Friday 9 December 2016

Need For Speed review – Drifting in to Drama

Published 20/11/2015 | 17:50

Need For Speed - Racing at night looks good
Need For Speed - Racing at night looks good

Eager to get off the line in the next-gen console market, Need For Speed screeches off the mark in a series reboot that was long overdue.

8/10; EA Games (Ghost Games) ; Playstation 4, Xbox One.

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Need for Speed is one of those franchise names that gets slapped on any motor related game launched by the publisher and as such features many clangers in its diverse back catalogue.

The latest game, named simply Need for Speed, has gone right back to the roots of 2003’s NFS: Underground. The series started in 1994, so the choice of Underground as the spiritual inspiration is a clear message of where they want to go with the franchise.

From the very start, NFS tries to embed you in the world of the petrol head. First-person perspective live action videos are a big feature of the game, introducing you to the scene, your crew and the light weight narrative.

The live-action scenes are odd. The acting is bad, but hopefully intentionally so. It’s hard to put your finger on where you’ve seen it before, until you realise it’s one big soap opera. Everything is too clean and artificial, but it’s also bizarrely gripping. The characters are all stereotypes, but, I began to enjoy the banter and drama. I even uttered the words “That’s classic Amy.”

The single player game plays out through your relationship with your crew. Each member offers a different type of race or game thread and they’ll frequently ring you to hang out. I hated the regular phonecalls in GTA IV, but as they’re part of the main event in NFS, they work well and add more context to the pretty standard race types on offer.

Need For Speed - One beautiful game
Need For Speed - One beautiful game

Six paragraphs in and I haven’t touched on the actual racing and that feels about right for this game. Need For Speed isn’t for the hardcore racer fans out there, the driving is decent arcade action but not the main draw here, which might sound odd for a car game but it feels like the reality.

Cars handle well, though not quite as precise or nippy as some of the competitors out there. Despite the name and arcade nature of the game, there’s no true sense of breakneck speed. Acceleration is decent, but when you hit your top speed you’re left with a sense of cruising and nitros lack any real oompf. Other pretty games, such as GTA V, use camera effects like zoom-outs and blurs to convey a sense of speed, but NFS hasn’t borrowed from that play book.

Driving isn’t bad, but I certainly wouldn’t buy Need For Speed if that was all it had going for it.

NFS is possibly one of the best looking racing game I’ve seen. The LA-esque venue is nearly always dark and usually wet, allowing for some fantastic lighting effects with the reflections. Graphics are good to the point where the lines of live-action and graphics feel blurred at times.

Need For Speed - There's a city to explore, even though it's void of people
Need For Speed - There's a city to explore, even though it's void of people

Sound is pretty solid. Revs, gear changes, collisions and all the other components are well represented. The soundtrack struck me as pure background noise, even though there are some big names there. That’s not a criticism, I actually appreciated the somewhat realistic feel of it all and it’s not the sort of game where a big rocking power ballad moment is appropriate.

Cars are front and centre, but not as you may expect. The car choice isn’t up there with Forza or a Gran Turismo title, but the game is less about collecting and more about nurturing. From the very start the characters praise the virtues of building your own rather than buying, and the limit of five garage spots forces you to be picky.  

Modification is here in force to help you build your dream machine. Free custom wrap and colour design allows you to express yourself from the very start (I went for a metallic turquoise panda-themed muscle car – like a boss,) and many of the physical body modifications are quite affordable. Performance mods are a case of just buying the next available upgrade and most do little more than improve your overall performance in small increments. There is choice when it comes to tires and nitro types, but for the most part upgrades are a no brainer.

The garage can affect your driving significantly, but it’s less about the upgrades and more about the fine tuning. You can opt to make your car more suited for speed or drifting overall, or dig deeper in to the various settings to tweak the likes of brakes, steering, suspension etc. Tweaking takes a bit of work and I tried to keep my car quite middle-of-the-road, but serious petrol heads will squeeze a lot out of a car perfectly tuned to their style.

 

The sense of ownership of your car, combined with the interaction with your crew, really creates an involving single-player game. Unfortunately it’s not very long and all too soon you’ll be left to face the multiplayer options available. Need For Speed’s multiplayer is, in a word, weak, which is disappointing for an online only game. In fact, online only is a confusing limit to place on the game, seemingly added because it's hip rather than any really need.

I genuinely enjoyed the single player. Multiplayer on the other hand feels like a reaction to The Crew. Comparisons must be made between the two. NFS is definitely better looking and the single player feels like a more complete package. In terms of multiplayer, I barely saw the seven other players active on my map and when I did there was none of the emergent gameplay fun found in The Crew. There was little or no interaction at all. They’re very different titles once you dig under the surface, both doing certain things well and others poorly.

Need For Speed is a mixed bag, but a first step that promises more if criticism is taken on board. Realistically this is a title that’ll gain dust once the solo mode is complete. Multiplayer is currently as lifeless as the game’s city streets. Without your crew chattering at you, the game feels dead. There’s none of the exploration  or cross country unpredictability found in The Crew, which is a shame when the graphics are good enough to make this a great place to potentially spend time.

If you’re serious about your driving, there are better options, but if you’re after a lighter experience with plenty of entertainment value, Need For Speed is a nice title that’ll soon convince you that fist-bumping really is the new handshake.

Need for Speed is available now on Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

(Playstation 4 version played, retail copy provided by publisher.)

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