Need for Speed: Payback review for PS4, Xbox One

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost
Medium: Blu-ray
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

I really want to enjoy Need for Speed: Payback, mostly because I think the actual racing is pretty solid. However, the absolutely awful implementation of upgrades here really holds the game back, and takes what should be an otherwise fun experience and turns it into quite a slog to get through.

So what does that mean? In Need for Speed: Payback you?ll acquire a list of cars as you progress through the game, mostly through purchasing new vehicles as they become available. You can also hunt down ?Derelict? vehicles, done so by completing story-based events and finding the chassis for a vehicle, and then the four parts that?ll allow you to actually unlock the vehicle which are scattered around the map. This is all well and good, but when it comes time to actually make those vehicles race-worthy, that?s where you tend to hit a wall.

Each vehicle has six different equipment slots, broken down into categories like exhaust, turbo, head, and so on. There are a number of made-up manufacturers in the game that provide stat bonuses to your vehicle if you?ve equipped three or more different parts from the same manufacturer. Those parts also have a number grade attached, starting at level 1 and working up from there, which will dictate how much they?ll improve the various stats on your car, like max horsepower, max speed, etc.

The issue comes from how you acquire these parts, and how random the parts can be. There are a couple ways to obtain parts, the primary way being by winning races. However when you win a race, your reward is still random. You?re presented with three ?speed cards? and you can choose one, which will unveil the part you get. You cannot choose by manufacturer or equipment slot, so there?s a chance you?ll be left with a part that?s either not useful, doesn?t match the other manufacturer parts you?ve chosen to equip, or one that?s already wildly outclassed by what you currently have equipped.

The alternative? Just outright buying parts using in-game currency from the shops scattered across the map. This at least lets you pick the part and manufacturer you want, but only if that part is currently in stock. The stock selection updates every 10 minutes, effectively placing a timer on when you can purchase new upgrades. This isn?t nearly as severe as the timer originally was, but waiting 10 minutes to purchase new upgrades seemed sort of ridiculous to me. There were definitely points in the game, particularly after the mid-point, where it seemed more beneficial to allow the game to idle for 10 minutes and wait for a stock refresh than it did to try and compete in races where I was wholly outclassed by the A.I.?s vehicles. And even then I?d go two or three refreshes before a part appeared that I actually wanted, or that provided a useful upgrade for my current vehicle.

The other option for obtaining parts is to literally spin a slot machine, using limited points that are earned either via Need for Speed: Payback?s loot crate system, or by trading in parts previously obtained that you do not want. The slot machine mechanic will allow you to lock in one of three categories, like manufacturer, equipment slot, or perk, which add additional bonuses to the part outside of the incremental stat increase typically allotted. Again, what you get can be completely random, and are more often than not useless for whatever your current build is.

Sound annoying? It definitely is. And you can multiply the poor experience across multiple vehicle types as well. There are different car classes in the game, like Drift, Race, Off-Road, and more. None of the parts are interchangeable, and you will need to upgrade all classes in order to progress through the story. So you basically have to deal with random upgrades on multiple car classes in order to compete, and the time commitment to do so is absolutely ridiculous. I?ve been playing with a publisher provided ?Deluxe? version of the game, which comes with some loot crates and other bonuses, and even then the whole progression system has been an uphill battle. So playing through this with the ?base? game? I would strongly suggest not doing so.

And again, this is all a shame, because I think Need for Speed: Payback does get a lot right. The actual racing is fun, even if the A.I. tends to rubberband heavily regardless of how well you race. The tracks built into the open-world map are generally fun and varied, with the occasional optional path, ramp, or other obstacle that helps to breathe a little life and variety into the world. The ?arcade? feel of the racing is spot on, it?s super easy to drift around corners with almost every class of car in the game, and the sense of speed when rocketing down the highway at 120 miles per hour is exhilarating. The world of Need for Speed: Payback is also filled with optional goals and tasks, but unfortunately little of that feeds into your forward progression in a meaningful way.

All in all, I?d suggest passing on this, despite the fun racing framework that surrounds the game. The upgrade system is such a mess, and makes the entire game feel like a chore. And that even extends into the multiplayer, which requires you to upgrade your vehicle enough to stay competitive against other players too. It just makes for a really unfortunate experience, and ideally this is not something we?ll see repeated in future installments of this series.

Grade: C-