Need for Speed Review (Xbox One)
For the past two decades, the Need for Speed series has been one of the premier franchises in the racing game genre. We've seen this series pick up on the import tuner craze brought on by The Fast and the Furious series with its two Underground entries. The series has taken us Undercover, put us behind the wheel of police cruisers in Rivals and even went animated and exaggerated in Nitro. The series has seemingly done it all when it comes to modern street racing. As a result, Electronic Arts enlisted Ghost Games (formerly known as EA Gothenburg) to fully reboot the franchise.
Simply titled Need for Speed, this racer marks the franchise's first current-gen exclusive, finally focusing on getting the most it can from modern consoles without having to worry about including last-gen tech. Fortunately, this helps NFS look absolutely gorgeous, which ultimately matters when you factor in the underwhelming graphics of Gran Turismo 6 compared to the fine polish of Forza Motorsport 6. Utilizing the full extent of the current-gen hardware, Need for Speed revs up into a promising experience that is all about underground and urban street racing, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee a smooth ride.
Need for Speed is set in the fictitious city of Ventura Bay, which is basically supposed to be the game's own version of LA, where time constantly shifts back and forth between midnight and dawn. The transitions between the two aren't consistent. It's like the sky is playing tug o'war between dawn and night, with daybreak never really happening. The mild overcast and near constant drizzle means that Ventura Bay has a ton of impressive lighting effects going on, whether you're blazing through the city streets or just cruising around. The landscape is varied, as there are plenty of urban, suburban and rural streets you can drift around and gawk at from the driver's seat.
The car models look detailed and their coats reflect the quality of the car. Obviously, a high end racer will have a nicer finish than your outdated starter Mustang. There are some noteworthy lighting systems at play, and it's easy to get lost in watching the pavement running under your car as you watch ambient light sources from the city reflect off your car at high speeds. At the same time, the game feels overly filtered when everything is in motion. While it looks great when you're at a fast speed, going 0-40 mph reminds you that there are perhaps too many things going on at once.
The erratic frame rate of Need for Speed often derails the fun and enjoyment to be had. Much of this can be attributed to Need for Speed keeping you consistently online where up to eight racers can be featured in Ventura Bay. Even if a racer drops in far away from my location, there's almost always a frame rate dip. I noticed that the closer I was to the new player's spawning location, the more pronounced this lag was. Sometimes, these stutters happen in the middle of the action, such as during a drift or other sequence that should be featuring buttery smooth gameplay. Unfortunately, I couldn't get through five minutes of gameplay without noticing some minor instance of lag. Even when playing solo mode, I encountered these frame rate dips regularly. Perhaps this is something Ghost and EA will iron out later on, but it struck a nerve regularly considering this is a veteran racing franchise. Need for Speed runs at 30 frames per second when it's not lagging, but I just wish that was a constant 30 throughout my racing endeavors.
The audio effects of Need for Speed are excellent. The engines whine and rev just as you'd expect them to, and you can hear the succinct differences between a Mitsubishi Lancer and a Subaru BRZ. Likewise, hooking up and tricking out your car's engine helps dynamically warp the auditory effects you'll hear as your engine gets pushed. If you have a decent sound system, it's great to hear all the different car engines and ambient sounds around you blur by as you're racing around the streets of Ventura Bay. The soundtrack is pretty much what you'd expect: a diverse mix filled with high octane tracks meant to keep you amped up while you're pushing the pedal to the floor, but with no real standout songs or anything I'd particularly want to look up for my own music collection.
Need for Speed is surprisingly filled with live action cutscenes starring human actors reciting scripts filled with cliche Fresh Coast lingo no one uses anymore. You've got the pushover guy who'll call you "bruh" all the time and introduce you to everyone important the underground scene, where fist-bumps and Monster energy drinks are the societal norms. Your mechanic is a tatted-out tomboy with a weird hairstyle and a fierce personality. I have to admit, after racing with this core crew repeatedly and seeing how hospitable they were to my character, I started to become invested in them and started warming up to their personalities, which I wasn't expecting. What I couldn't embrace was the poorly written script and poor direction that these scenes had, as well as the inability to skip these pointless cutscenes.
On the bright side, Need for Speed is seamless with transitions between these cutscenes and gameplay. Despite how customized and unique I designed my car, seeing my ride utilized during the cutscenes was a nice touch. Ultimately, the club scenes, script and acting just felt like some out-of-touch big wig made all these decisions to make the game feel like a poor take on The Fast and the Furious experience without the undercover cop plot or evil crime syndicates.
As for the racing itself, Need for Speed's controls are just as clean as they ever were. Addressing the transmission elephant in the room; there is no manual transmission option, which remains a huge bummer for the multitude of fans that were hoping for it to be added into the game. The perpetually slick streets allow for some fun drifts at breakneck speeds. Each car I tried felt different in terms of its push, control and handling, especially once I started altering its undercarriage and tuning its engine. I went into Need for Speed with high expectations for its actual racing performance capabilities and was satisfied for the most part. The lack of a manual transmission and the absence of an inside-the-car cockpit view were big letdowns.
There's a first person perspective but I was hoping to see my cars' dashboards and what have you. Having other players around doesn't really cause any hindrances to the gameplay as there aren't any rewards you can get going GTA-style and trying to drive players off road. There's a solo mode available for those who don't want to be bothered by other players asking you to race or compete with them, but the AI-controlled characters bug you even more than most real life drivers. Playing in solo mode had some heavy annoyances due to the storyline characters frequently badgering me to check some new race or visit some underground racing scene guy they want to me to meet. There needs to be an option to turn those notifications off in order to simply drive around and explore.
Need for Speed's gameplay caters to five different gameplay types: Speed, Style, Crew, Build and Outlaw. You get additional reputation points for your performances pertaining to these types. Your reputation functions similarly to an experience point system. Increasing your rep gives you access to more types of hardware for your vehicle (and ultimately new ones). Revving up your engine and proper nitro usage warrants Build points and deep drifts score Style points. Speeding builds up (you guessed it) speed points. Outlaw points are scored by bumping into things and having the police chase you. Luckily, the cops aren't as eager as they were in previous games, so don't be surprised if you have to hit them with a few fender benders or end up speeding right in front of them to get the boys in blue to flare up their lights and chase you.
The five gameplay types also have their own corresponding characters from the story giving you races, events and missions to do. Expect Style showdowns where you'll have to be doing lots of drifts and Crew races where you'll have to remain in close proximity to your team members (which often leads to one of you derailing after hitting an obstacle). This adds for some gameplay variety and a better payoff once you clear all five major storylines and gear up for the game's high end races.
Need for Speed feels like an open-ended version of what Underground 3 would've been as opposed to the hoped-for big reboot. NFS has a much smaller lineup of cars compared to its contemporaries and previous entries, but its customization and tuning options allow you to get the most out of the vehicle roster. The story mode cutscenes are filled with terrible writing, blatant in-game advertisements. The constant Internet requirement means you can't even pause the game, even when playing solo, and the story mode characters are more annoying than even the most persistent of random racers online. For a game that requires a connection 24/7, it's a crime that there's no automated matchmaking to just send you into a race.
Nevertheless, Need for Speed looks and sounds great, excluding the random frame rate hiccup, and there's a ton of fun to be had behind the wheel. Need for Speed floors it in the right direction for the most part. Unfortunately, not everything was right under the hood when this racer left the garage. As we all know, this can cause some major problems when you're trying to peel out.
This review was completed with a download code for Need for Speed provided by the publisher for Xbox One.