The Need for Speed franchise is one of the longest running and most successful franchises in video games. Even though the developing studios behind the iconic namesake have shifted throughout the years, its fan base has stayed strong and continues to grow with every new installment. Needless to say, many people could not wait to see what the latest series entry, Need for Speed, had to offer its steadfast fans and franchise newcomers, myself included. Simply put, Need for Speed delivers exactly what you would want from a current generation racing title in a number of ways, but the ways that it falls short are far greater.
In Need for Speed you are a budding amateur street and newcomer to the city. You are quickly introduced to a rag-tag group of drivers that take you on as part of their crew. Each driver has a specific focus and four of them act as your contacts for the different reputation-building events related to the game’s story—Speed, Style, Crew, Build. The fifth event type, Outlaw, is introduced later by an unknown contact via the player’s in-game cell phone—which rings constantly during events. Each driver is spread out across the city in unique hangout spots. You can play through each driver’s missions however you want, meaning that if you want to alternate between specialties or try to play straight through all the events of one driver before moving to the next you can do so without consequence. Regardless of how you choose to play, the completion of every few missions for a driver greets you with a live-action scene taking place in that diver’s hangout spot. This is arguably the worst aspect of Need for Speed.
Fans of the series will know that live-action cutscenes have been part of Need for Speed games for a long time, so this is not what the problem is. The issue is that the acting is absolutely atrocious, not to mention that the story is completely hollow. The best way I can describe it is to imagine if a high school drama class made a soap opera based on The Fast and the Furious. Each scene is more uncomfortable to sit through than the last, and is usually filled with pre-teen slang. Even if the acting was done by Academy Award winning actors, you still aren’t given any reason to care about anything happening around you or an incentive to continue the storyline.
If you do manage to finish the storylines of each driver, which I did, don’t expect any kind of reward for your time. Only two storylines end up giving you cars, and both were worse than the car I already had at the time. The other three give you absolutely nothing for slogging through their awful scenes. In short, Need for Speed simply would have been a far better experience if it had focused on its arcade-style racing and just removed the poorly constructed story content altogether, or at least gave you some substantial rewards for your time spent.
At the game’s start, you pick your first car and begin your journey to upgrade and buy bigger and better cars along the way. First thing you need to build your dream machine is some cash, and build up your reputation. Cash is earned by completing any event that is marked on the map; the harder the event, the more money you get. Reputation is the equivalent of earning experience points, determining your player level and what parts you have access to for upgrading your ride.
You gain reputation by completing events under the five game foci—Speed: driving quickly and efficiently, Style: drift-heavy events, Crew: racing and drifting with “The Risky Devils,” Build: normal events that lead to unlocking new parts, and Outlaw: roaming around and running events with police in pursuit. These five labels feel arbitrary at best, and are mostly unnecessary. You constantly gain reputation with everything you do and frequently earn reputation in multiple categories by doing the same action, so why aren’t they just combined into a single category? Simple answer is to make it appear like there is more content in the game than is actually present. My impression when first hearing about the five driving foci from advertisements and promotions was that you could “play how you want” by working towards a specialty, kind of like an auto-racing RPG. Sadly, that is not the case.
Outside of the highlighted story-related events, there are events scattered all over the map that become unlocked as your level progresses. These general events only offer a fraction of the cash rewards and reputation for completing them than story events. I only tried a handful of them and just ignored the rest because doing them just felt like a waste of time.
The most confusing decision made by developer Ghost Games for Need for Speed is its mandatory online. Need for Speed cannot be played offline in any form, and there is absolutely no reason that it should be that way. Even the slightest hiccup in your internet connection will cause your game to crash and force you back to the menu. The fact that the game is entirely online also seems to disable you from pausing the game. There’s still a pause menu, but the game never stops running, ever.
As soon as you start the game, you are grouped with random players whose names and scores show up on the events they’ve completed. The idea is that you’ll join up with other players to build reputation points, challenge them to drift competitions, and try to beat each other’s top scores. This simply doesn’t happen, and the presence of other players is most often a nuisance. You don’t need the extra reputation that comes with forming crews, and there were a number of times that my personal event times and scores were diminished because of randomly parked player cars in my path, or having head-on collisions with players racing towards me in their own events.
The notion that you’ll compete for top scores and times against the other players would be better if you were shown how your score or time compared when finishing an event. Instead, events just end and display only your score or time without any reference to how the other players have done. You aren’t even given the option to restart an event upon finishing, they just end. You can teleport to any event maker using the game’s map, but once you finish an event your time is better spent moving on to the next one than repeating them for no reward.
It’s true that the campaign mode leaves much to be desired, but what Need for Speed does magnificently is cars and customisation. The driving and racing in general feels fantastic, and it only gets better with every part and car upgrade you make. Need for Speed also gives you an extreme degree of performance tuning to make any car drive the way you want it to; i.e. make your car a drifting machine or a road-hugging speed demon. However, this feature is often times a double-edged sword. You can make your car perfectly tuned to your playstyle, but the game constantly forces you to change your car’s performance between “Drift” and “Grip” depending on the event you are trying to compete in, especially toward the end of the game when events are more difficult. Sometimes this means making multiple trips back to the garage to keep tuning until you find the sweet spot needed to reach an event’s target time or score.
While driving your car feels great, events that force you to drive with A.I. controlled cars instead of against them can be nightmarish, particularly in the “Drift Train” events where you have to build points by drifting around corners while maintaining a close distance with a group of A.I. racers. The A.I. in Need for Speed is obnoxiously stupid, and their cars are able accelerate/decelerate at speeds that are simply impossible for any player car to achieve. This can make staying in sync with drift trains unnecessarily tricky. The final Drift Train mission actually had me screaming at my TV and forced me to constantly restart the event. This wasn’t because I was inept at drifting, it was because the A.I. controlled cars—who in the storyline were supposedly the best group of drifters in the city—were constantly crashing into each other or the oncoming traffic, and usually not even while driving at top speeds. Often times it happened at the very start of the event, where they would cause a five car pile-up and block the road.
This A.I. stupidity also carries over to the police cars that are sparsely scattered throughout the city. The majority of Outlaw missions are laughably easy because police cars aren’t a threat at all, they aren’t even so much as a nuisance. Police chases fail to deliver any sense of intensity or satisfaction for the player. The only reason why extended police chases provide any kind of challenge is because it’s incredibly easy to lose them.
Another problem that occurs while driving from time to time, is clipping the side of smooth walls or railings that causes your car to crash. Some surfaces do have rough patches or posts that make sense for this to happen, but on multiple occasions my car would crash or spin out in ways that—in reality—are physically impossible, like driving parallel to guard rails and suddenly stopping as though a brick wall was placed in front of you.
Similar to the performance customisation in Need for Speed, the visual customisation options have a lot of great features, but are lacking in certain ways as well. All of the game’s decals are available from the start at no cost, and have a huge range of manipulation that allows you to create almost any design you want. The decal editor has a bit of a learning curve and is void of any sort of tutorial to help players along. Finished decal works can be saved as a skin for your car and can even be selected for use on your new cars if you so choose. While this saves you the trouble of starting from scratch, you are forced to make major edits to your work in order for the design to make it properly fit on a different vehicle. This means moving every piece individually, and likely needing to resize them as well. A feature that allows you to move and resize multiple decals at once is something sorely missed and would have saved me a lot of time.
Where the visual customisation of Need for Speed falls short is in its car body variations. There are two reasons why this is an issue. First is the seemingly arbitrary way that certain parts are “incompatible” for your car depending on what is already equipped. I saw no explanation given as to why a specific spoiler I liked was incompatible with my trunk, other than that simply saying it was. The second issue is that it just doesn’t give you that many options, and sometimes it doesn’t give you any at all. My Dodge Viper and Lamborghini Aventador were left almost completely unaltered because only half of those car bodies were allowed to be changed, and the parts that I was permitted to change only had two or three options to choose from—and none of them were appealing choices.
Two of Need for Speed’s greatest accomplishments are the sights and sounds of the game. Need for Speed is beautiful. The city itself feels slightly sterile, but its visual aesthetic gives the feeling of driving through a real-life major city. The graphical fidelity of the cars is near impeccable, and flows almost seamlessly between the live-action cutscenes and gameplay. The game’s sound effects are fantastic too and push this feeling of realism to the top. Even upgrading parts of an engine will change its tonality and register.
The soundtracks of the Need for Speed games have always been one of my favorite aspects of them. They often expose me to new artists I had never heard of, whose songs stayed with me long after playing. I am happy to say that the new Need for Speed is no different in that regard. From working in the garage to racing at 200 MPH, the music suits whatever you’re doing perfectly and adds to every moment.
At its core, Need for Speed is a strong arcade-style racing game with spectacular visuals, amazing sounds, and great controlling cars. Unfortunately, these highs points are periodically overtaken by its flaws—horrendous acting scenes, mandatory online connection, incredibly stupid A.I., limited car body part options, lack of incentives keep playing, etc. So much in Need for Speed leaves you wanting. Other aspects of the game would’ve been better to have left out completely. I wish I could say that Need for Speed is exactly what racing fans have been waiting for, but that just isn’t the case. If you’re dying for a racing experience on current generation systems and have a consistent internet connection, then Need for Speed is far from a bad choice for you, but don’t expect to be wowed by its offerings.