainly a master of some.
Thanks to Xbox and EA for their support
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