On the face of it, the answer to the question of “Why does Need for Speed exist?” is far from clear. Ghost Games have rebooted a series that was hardly in dire need of it, offering a visually lush but stripped down driving simulator high on style but with one too many annoyances. Taken at face value, Need for Speed is a fun and relatively simple driving game which almost challenges you to ignore its issues by looking so incredibly flashy. Which is does, but not for long.
There is something of a narrative on offer here, presented in movie-like first person cut-scenes that the series has previously employed. You begin the game by meeting the instantly energetic (read: annoying) Spike, who likes the cut of your driving jib and invites you to a special warehouse party to meet other likeminded ne’er do wells. Very quickly, you’ll form your own crew, including the relaxed Manu, the feisty Amy along with the overly-alluring Robyn, and take on a series of time trials, races and touges (drifting challenges for the uninitiated) in an effort to gain popularity, notoriety and the attention of other legendary racers in Ventura Bay. Completing events earns you money which you’ll sink into improving every single aspect of your ride or purchasing new ones with the eventual goal of becoming the ultimate driving icon.
If that sounds somewhat shallow, it’s because it is. Said cut-scenes are recorded with actual actors surrounded by a combination of real and CGI cars, and they look brilliant but the content is pretty vapid, the world these characters are trying to become a bigger part of has about as much emotional depth as a bag of wet dog hair and it’s a small miracle that your character has full use of his hands to actually drive, given the amount of fist bumps he’s expected to engage in. On the flip side, the game’s narrow focus, with each character tending to focus on building up a specific part of your reputation by offering you specific types of missions (Spike will only offer you races, for example) makes for quite a focussed experience. Ventura Bay isn’t particularly big and you’re never going to have that many missions on the go at once, but the experience is nicely streamlined as a result. Sure, this means Need For Speed is smaller in scope in comparison with many of this year’s big-budget titles, even if the amount of objectives on offer isn’t particularly meagre, but it’s somewhat liberating to drive around Ventura Bay’s perpetual night time and not get distracted by approximately 976 other things when driving one solitary mile.
The driving itself doesn’t take much adjusting to, with drifting taking a little time to master until you’ve tweaked your handling settings to suit your driving style. There’s a comforting amount of modifications on offer for your car’s interior and exterior, covering colours, decals and car parts (excluding some of the more prestigious motors, presumably due to licence issues) with a handy guide to how much each part will improve your car for less knowledgeable racers. Screeching around Ventura Bay’s streets and hills feels quite focussed and more of a short, sharp sugar rush than a thrilling, full-throttle joy ride, but once you’ve found your ideal handling level, there’s nothing getting in the way of whittling your way through the game’s many events.
…..apart from everyone who actually gets in your way.
Need for Speed requires you to be accompanied by members of your crew for a good chunk of its missions. That in itself doesn’t sound like much of an issue, but the AI guiding these cars being frequently awful presents a huge problem. For example, do complete a Drift Train, you need to keep close to other cars (sometimes two with the other being an actual human player) in order to rack up drifting combos, but the game-controlled drivers are incredibly unresponsive to your presence, regardless of whether your behind or in front of them to the point that you’re often desperate to avoid being within a stone’s throw of another car lest you get smashed and lose your score. Worse still, if you do crash, they won’t slow down to wait for you, and you can’t increase your score alone, leaving you either playing catch up for the rest of the course or having to restart and reload the race. Time trials aren’t quite as unforgiving but again, the game inexplicably wants a member of your crew to race you at the same time, and again, they don’t react to you when you’re near and they’ve seemingly been given a remit of ‘be a nuisance’, which is anything but helpful on tight roads under tight time constraints. Combine this with the frequent phone calls that other crew members will bombard you with regardless of your current activity, and you’ll soon end up wanting to go solo.
The always-online aspect of Need for Speed also feels somewhat puzzling, given how frequently you’ll smash into other folk at full speed who are either presumably on a mission of their own or just wanted to bugger your entire race up because they fancied a giggle. Your interactions with the other seven drivers in your sessions are essentially redundant purely because everyone’s off doing their own thing, and with no hub for setting up a quick race or two, it’s unclear as to why this needed to be an online experience at all. Elsewhere, it’s nice to see that the Ventura Bay Police Department have outfitted with cars that can manage speeds of up to 150mph in order to catch reckless drivers, but they’re more of an annoyance than a threat to your driving, and the sparsity of their utilisation makes them feel pointless.
It’s strange. Ventura Bay is an absolute looker, with visual strength in its perpetual low light and heavy rainfall, and when you’re not fiddling around in your garage or riding to/taking part in an objective there’s an unintentional tranquillity in blasting around its roads in your modified rides. The addition of Daily Challenges offer the occasional dose of variation on the tasks you’re asked to complete to reach the top of the pile, but Need for Speed doesn’t do enough to detract from its failings.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 6/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with a copy of Need for Speed for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 5 days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.