Need for Speed review for Xbox One, PS4

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PS4
Publisher: EA
Developer: Ghost Games
Medium: Disc/Digital
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes

There are definitely things that this Ghost Games developed Need for Speed gets right. The ability to easily tune your vehicle for drifting or racing, the so bad they’re good FMV cutscenes, and the constant stream of upgrades purchasable by completing events and leveling up are a few of those things. But unfortunately these aren’t the defining features you might be looking for out of a brand-new racing game this season, and in Need for Speed the lows outweigh the highs.

This entry into the long-running EA franchise features an online enabled world wherein you’ll join other players as you run around a fairly expansive (yet sparse) city completing a series of events based around a few simple disciplines. Speed, Style, Crew, Outlaw, and Build. Speed and Style are pretty self-explanatory, whereas Crew and Build might sound a little more nebulous. Outlaw revolves around the police chases that you’ll occasionally stumble into, and ends up being one of the tougher sets of events to complete simply because the police are barely a threat in Need for Speed. The other four styles mentioned will feature a number of race types, ranging from simple Sprint and Circuit Races, to more challenging Drift events like Drift Trains or Gymkhana inspired races.

Need for Speed_gamescom_03Every style is represented by a character in the story, which is where the overly cheesy, fist-bumping cutscenes come into play. Every scene is a filmed sequence seen from the player character’s perspective. Occasionally the individual characters will come together as a group, but more often than not you’ll be completing events in their various disciplines. Doing so successfully will earn you both Rep, the experience point system in Need for Speed, and cash that can be used for purchasing upgrades and buying new vehicles. Vehicle selection here is decent, with around twenty manufacturers represented but with a larger focus on street racing vehicles. You can also customize your cars with paint and decals, but the toolset is a little substandard and unwieldy compared to something like Forza.

The controls are more or less up to the player. As mentioned above, you can make your car handle as loose or as tight as you want, and often it’ll be a good idea to change up your handling between events. Drifting is easy enough and arcade-like to pull off, and feels exactly like what I’d want out of any game that features drifting events. Overall, the controls are probably the best thing about this Need for Speed, making it relatively easy to pick up and play for just about anyone.

Need for Speed_gamescom_18Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, there’s also a lot of things wrong with Need for Speed. First and foremost is the performance. The review copy we were provided was for the Xbox One, so I don’t know if this issue carries over to PS4, but there were constant, periodic hitches while playing the game, as if the framerate dropped suddenly (and drastically) and picked itself back up. This would occur in 5 to 10 minute intervals. Having the game suddenly hang-up while trying to drift around a tight corner while avoiding oncoming traffic does not make for an ideal experience.

While always billed as a “nocturnal racer”, the constant sunset to night cycle in the game makes for a fairly bland visual experience after just a few hours. We’ve grown so accustomed to day and night racing in just about every modern day racer, that whatever effect Need for Speed is going for here feels like a step back. Add in the copious amounts of neverending rain, which I imagine is done to mask some other deficiencies, and you’ve got a dark, dingy city without much charm or character being exuded. The world feels remarkably plain and unexciting, which seems to be the opposite of how the game is trying to present itself.

Need for Speed_E3_CrewThe forced, always online aspect, feels surprisingly half-baked. Outside of occasionally running into a live player in the wild, and seeing the notifications of players joining and leaving, I’m left wondering what the actual purpose is here. You can join up with a crew of friends prior to launching the game, which I can see some appeal in for chatting purposes, but by and large Need for Speed is a single-player experience with a forced online mechanic that doesn’t honestly do much that’s immediately noticeable. There’s leaderboards, and you can challenge other racers to one-off races and drift challenges, but these provide insignificant rewards. Also, you have to be right on top of a fellow racer to even issue a challenge to them, which can be difficult considering you can’t warp to that person’s location on the map.

Speaking of the map, there are a couple of issues. The events are pretty well scattered about, and there’s some mild incentive to move from one event to the next without using the fast travel option. In between events you can locate hidden parts, snapshots, and places to perform a donut. And while those are things to look for when moving from point A to point B, the only one of any real value is the hidden parts, and by the time you locate them all, you’ll likely be a high enough level that the parts found are subpar compared to what you can buy.

Need for Speed_gamescom_main_screenThe hidden donut locations are just boring, essentially the most basic “stunt” one could pull off in these vehicles. And the snapshot locations consist of a camera icon, where you’ll hit RB or R1, and the camera will pan out and strip away the UI for a second. You can take your own snapshots, and upload those, but that function was effectively broken or off prior to launch. Every time I went to the snapshot function from the main menu it just forced the game to close.

Other, more minor issues, are the incessant phone calls you get from your in-game pals every time they have an event available that you haven’t completed. Constant reminders, which are skippable (and can be ignored) still pipe in a slightly annoying cell phone buzz every 5 to 10 minutes. There’s no real easy way to restart a race immediately after the race is finished. If you want to challenge an event again, you’ll need to pull up the map, choose the location, hit right or left on the analog stick to choose teleport, wait while the game loads you into the location, then hit RB or R1 to initiate the event. You can restart while in an event, but even then the game won’t start at the beginning of the event, it’ll just dump you on the event location and then you’ll need to initiate the start of the event yourself.

Need for Speed_E3_BRZ_BuildSo, basically, Need for Speed is pretty disappointing. There’s elements of the presentation that works, and it’s clear they were trying to evoke the feel and look of NFS Underground. But the actual execution is lacking, with performance issues, lackluster events, an empty map with useless sub-events, and a forced online mode that certainly doesn’t feel necessary and lacks almost all of the bells and whistles found in other online enabled racing games. In a world where something like Forza Horizon 2 exists, I can’t even reasonably suggest checking out Need for Speed. It’s an average racing experience with below-average content, and it’s not something that’ll be worthy of your attention this holiday season.

Grade: C

Need for Speed – Xbox One (Video Game)

Manufacturer:  Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: 

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