Need for Speed first appeared 21 years ago back in 1994 for DOS and the first generation Playstation (and two other consoles, for those information purists). The game did well enough to warrant a sequel in 1997, and there has since been a new Need for Speed game almost every single year after that. Sometimes we even got two, lucky us! Now in its 22nd iteration, the newest game in the series, titled simply Need for Speed, makes its debut on the current generation of consoles. I gear up, rev my engines, and go full throttle as I race and drift my way through this review to see what it’s about.
Need for Speed follows your adventures in the city of Ventura Bay as you join a crew of racers and tuners, all seeking to be noticed by a particular icon in the tuning community. If you have even a passing interest in this, you’ll immediately recognize names such as Ken Block, Magnus Walker, and Akira Nakai, and these are the aforementioned icons that your rag-tag band of racers want to impress. As you drive around, your crew will occasionally call you on your phone to tell you about new races and new events, or to congratulate you on races you’ve won (or call you out on races you’ve lost). You can ignore the calls if you like, and simply let it go to voicemail, which is probably what you’ll eventually do.
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is that it requires a persistent online connection to play. Yes, that means that if your internet connection is spotty, you’re going to have a hard time playing. The second thing you’ll notice is just how absolutely pretty the game is. This is possibly one of the first truly photorealistic-looking games for console. And then you’ll notice that the cutscenes are live-action videos. I’m still trying to decide whether the FMV is cringeworthy because of the acting or the script. Maybe I’m out of touch with the younger generation and that’s how they really act and sound, in which case, I’ve become an old fogey. The cringe carries on to the helpful messages from your crew during load screens, delivered in a Twitter-like fashion that would never really work in reality. Do people really speak like this?
Driving around Ventura Bay reminds me a lot of driving around Paradise City, which is not surprising considering that Ghost Games is made up of a lot of staff who were once Criterion Games, the makers of Burnout. Ventura is much smaller and less populated than Paradise City, but it’s still gorgeous to look at. Ghost Games know this, because there are many landmarks to be found where the object is to take in the view. What a pity, then, that there’s no daylight to get a good look at the views, because the game happens in what we can only assume to be the Land of Eternal Night.
Need for Speed comes with a decent list of cars to acquire and drive around. Note I said “decent”, not “hefty” or “exhaustive”, so don’t expect to see all your favourites here. Your options for modding, tuning, and customizing the cars are far more extensive than the list of cars, and you can fiddle with anything from the brakes to the exhaust, from the electrical systems to the suspension, to the added conveniences such as nitro. If you’ve no familiarity with the inner workings of a car, you might feel a little lost here, since “pricier” doesn’t always equate to “better”. Mucking about with the components can dramatically affect the handling of the car, and thus any handling issues are largely going to be your own fault. In terms of purely cosmetic overhauls, your options are insanely wide. You can tint your car any colour you want, add decals, and make it as stylish or as eyesore-ugly as you want.
The game’s load times, once you’re in, are tolerable, but the initial load is painful. I clocked that load from title screen to the road at over two minutes. That’s almost half an hour in terms of how long it feels. Once you’ve started, though, the loads are reasonable from road to race and from road to cutscene. There are five different kinds of race, one for each of the crew members, and while it’s still fun to race, the rubberbanding on the AI is ridiculously egregious. What it boils down to, really, is that Ghost Games don’t trust you to get by on skill alone, and that fact irks me. On the topic of AI, the police are back in this game, but they’re so laden with doughnuts that you actually have to slow down during a chase to ensure that they keep up with you long enough to fulfil certain race conditions. I’m not sure what to think about that. And if they’re not doing a crap job of chasing you, they’re managing to forget how to police. You could, of course, stop and pay the fines, but then where’s the fun in that? Also, it’s actually sometimes faster and easier to get away than to pull over and pay the fine.
Overall, Need for Speed has mostly one thing going for it: the graphics. I honestly don’t even get the music. The online only rule is the reason I am currently seeing so many copies of this game in the second-hand bins, and it’s a pity, because the developer’s reason for the game’s always-online is for the Autolog to let you upload photos and have other people rate your photos. If enough people like your photos, you get rep, the game’s equivalent of experience. Thing is, it’s easier and faster to gain rep just by racing around or evading cops. The multiplayer feels tacked on, because it’s difficult enough to organize a race with the others on your map, and if you encounter trolls, there’s not much you can do except go elsewhere. And lastly, the game is short. You can comfortably get through the entire sets of campaign within about 10 hours, and you can build in an extra 4 or so to find and collect every vista in Ventura Bay. As it stands, there’s a little too little game for the price, and way too much cringe.