We’ve always liked the Need for Speed series. It’s one that shamelessly flashes its arcade fangs alongside enough car porn to satiate any drooling gearheads. In its latter years, it even ushered in a bit of soap opera drama, like all good racing games shouldn’t. So, why not reboot the whole thing, eh? Let’s Spider-Man the shit out of it.
Like most reboots, Need for Speed’s overhaul is largely unnecessary.
This is a game that wants you to believe you’re whizzing around the slick, wet streets of Ventura Bay, catching up with story-driven characters and real-life counterparts for high-octane moonlit street races. You’re in constant contact with your peers as your phone fills up with text messages offering time trials, tasks and challenges to fulfil at your leisure while you casually network with the city’s young, beautiful racing underworld. All of this is complemented by a unique, always-connected online world, where a selection of other players dash around the city on their own errands, and it’s all glamorous skidmarks and supe’d up tesoste-racing.
Yeah, it’s kinda not like that really. But it sounds great, right?
Sadly, the ‘always online’ element is plagued with wee bugs and connection issues that kick you back to the menu during a race, or leave you waiting to connect to a server for painfully long periods of time. Without a connection, you won’t be playing Need For Speed at all. Plus, when it does work, all of that is mostly underused. Need For Speed’s beautiful Ventura Bay setting looks amazing with a slick neon glow, but it simply isn’t teeming with players. Interaction with other gamers is fleeting and mute at most. Christ, even the NPCs seem wholly absent.
While this could be a style-choice that really works, it actually becomes evident that it may be more of a performance issue as shuddering, jerky frame-rates come into play when there are more than a couple of humans involved.
Despite its attempts to be a real social world where real players own the streets, Need For Speed’s Ventura Bay is coldly empty – sometimes it appears an aesthetic choice as you whiz at top speed around the snaking unused highways with very little to stop you; other times it’s an eerily abandoned limbo, like you’re the ghost of a dead driver forced to make the same midnight dash across town that killed him 20 years before.
Holding hands with reality as much as possible, Need For Speed contains hilariously earnest full motion video cut-scenes and credit is owed to the acting chops of a cast doing their best to bulk out their IMDB filmographies. Despite the cringe-worthy dialogue, it’s well acted all round and your gang of racing buddies have likeably clichéd personalities, reminiscent of Road Rash, and somehow manage to elevate the melodrama slightly above Night Trap.
All of this seems fairly pointless though, since Need For Speed has always excelled in its core purpose – it’s a great racer. There’s enough car drooling for automobile lovers to appreciate and a lot of care has gone into the ability to customise your speedsters to really refine your skill set in order to play up to various race requirements.
Thankfully, it doesn’t go too far down that route and Need For Speed always remembers its arcade basics – races, time trials and drifting challenges all remain difficult enough, but rarely stray into the impossible, despite AI pacing problems that are believed to be being patched soon.
Heading back to your garage allows you to buy stuff with the points you’ve earned skidding around the streets, destroying bits of Ventura Bay and avoiding the cops. These upgrades allow you to skid around the streets, destroy bits of Ventura Bay and avoid the cops with more finesse. There are plenty of nice touches too, including these police chases in which you can stop and pay a fine, or try to escape their worryingly aggressive clutches, while the fine you’ll have to be pay if you’re caught slowly increases.
But, again, it all seems superfluous and, at its heart, Need For Speed is just a really decent racer that simply doesn’t need its ‘always on’ function, or its full-motion video cut-scenes. Despite all its try-hard efforts, the reboot is just kind of….well, sweet. It has an earnest, ego-less fun factor about it that’s at its best when you’re simply cruising around in a newly supe’d up car, complete with decals spelling out your favourite swear word. It doesn’t need half of the fancy shit it keeps trying to hammer home as its USP and it crucially never relies on them at the crux either. Its design choices, like the ghostly emptiness of the drives and the irritating inability to instantly replay failed races somehow don’t manage to remove the fact that Need For Speed’s back-to-basics formula is just hugely enjoyable.
Need For Speed is available now for PS4, Xbox One and PC.