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Need for Speed

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost Games
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2015 (US), Nov. 5, 2015 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


Xbox One Review - 'Need for Speed'

by Brian Dumlao on Nov. 4, 2015 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

The game delivers on what the fans want, and what Need for Speed stands for - deep customization, authentic urban car culture, a nocturnal open world, and an immersive narrative that pulls you through the game.

If you looked for the latest Need for Speed game last year, you didn't find it. Instead, you were greeted with Need for Speed: Rivals Complete Edition, a version of the 2013 game with all of the DLC included. For the first time since 1997, the series skipped a year, leaving fans wondering about the future of the franchise. When pressed, developers told fans that the series would be rebooted to return it to the high point the series once enjoyed. This year, the series is indeed back with a game simply titled Need for Speed, which tries to merge most of its previous features with some new ones.

Upon starting up the game, you'll notice that it immediately connects to the online servers before you reach the main menu. Get into a game, and you're informed that you're joining an online game. Just like Rivals, this year's title is meant to be always online to the point where your game is unplayable without an Internet connection. Even your save file is located on the game server, and there's no local copy on your console hard drive. For those with unreliable connections or non-existent, this is a compelling reason to skip this entry altogether.

The story starts off like a number of the Need for Speed games that spawned from the Underground title: There's a cut scene of you participating in a race. You attract the attention of the cops, but you lose them while gaining the attention of Spike, a fellow street racer. He's impressed with your skills and invites you to a party where you can meet his crew. You race to win a car and immediately become part of the team. Though the story retains an air of mystery, your ultimate goal is to be recognized as the best all-around street racer.

If you've played any street racing title on the last two console generations, you know what to expect from this cast of characters, from the calm but cool racer to the mechanic extraordinaire to the guy who finds his spirituality behind the wheel. There's just enough bro-style speech in the cut scenes to make even the biggest fan of street car culture cringe, but it isn't so annoying that you want to skip the cut scenes — not that the game allows you to do this anyway, so you need to sit through the scenes whether you like it or not. At the very least, you can marvel at how the cut scenes expertly blend your CG car with the real-life actors and backgrounds.

After the cut scene of your opening race, you take control of your car and simply drive to the given spot on the map with no other instructions. You sit through a long cut scene after that, and you're thrown into a race with your new crew. No matter how you finish, the scene plays out only one way: Spike, the loveable goofball of the group, loses the challenge. Sit through another long scene, and you're told to go to the garage, where you have to sit through another long scene before you can start doing anything. Compared to older games where you're immediately tossed into the action, this new intro is rather unsatisfying and a poor way to get people hyped about the new entry.

When you finally take control of the game, you're in the garage and shown the car customization options. There's a nice amount of visual customization you can do, from changing the color of the car to changing out parts. You can even create your own decals from a number of pre-made shapes, but the inability to copy the creation for use elsewhere on your car is frustrating. Aside from visual customization, you have a chance to customize the internals for a more powerful car, from the wiring to the exhaust and the engine block. You can even tweak the car to be more of a speed demon or make it more likely to drift, something the series hasn't let users do in a while.

Look around the garage, and you'll notice that you have space to add more cars to your collection. In total, the game only has 51 cars to choose from, a rather paltry list when compared to the contemporary racers in the field. However, you only have space for five cars, including the one you're currently driving. The game shifts the focus from collecting all of the cars to obtaining specific ones for your needs and tweaking the ones you have to handle specific circumstances or to be a general all-around car. This is certainly a positive shift, as you now have time to appreciate your cars and take advantage of the upgrading process instead of treating cars as a disposable commodity and being constantly tempted to switch cars.

Get out of the garage, and you're given free rein to explore Ventura Bay, a fictional city modeled after Los Angeles. As you drive around, you'll get calls from crew members asking you to come to certain spots and participate in events. This is where the game's "five ways to race" mechanic comes into play, as each event focuses on one of five disciplines: Build, Crew, Outlaw, Speed and Style. To build up respect points for these disciplines, go from 0-60 in record time, participate in police chases, drift around corners, take the top spot in races, and participate in races with the right kind of car. While specific events concentrate on a discipline, all of the events feed into these areas in one way or another. You can spend the respect points on new vehicles and parts.

Answering calls from your team members to open up more events, so you can ultimately face off against some real-life racing personalities, such as the Risky Devil drifting crew or Lamborghini enthusiast Morohoshi-san. Interestingly, you don't have to participate in the events to gain points. Spend XP to open up more of the world and gain access to events that aren't part of the main story. You can chain actions to earn XP multipliers, and crashing into immovable objects won't take away the combo or the earned points. In a way, the more forgiving nature of the game allows players to level up faster even if they aren't adept behind the wheel.

Like many open-world racers, there's some freedom in which events you tackle and in which order. If you aren't doing any of that, simply driving around lets you discover hotspots. Some spots let you pick up free parts for your garage, though it's possible to pick up a part that you can't use on any cars in your possession. You can find the car, but since there isn't a guide to tell you which car uses the part, it might be best to sell the part for cash. Other spots let you get some XP if you perform a donut, and a few spots give you a snapshot of the area with your car in it. Doing a donut is quick, but the XP earned is so small that regular driving more than makes up for missing it. The latter takes shots at boring places and at such bad angles that you'll actually want to miss it instead of find it.

As for the racing, it pretty much follows the blueprint of previous games in the series. The sense of speed is good in that all cars feel fast initially and get better with more tweaks. If you can forgive the fact that rubber band AI is highly in effect, you'll benefit from having close races with erratic racers instead of having them follow a guided line. Interestingly, even though you're told about five different disciplines, most races devolve into speed- or drift-focused tracks. You're either going fast or drifting around corners, with the only differentiating factors being the number of opponents and allies. The series has always offered these things once it focused on street racing, so there wasn't an expectation that this would change.

Since this is an always online game, multiplayer is already here in a number of ways. The races support up to eight players, and you can go up to another player, initiate a challenge for one of four race types, and race in a randomly generated path depending on where you are in the city. You can also form a crew with your friends for the purpose of initiating these events and earning XP as a team.

Need for Speed combines the open world of Underground 2 with the police chases of Most Wanted, the under-the-hood tinkering of Shift, and the constant drip feed of accomplishments in the Forza Horizon series. It presents it in an always online package like Rivals and features the teamwork aspect from Driveclub and The Crew. On paper, this sounds fine, but there are parts that just aren't executed well. For starters, the limited number of online players per world may prevent the trolling in Rivals, but it also means that it is much more difficult to initiate a straightforward race with strangers since there's no way to warp to their location. You need to drive to their location and blink your lights in hopes that they'll respond before they leave. Outside of a crew, your sessions rarely have you encounter real players, so you have a slight chance of engaging in competitive multiplayer with those outside of your circles.

The always online requirement also has a few drawbacks. For starters, there's no pause feature. You can bring up your in-game smartphone menu, but your car still rolls along while you're doing so. Doing this in the middle of a race means you're forfeiting to your opponent since the transition from menu to gameplay is long enough to prevent you from catching up. Restarting a race isn't possible due to the lack of a pause feature, so if you're losing a race badly, you have to finish it, drive back to the starting point, and start over. Some of the races are very challenging if you use the wrong vehicle, so the lack of both features is annoying and frustrating, and the grumbling about the required online connection only increases.

Though the racing can be good, the cop chases are quite boring. While you see the lights behind you in one big blur of color, you don't get a sense of how close or far away they are. Cop AI gets tougher in later stages as more cars and roadblocks appear, but the AI is so easy in the early stages that the ramp up isn't met with much enthusiasm from the player. It also doesn't help that the aggressive AI isn't very smart, so losing the cops is a breeze; it's an issue because some of the challenges require you to get into long, high-point-value chases.

When tested on two different hard drives, the Xbox One version experienced hitching in random places. Whether it's in the middle of a race or just driving around, the game pauses slightly before continuing normally. It happens enough to be noticeable but not to the point that the game is continuously choppy during an event. It can be an issue since there's a chance of this occurring at a crucial turn. It also happened before the game officially launched, so it isn't a side effect of full servers. We only received the Xbox One version of the game, so we can't confirm about whether this happens with the PS4 version as well. Hopefully, this is something that gets resolved with a patch.

The main menu has plenty of options, but all of them feed into the main game mode instead of being new modes. You can check out your overall progress and all of the screenshots you've taken thus far. You can see the Daily Challenges and join or create a crew, either with people in your current game or with a list of people the game thinks you may know. Aside from that, there are two odd options. The first is a prompt for you to rate the game, similar to what you'd see for mobile titles. It appears after you boot up the game and disappears after that. The second option is a headline window that, when clicked, leads you to articles on the official Need for Speed website. Interestingly, the game opens up Internet Explorer/Microsoft Edge on the console in split-screen mode, but the page doesn't fit well in that portion of the window. It's a nice idea, but the execution certainly needs work.

Graphically, Need for Speed looks good thanks to the on-screen touches. The mix of white and yellow street lights perfectly punctuates the nighttime lighting, and the wet ground reflects details rather nicely. The camera lens gets specks of magnified water whenever it rains, and there's a light blur effect that appears at the end of the race when stats are being tabulated or when cops start or end a pursuit. The cars are detailed enough that only small decals appear unreadable while scratches and deformation is only noticeable during shots of your ride at the beginning of the race. The city fares well with the aforementioned water puddles littering the streets, buildings that show off reflections when lights shine on them, and very rare instances of texture pop-in. The hitching prevents the frame rate from being solid, and light blur is used too liberally in crash scenes, making it a mess that no one can enjoy.

Audio-wise, the game has an equal amount of strengths and weaknesses. The sound effects are crisp, with the engine hum and tire screeching sounding pitch perfect. Crashing into things is wince-inducing in a good way, as you feel regret once you plow head-first into a divider. The voices may be annoying to some, but at least the performances fit the characters well, and the phone conversations are clear enough that subtitles aren't needed. The music, however, is hit-and-miss. It matches modern tastes with loads of electronica and drum and bass, with sprinklings of rap and rock, but there aren't enough tracks to make for compelling racing music. A good amount of the time, you'll hit a track that fails to capture that racing rush, and there aren't any memorable songs that stand out. Things get worse when you're being chased, as the lack of chatter and subdued tunes make the whole thing feel uneventful, especially when compared to the blockbuster movie style of chases in the 2005 version of Most Wanted.

It really is good to see Need for Speed try something new for the series and the racing genre. The focus on a more open progression system and the desire to upgrade and modify a car or two as opposed to the "collect them all" mentality really helps to distinguish the game from others. The presentation, though lacking in areas, gives a great impression, and the racing remains intense. Having said that, the always online feature seems unnecessary since the game doesn't bother to use it to its full extent, and the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. It's a good game but not necessarily a stronger one when compared to prior titles, especially if the stuttering on the Xbox One isn't addressed. For that reason, race fans may want to hold off on this title to see if things get smoothed out on this platform.

Score: 7.0/10

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