Back on the streets.
The Need for Speed franchise is one of the longest running arcade racing series available, and has an abundance of entries in the series. EA have been pushing these titles out to avid arcade racing fans for quite some time, with each new entry trying something new, although not always successfully. Now, after a short break, developer Ghost Games is offering a reboot of the franchise, taking aspects of many of the previous games and combining them into a new starting point for arcade racers to enthuse about. There is no need for any extra words this time around – this is simply Need for Speed.
As a street racer in the made up city of Ventura Bay, the player has the simple task of becoming the best street racer in the city. A noble goal, and one that makes following the story fairly straight forward. However, before the racing can really get underway, the player will need to make their way through some lengthy cut scenes.
And what brilliant cut scenes they are! From first meeting up with a fellow street racer, and the butt of all jokes, Spike, to meeting the rest of the crew and paying a visit to your new garage, all of the cut scenes are filmed in FMV, with the player viewing the scene from a first-person perspective. The selection of different characters that you interact with are certainly colourful, and more than a little bit cheesy, and the acting is so bad that it is actually quite entertaining. It is difficult to tell whether this was actually the aim of the developers, or if they have taken the FMV seriously, but that is half the fun. While interrupting the racing action is never a good thing, these scenes left me chuckling to myself and really brightened my day.
But I was not here to chuckle at the bad acting, I was here to race, and it doesn’t take too long for the wide open, rainy, night time roads of Ventura Bay to open up for the player. Not that you will ever be able to shift the dodgy crew, as constant phone calls from the various members will alert you to new races or meetings that the player can attend. These phone calls are a bit of a pain in fact, as they can happen at any time, even during a race. There is no way to stop the action, so answering a call can lead to the player losing. It is much better to simply check the messages after the race, although the constant calls are still irritating, even if left unanswered.
When it comes to the racing, there are five different disciplines that the player will find themselves working towards – Build, Crew, Outlaw, Speed and Style. The player will earn respect in these disciplines, with certain races focusing on a particular discipline, and races will see the player having to drift, use the correct car, out run the police or simply grab a first place position. Races are found throughout the city, and the open city has a few other secrets to reveal for the player.
This is where cruising the streets can pay off. Players may find coveted car parts hidden around the city, or they may find a set spot for a photo opportunity. Then there are donut spots where the player can perform donuts for experience. With a variety of different events and a fair amount of secrets to be found, Ventura Bay’s constant rainy nights have plenty to offer the aspiring street racer.
The AI against which the player competes in the various races is pretty good, and offers something a bit more unpredictable than many racers, although the rubber banding can be somewhat frustrating when a driver you have left in your dust is suddenly and inexplicably right on your bumper a split second later. Still, it is necessary to keep the racing exciting. There are a few other problems though. The game has an amazing sense of speed which, without the right setup, can lead to cars being almost uncontrollable. The speed also has an affect on the view, and at times is can be quite easy to miss a turning or simply lose which way you are supposed to go if you are leading the pack. Also, the cop chases are somewhat anti-climactic as they just don’t seem that bothered in catching the player, and losing them is far easier than I would expect.
Of course, it makes a difference if you have a decent car. There are some 50-odd cars in Need for Speed, which may not seem like a lot compared to other racing games. But the players garage can only house five vehicles, so more emphasis is put on customising, upgrading and tweaking only a few cars to perform in different ways, rather than simply collecting them all. This is nice as the player can enjoy the cars they have instead of using them for one race and moving on to something better.
In the garage, the player has quite a few options when it comes to messing with their cars. There are plenty of visual choices, from colour to creating their own livery designs, ensuring that the player cars will stand out in a crowd. Then there is all of the tinkering under the hood, with everything from transmission to tyres available to change, giving the vehicle extra power or setting it up for a more specialist role, such as a drift machine.
Need for Speed is an “always online” game, which means that the multiplayer is fairly well intertwined with everything else. Players are able to form crews with their buddies, or pick a race with a random stranger who happens to be roaming the map. Setting up a race with a stranger involves finding them and flashing your headlights, which is perhaps not the easiest thing. Obviously, the online only set up in Need for Speed means that those with an unstable connection, or no connection at all, won’t be able to play, but I would imagine that those types of gamers are becoming less and less.
Visually, Need for Speed is a beautiful game. The cars are very realistic and the city, with its water on the tarmac and street lights illuminating the roads, really do look good. There are a lot of nice effects that, whilst adding little but distraction to the gameplay, make the game enjoyable to watch. It has to be said that the constant night time setting does frustrate after a while, but I guess that is the life of an illegal street racer.
Along with some of the more questionable decisions when the racing is underway, Need for Speed does seem to be packed with a fair few bugs and glitches, at least on the Xbox One. Freezing and stuttering where all experienced while playing, which is more than a little frustrating during a race. I am sure these will all be patched out over time, but the bugginess is an issue right now.
The reboot of EA’s Need for Speed certainly has high aspirations. Different features from multiple different games have been packed in to this arcade racer and, while not all are fully successful this time around, it is certainly nice to see where the series is going. Despite the various issues with the game, this latest Need for Speed title is still an enjoyable racer, and one worth checking out if you have a need for speed.