Running rubber with Need for Speed
For Ghost Studios’ second crack at EA Games’ racing franchise, and the first new-gen console/PC-only version, they have dropped the subtitle and just stuck with Need for Speed, but is this a new beginning?
The new-gen console duet of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 has been the catalyst for overhauling and/or rebooting a fair few franchises. I think that’s what EA are aiming for with release of their veteran series.
2013’s Need for Speed: Rivals was good, but not without its issues. It was hardly fair, though, to have NFS rookies, Ghost Studios, following the kings of the racing genre, Criterion, and their awesome Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
With this new Need for Speed entry, having had an extra year to polish up their act, I was interested to see what the Swedish developer had for us.
First off, it’s worth noting that Need for Speed is online-only, requiring access to EA’s servers, whilst this really should be no surprise in this always-on broadband connected world that we live in, it’s still a shock to some. Parents should bear in mind that the game’s online status means that you little darlings will likely interact with other players, so be prepared for the swearing and general internet rudeness.
There’s also connection speeds and potential server outages that can sometimes spoilt the party.
Need for Speed takes the series back to its roots. Players take the role of a street racer, burning rubber of the streets of Ventura Bay- which is like a wet LA. It’s full of puddles and nice reflections.
Races are from dusk to dawn, so you never really get to see the city in all its glory. Instead, though, you get to experience racing with nigh-on photo-realistic graphics. Need for Speed looks very nice indeed.
In the rather strange/interesting throw-back to the 1990s, the game shies away from in-engine cut-scenes, propelling the derivative plot using video of real actors, aping The Fast and the Furious movies. Whilst the use of movie-footage wasn’t my cup of tea, I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the seamless transition between the live-action video and in-game graphics.
In a plot packed with clichés and the stereotypes necessary to put it off, Need for Speed places players in the role of a young street racer, whose POV the games video cut-scenes are (nauseatingly) played out, out to prove himself, along with a small group of fellow racers. The team aspires to impress their icons, the real-life racing stars Ken Block, Magnus Walker, Shinichi Morohoshi, Akira Nakai and the Risky Devil drift racing team. When the team aren’t trying to impress they are texting you or connecting you to their soapy conference calls.
After some introductory video where your character meets his new racin’ bros, including the clichéd sassy tomboy mechanic, it’s time to choose a car and hit the road. Ventura Bay is open from the start and packed with activities. The city is vast and just exploring delivers its own rewards as you discover and collect free parts, donut spots and photographic vistas.
As players drive around the city they will come across a number of events such as twisting touge routes, time trials, sprint races, drift trials/contests, and good old-fashioned circuit races. Success rewards players with cash for new cars and upgrades, as well as Rep- which increases your level and unlocks more events. You Rep is broken down into five categories- speed, style, outlaw, build and crew, all of which define what sort of driver you are.
The game uses EA’s proprietary Frostbite engine which seems to be improving with each game they release. Not only are the cars beautifully modelled, by keeping the lighting subdued, the city looks almost real.
The absence of steering wheel support is very strange, as the slick visuals really lend themselves to the extra level of immersion that a wheel and stick shift give you. Still, even with the controller, the racing and vehicle handling is robust and fun.
The game’s visuals are great, even if it is too dark, most of the time, to see the city in all its glory. But the use of full motion video just didn’t feel right. So, OK, I’m not a wannabe street racing hoon, those days are behind me, so perhaps I’m not the right demographic for the game. But I love the Fast and Furious films, they’re a guilty pleasure of mine. The acting and dialogue of Need for Speed make the adventures of Dominic Toretto look like Citizen Kane.
If you want racing, you get racing and in a near photo-real setting, to boot. Need for Speed is a fun and enjoyable, if forgettable, entry in the series.