EA kept its Need for Speed series in the shop while Ghost Games worked on its reboot for a 2015 release. The new Need for Speed was revealed prior to E3, which EA then gave a proper showing during the big event. I knew to expect the new game to have more of an Underground vibe to it, which means I would have to listen to a bunch of 20-something year olds with nicknames like “Spike” telling me it's “party o’clock” to indicate the race is about to begin. What I didn’t expect was how visually stunning some parts of Need for Speed would be.
Hit The Streets
Need for Speed starts with the player coming into Ventura Bay to join a small group of unknown racers. Each race you complete successfully brings you and your crew one step closer to being better recognized throughout the street racing community, and each of them can teach you a thing or two based on their expertise. There are a total of five different ways to earn Reputation in the game: Speed, Style, Build, Crew, and Outlaw. As you complete missions based on these Reputation styles, you’ll be one step closer to challenging a Driving Icon. Defeating a Driving Icon will not only earn their respect, but also gain you infamy.
Once I hit the streets of Need for Speed, I was blown away by how realistic Ventura Bay looked. The streets were reflective as they had just the right amount of moisture from passing rain, which there appears to be a lot of in this fictional west-coast city. The streets are filled with wet asphalt, which would often result in numerous puddles popping up during races. Luckily, these puddles are just for aesthetics as they didn’t affect my driving ability. Street lights, fluorescent signs promoting various businesses, and headlights of oncoming vehicles all look true to life.
The Need for Speed series has offered a more arcade feel to its vehicle handling with slight simulation mechanics, and while I controlled a number of aspects of my vehicle’s tuning, the overall feel stayed true to its roots. The game has a nice variety of races to complete, although I felt there’s too much focus on drifting. There are two or three race types that deal with going fast, although there’s about four or five different races dealing with drift-style driving. So if you prefer your car to have a lot of grip, you’re going to have to learn how to drift at some point in your time with Need for Speed.
After seeing how realistic the world of Need for Speed looked, I completely understood why Ghost Games went with Full Motion Video (FMV) cutscenes. The FMV cutscenes helped in keeping the realistic illusion of Ventura Bay’s streets. I found there to be a fair amount of production in these FMV scenes, which gave a Fast and Furious vibe to the game, although there were certain things that took me out of the experience. Any time I’m with a group of people, I found them all looking at me at the same time, regardless of who was talking. The attention in normal conversations tends to shift from person to person, and I felt like I had something on my face that no one was telling me about nearly the entire time playing Need for Speed. It also didn’t help the acting was below B-movie standards as each character felt like an exaggerated caricature.
The FMV cutscenes weren't the only things distracting me from the full experience. For being the new guy in town, I sure was popular with my crew and their contacts as my cell phone was being bombarded with calls and texts no matter what I was doing, and even more so during important missions. There were even moments where I was getting a phone call from someone who I was currently on a mission with where they would say they haven’t seen me in a long time and wanted to race with me sometime. That felt pretty awkward.
While I get the culture that’s being represented in Need for Speed, I was surprised to find there was so much drinking going on prior to races. I was invited to meet up at a bar, at a crew member’s house for a party, and the obvious implication seemed to be that everyone was consuming alcohol. This may be the parent in me talking, but I didn’t like the idea of my crew hammering brewskies prior to completing an important driving mission.
The vehicles also didn’t deliver the same amount of visual polish as the city of Ventura Bay did. They didn’t look bad by Need for Speed standards as there was a nice amount of detail in nearly every aspect of the vehicle’s aesthetics, although considering how much detail there are in vehicles in competing games, like Forza Motorsport 6 and Driveclub, it’s a shame Ghost Games didn’t give their cars as much love as they deserve. This is made even more apparent when a CGI vehicle is injected into an FMV scene. It always looked out of place, similar to the visual style of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The Last Lap
For taking a year off to work on this Need for Speed, I was hoping Ghost Games would have given its reboot a more noteworthy return. While Ventura Bay looks good and the game has plenty of missions and side missions to complete, the constant distractions I felt while playing it kept me away from enjoying it as much as I have previous iterations of the franchise. If you’re a long-time fan of the series, you’ll find something to enjoy here, but if this is your first time behind the wheel, you’re going to want sit this one out and check out some of previously-released Need for Speed titles.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 retail copy provided by the publisher. Need for Speed is available in retail and digital stores for $59.99. The game is rated T.