A visually impressive but lacklustre reboot of the classic racer
Game review: Need for Speed
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed) / Playstation 4 / PC
MORE than two decades after it first appeared on the underappreciated 3DO console in 1994, Need for Speed has become one of the most popular driving game series. In that time it has clocked up nearly two dozen instalments, from the great (Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted) to the not so great (ProStreet and Undercover). After a year long hiatus, the latest version is loosely presented as a reboot of the historic franchise.
The game has always been a classic arcade racer, and while the fundamental design of the 2015 edition remains faithful to its predecessors, developers Ghost Games have tried to refresh the formula. This is clear from your very first experience with the game, which seeks to establish a narrative placing you amongst a lively street racing scene. The story is told through a series of live action videos which, though they have something of the mid 1990s FMV about them, are made tolerable by the unintentional humour of the acting performances.
The racing lacks a sense of speed
Get out on the street and behind the familiar territory of a sports car’s wheel and it is clear the open world environment that worked so well in Most Wanted makes a return, albeit with a difference. While other racing games favour a day to night cycle, Need for Speed pursues a noir aesthetic, with all the action taking place at night or a dusky half-light. Add to this the perpetual smirr that coats the streetscapes in a glaze of rainwater - the puddles reflecting the lights and neon signs above - and it makes for a distinctive look.
The pleasing visuals come at a price, however. The lack of daylight means that the game never quite captures the sense of speed that, as its name suggests, is so crucial to a racer. Even when you are driving a souped up performance car, it struggles to truly emulate the blistering velocity found in titles like Forza Horizon 2. At times, it simply feels like you are doing 50mph to 60mph around a quiet city in the middle of the night.
The customisable handling is a great idea
Where Ghost Games compensate for this is the handling mechanics, which are essentially a mash up of the different styles in the series to date. With various options and sliders that can be customised to your heart’s content, you can opt for a heavier feel to the cars or the light, drift-happy option that sees you skid around corners for as long as possible. The latter may be less realistic, but it is undoubtedly more fun.
The races themselves are passable enough in terms of design but after a while, the lack of variety becomes clear. The major failing, though, is the AI, with rubber banding ensuring your computer opponents will always catch up with you, even when it appears you have built up an unassailable lead. Such faults result in an underwhelming and frustrating return for a series which never really gets out of third gear.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
Different areas of the map lend themselves better to certain play styles, so if you want to try drifting, for example, it is best to head north to the wide mountain roads.
Earning money is made easy by replaying races you have already completed.
Tune your handling in the garage to get the best balance of grip and drifting that suits your play style.