Let’s start with something very obvious: Need for Speed is an incredibly good looking game. The night time streets, often soaked with rain, provide an fantastic set of visuals which fly by at a rate which barely lets you appreciate just how detailed everything is. Make no mistake about it, this is well and truly a new-generation racer, and while the ideas and concepts within aren’t totally new they’re put together to make a highly enjoyable racer.
Firstly though, a little disclaimer: this review covers the 1.03 update released today. I’d written most of the review, sat down to give it a final blast before publishing it then realised many things I’d mentioned had changed. I’ll cover exactly what that is later, but for now just know that you’re reading a review of the very latest version of Need for Speed. Hooray!
So what exactly is this new Need for Speed title? Well really, it’s not new, but instead a throwback to what you might call a “classic” Need for Speed title. There’s no choice of cops or racers, no bright sunny days to drive in, but instead we’ve got Ghost Games’ reboot of a racer which goes right back to the underground night racing games which sparked off the start of the Need for Speed series. With recent entries in the series getting further and further from the originals that many racing fans fell in love with, it’s both a sensible and brave choice to bring things back to the early days.
And yet the bravery paid off; the new Need for Speed is a very accomplished street racer. There’s a decent range of events from flat-out races, through to drift events and time trials, and with the new addition of community challenges there’s even more to do now than there was at launch. Success in each of these events earns reputation (or REP in-game, it’s more street y’see) in five categories: Speed, Style, Build, Crew and Outlaw. These gets divided out depending on how you’ve just done in the event you chose – did you use impressive stretches of high speed, keep the cops at arm’s length or drift round long corners with others in your crew? Oh yeah. Your crew.
While other open world racers made by these developers (including when many of them worked at Criterion) have been light on narrative and focussed more on pure racing, Need for Speed includes something which starts off as an interesting novelty, and within half an hour becomes a bit of a pain in the arse: video footage of your supercool new crew, dropped in at regular intervals (although not as regular as the phone calls you’ll get from them while hurtling down a narrow road at 120mph) and designed to presumably make you feel like one of the gang and urge you on to become the top racer in town. What it actually does is make you hunt for the “skip” button and hope you’re not missing out on anything important.
But realistically you’ll be spending enough time racing and customising your car to not really care much about the storyline. There’s loads of cars to save up for, from lower-speed trundlers such as the 1976 VW Golf right the way up to incredibly fast (and expensive) Lamborghini Aventador, all of which can be customised with a huge array of car parts and bodywork, as well as the fully fledged wrap creator to make your car look exactly as you want. I spent hours just on this, and once you get to grips with it you can come up with some stunning looking cars. This has been improved even further in 1.03, with the editor gaining features such as mirroring, so once you’ve designed one side of your car you can just copy it to the other. It’s fixed one thing I originally moaned about in the first version of this review, so you’ll no longer have to manually redesign every last bit on the other side of the car. Which is nice. Customisation is more than just looks too, with each choice along the way giving you the options to increase your acceleration, make your car more slippery for drifting or set it up for high grip levels to make your cornering as nippy as possible. There are different types of boost, customisable brakes and suspension, even the handbrake can be tweaked to make those handbrake drifts more manageable.
Once you’re out of the garage and on the road, your missions are scattered around the impressively large map and highlighted by a series of icons showing which event they’re representing (icons which have also received a facelift to actually be useful). You’ll also come across areas where you can take a photo for a few rep, as well as completing doughnuts on the spot with a similar reward. Completing enough of these brings its own reward, and you’ll be finding plenty while you’re driving for 10 minutes across town to reach your next event. Or at least, that’s until you realise you can actually immediately travel to any event labelled on the map. Highlighting an event then flicking to the right on the controller lets you leap straight to it, which is awesome in a time-saving way, but does mean you’re less likely to get into the genuinely fun police chases or stumble across more hidden spots. It’s quite useful though to have a good drive round once you’ve picked up a new car or heavily customised an existing one, so a mix of driving round or leaping to events is a pretty useful thing to try out.
So Need for Speed gets the important stuff extremely right, and the additional stuff really quite wrong. The racing, car customising and anything else while you’re foot’s on the accelerator is brilliant, and looks absolutely tremendous. But the way the plot is delivered with your crew dude people… well… I could live without it quite frankly, and the insistence of the developers to make sure you’re online at all times when playing could cause problems for some. But make no mistake, if you can put up with all that you’ve got a great racing game on your hands, and most definitely one to show off the PS4’s graphical abilities.
Reviewed on PS4