Impressions: Need For Speed

None can know the minds of EA. We were sent review code for Need For Speed [official site] yesterday, plenty ahead of its release… and told that the review embargo for this online-enhanced game would be 8am the next day. The game’s not out until the 17th. A very strange situation indeed, to be given less than 24 hours to review a large, involved driving game, over a week before the servers would be populated. Keeps us on our toes, I suppose. But obviously we’ve not rushed anything. Below are some extensive impressions of this year’s reboot of the franchise based on my first 12 hours with the game. We’ll update this into a full review for you once the game is out, and we can actually play all its aspects.

“Dude!” “Bruh!” “Spring stiffness!” Actual dialogue from the twenty-fifth game in the Need For Speed franchise, and the first without a subtitle since 1994. Built by EA’s sprawling Ghost Games (in Sweden, the UK and Romania), and with the help of a large chunk of Burnout people Criterion, this relaunch of the series came out on consoles back in November, and finally finishes dragging itself over to our patch next week. However, it appears completely finished already, and I’ve been driving, racing, fist-bumping and staring in old-man horror at the nonsense the poor actors are being forced to say, up to level 31.

And you know what? It’s pretty good. It’s ludicrously easy, the speed at which you can upgrade a car and then a second car to be unbeatable is daft, and the acres and acres of FMV sequences will make you want to cleanse yourself by watching Howard’s End until the memories fade away, but I’m having a splendid time with it all. Although I need to state now that everything you’re about to read needs to be parsed via the knowledge that presently this four-month-old game is only available for pre-order via EA’s Origin, at the gobsmacking price of £50.

The game is split into two components. The dominant part is the racing, obviously. Races take absolutely no original forms, with time trials, points-gathering, straight up races to a finish line, etc. A supremely major component of the game is drift, and so naturally, as with all racing games, this is the one element that isn’t laboriously explained to you. You’re left to figure out how to balance control of the car in order to master effective extended skidding on your own.

However, once figured out, and once you’ve set your car up to support how you want it to handle, drifting becomes second-nature and tight corners become the game’s highlights. Figuring out how you want your car to handle is the rest of the game – the non-racing component. It involves tinkering away in the garage to improve any of your rides, adding in bought components from a terrifying list of badly explained car parts (“Spring stiffness can be used to tune the squat and dive behaviour of the vehicle”), and then fiddle with how various bits and bobs behave. This is super-simplified into defining mostly whether the parts help you be a floaty-drifty car, or a grippy-racy car, and can be even further reduced to adjusting just one slider left or right to move the others accordingly.

I surprised myself by getting a bit more into the detail of how I set up my purchased Mazda MX5, tweaking settings until it felt just right. Since the game is so heavily focused on drift (to give you an idea, the game reckons I’ve driven 326 miles total, of which 192 were drifted), it seems like madness that you’d build a car for anything else. Even the raciest of races still have hairpin bends, and being able to glide around them can make all the difference.

There’s some laughable attempt at a story here, where you’re some chap (despite being unseen throughout, for reasons of flirty-girl-eyes you’re required to be a guy) who evades the cops and gets noticed by racer-boy Spike. He invites you to meet his buddies, and they all start giving you tasks, races, and challenges to complete around a somewhat disappointingly average-sized map. (It’s not tiny by any means, but it felt smaller to me than even Burnout Paradise, and certainly less varied.) In order to receive these tasks, you’re required to visit said buddies in their various vast hang-outs, all filmed with actual real-life human beings, and you a walking camera that occasionally sees his own hands.

The actors are all decent, but wow, they have so much shite to say. “Wild handle, bruh!” Spike greets me, and things descend from there. And we’re asked to care about who fancies who, and then something about one guy getting scared of the cops, and how Amy the mechanic chick is like totally into cars but also seems to be worried about something dude. There are rival race teams, cameos from actual real-life street racing bruhs (you can imagine how good their acting is), and lots and lots of chatter about how great cars are. It’s all written by people who I can only assume have as much knowledge about cars as I do. “Amy, bruh, the, uh, wheels on this beast are like just the right roundness.”

There’s also the obligatory presence of the police, but wow, it feels like an afterthought. During races, or while plopping around the streets between activities, cops will come after you if you’re speeding/crashing/speeding and crashing into them, and you must flee! Which generally involves driving for a bit until they fall off the minimap, and then waiting for the brief cooldown timer to tick away. It’s so elementary and uninvolved as to feel like something the developers actively resented having to implement in the game. And more often than not, it just proves a pain in the arse while racing, more than anything because of how the chase is communicated to you: epilepsy-inducing flashes on screen. Worst is when you’ve escaped them, and a blue-and-white flashing light streaks across your vision in the most extraordinarily off-putting way.

You’re going to want a controller, because this port – while technically utterly perfect on my PC – couldn’t even be bothered to add a mouse cursor to the menus. Astonishing laziness, and damned rude. There are keyboard equivalents for all the controller buttons, but playing a racing game on the non-analogue cursor keys is obviously a huge detriment. It’s bloody annoying to navigate its Criterion-Special dreadful menus without a mouse, but for the most part you need only hit the up-d-pad to bring up the map, and can safely ignore the rest.

As I’ve played, there have occasionally been a couple of other people appearing on the map. But none to race with, despite the option to call up all and sundry before starting an event. You can flag down AI drivers as you zoom about and challenge them on the fly, and the same will go for other humans. But none of that is really possible to test or experience ahead of release, and seemingly a rather important component to keep the game going once all the story challenges have been completed.

As you move through those challenges, the game does become slightly tougher. It’s only now around level 30 that I’m facing challenges I don’t win first time though. And let’s stress that I’m hardly Mr Cars. There are even tougher races in the form of Eddie’s Challenge – an app you download to your fucking in-game phone, that provides details of a knock-out tournament (except you get as many goes as you want each round, because you’re magic). It took me rather a lot of goes to win the first, primarily because the game seems to “cheat”, mysteriously having AI cars appear that violently swerve in front of you causing a crash from which you could never recover. So it was a joy that I got to hear the interview with Eddie at the start of this race so very, very many times. Pure joy.

Crashing is possibly the most disappointing thing about the game, really. It’s completely deranged about what it deems to cause a proper collision, sometimes letting you bounce off the street furniture like you’re made of rubber, other times deciding that scraping a roadside barrier is cause to blow up the planet. But the crashes are shown violently out of focus, and with an orange filter, that ensures you can see literally nothing of what’s happening.

It’s just a blurry mess behind which entertaining crashes are presumably happening (you can see other cars landing on their roofs, etc, when whizzing past them), and as such is nothing but a tedious pause in the action before you’re miraculously placed back on the road unharmed, just a bit further behind the others. Again, I shake my fist at Criterion, who have done this same dreary trick in every game since Burnout Paradise, which is bewildering when you remember they made the glorious Burnout 3: Takedown.

Need for Speed looks stunning, and the big risk they took by trusting in their own photo-realism to not make the FMV look wildly out of place really is pulled off. In fact, there’s some very clever trickery that lets your car, as you’ve designed and decalled it, appear in the videos. This is especially great because my Mazda has the word “WEE” written in giant letters on the bonnet, and my previous car had a big pink heart built from not-heart-shaped decal options on its rear-window. And running on “High” (I confess I’ve yet to try it on “Ultra”) it doesn’t drop frames or stagger in any significant way as I’m zooming about. (AMD Radeon R9 200, 24GB RAM, i5-2500K @ 3.3GHz, Win 10 64bit, before you ask.)

It’s very samey, I must confess, despite my enjoying picking my way through the map’s challenges. There’s one mode that’s utterly dreadful – Drift Train – where you must rack up drifting points (easy-peasy) but can only score when driving very close to AI drivers (a whopping pain in the arse of epic magnitudes), but the rest are all fairly plain and uncomplicated.

The map is really quite impressively dull, however, not helped by the fact that the game is set entirely at night time, while it’s raining. It’s a game set purely in dark drizzle, which makes sense if you’re an illegal street racer who likes skidding, but really does ensure the game’s world is dull and unrewarding to explore. This lack of time-changing also leads to the weird impression that the game’s story is taking place entirely in one night, despite the characters seeming to make reference to things that happened days ago, or having gone through emotional turmoil in the five seconds since you last saw them. It’s a very strange conceit.

It’s odd that this is the game they chose to strip of a strapline, as if to suggest it was the complete reinvention of the license, because it’s so utterly ordinary in all it delivers. And, in many ways, that’s its great success. Rather than being over-ambitious like the wildly disappointing The Crew, it confines itself to a relatively small map, and a restricted range of races. Within that limited scope, it’s a success.

Just how many fist-bumps you’re willing to sit through may determine your longevity with its achingly desperate attempts to be millennial and street (the loading tips are a confusion of Twitter and WhatsApp or whatever it is the kidz are into these days), but perfecting your drift by practise and tweaking is an extremely rewarding – if ridiculously arcadey – fun time. Far too easy, but busy and entertaining, for all its embarrassing presentation I’m having a blast playing it. I imagine the downside here is that EA really weren’t looking for an audience that says “having a blast”.

The other downside is the absolutely outrageous price – EA are trying to charge £50 to pre-order the vanilla version, and £55 for the “Digital Deluxe” – for a game that’s already four months old, and can be picked up at around £30 pre-owned on console. And really, everything I’ve said about it needs to be viewed through that prism: too easy, limited scope, an overwhelming lack of originality. Suddenly that steep price makes it look a whole lot less appealing.

There’s no Steam store page for the game as yet, with it only available on Origin at the moment. It’s bewildering to imagine how they expect to sell enough copies at this mad price of a console-led game with a predominantly console audience, four months after release, via an online store barely anyone wants to use.

We’ll update this review with details of the online gubbins once the game is out, which is on March 17th.

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46 Comments

  1. fish99 says:

    The usual key sellers have it for around £30 but it’s still an origin key. Maybe it’ll pop up on steam next week.

  2. Churba says:

    12 hours in game, with less than 24 to get the review out? Game aside, man, you’re a trooper. Top work.

    Still, as for NFS game stories, seems they still haven’t topped the story in NFS: The Run. Sure, it was largely pointless, desperately shallow, and pretty much awful all around, but it did a few things right – It gave you an actual goal for winning other than pokemon style motivation(Ie, I want to be the very best, like noone ever was), it gave you a reason for being in different cars and different places, and it didn’t spread itself too thin by trying to have half a dozen characters and plots to care about.

    It was just whatisface the driving guy doing a cannonball run with radio lady telling him things on the radio, because he needed the prize money to pay back the mafia, who would sometimes try to kill him. Done and done. It wasn’t overly ambitious, and certainly wasn’t well acted, but it aimed low, and met those targets acceptably.

    • USER47 says:

      The Run was overall quite interesting. The concept allowed it to use multiple great looking environments instead of the bland cities in most other modern NFS and the story haven’t bothered me nearly as much as I was afraid of.

      But there were sh*tty parts as well, the driving model was unwieldy, the chase cam was so close the car took up half a screen and even small light cars looked and handled like tanks. The extreme catch up system was set up in such a way it never really mattered how you were driving, the outcome was only reliant on you crashing/not crashing into some unavoidable traffic 100 metres before finish etc.

      The systems of races themselves didn’t make much sense either. I could imagine some remake with more structured races, maybe rally style timed stages and overall time for larger segments, where only a part of the roster can move forward etc. This was a bit too strict and the fact everyone was seemingly in front of you until you overtook them didn’t make sense. But yeah, the general concept was very good.

      • Churba says:

        I do agree – the driving model wasn’t that great. It worked fine when you were driving the early cars(Especially that big white Mustang Super snake, whose big, tail-happy driving model suited perfectly), but as you got faster and faster, and the cars moved from big American Iron to more precise supercars, it got worse and worse.

        The catchup mechanic was mad bullshit, and the amount you got punished for small mistakes was absurd.

        The race structure definitely didn’t make sense – it was basically three events, a point-to-point sprint against other cars, the “Catch up with the rest of the pack by taking a shortcut!” races(which were just time trials anyway), and “escape the mafia!” which were basically just a point-to-point sprint, with obstacles.

        On the whole, The Run was not a good game – fun, but not good. But as an NFS game, it tried something somewhat different, and despite it’s (numerous) failings, and it had a number of high points- Attempting an actual story, the concept was solid even if the execution was pants, the sound was honestly quite good, the soundtrack was pretty good AND their sound designer was fucking on-point for using that soundtrack well.

        I just wish they’d learn from the high points, instead of consigning it firmly to the dustbin and trying to forget it existed. I’ve been playing some NFS: Most Wanted(The Criterion one) recently, and to be honest most of the problems with it that I’ve been having are problems they already solved in The Run.

        • USER47 says:

          Try Rivals, it fixes most of the problems I had with Most Wanted 2012, and the map is similar to the varied environment of The Run. The map is a bit small for multiple biomes and it has lots of other issues, but overall it’s quite a decent game (best NFS since 2000 imho).

  3. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    So it’s pretty much a remake of the 2005’s Most Wanted?

    Also, may I ask that you try it with a wheel? EA specifically advertises the PC version as the version where you have unlimited FPS, 4k support and full wheel support. I’m curious if they made something neat out of that.

    • Asami says:

      Please this. If I may be so bold especially the Driving Force GT (The older one, not that new ridiculously overpriced hunk of plastic). Need for Speed games haven’t properly handled the Driving Force GT since Shift 2.

    • MrFinnishDude says:

      Carbon was one of the favorite games of my childhood, so I think I might consider this.

      • Premium User Badge

        heretic says:

        Yesss, Carbon was great. I actually like the attempts at story in these driving games, one of my other favourites is Midnight Club 2, what a soundtrack, what a game!

    • FriendlyFire says:

      Most Wanted wasn’t stuck in rainy darkness, so it’s even less than that.

  4. Skid says:

    You can pre-order the DVD boxed version from Amazon for £38.09. But yeah never understood how EA thinks it could get away with selling the digital version for £10 more, they do this for every PC game and I always end up just being the DVD version.

  5. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    Scary lady pic reminds me of Vampire: The Masquerade. Kill her now before the locals start turning up eaten.

  6. prudislav says:

    Is it still online-only?? I remember the game asking servers after each change on the card … was epsecially annoying when the internet was kinda messy and i was customizing my car … 30seconds of server authentification after each even little change on the car

  7. Avus says:

    EA had wasted its exclusive Porsche license for nearly 2 decades and this is another good example. EA should give up NFS and Porsche license. The last good NFS for me is Porsche Unleashed which released in 2000.

    And I hope Porsche will not do this kind of exclusive license to one developer ever again.

    • USER47 says:

      While I do agree no NFS installment surpassed NFS Porsche since 2000, there were some not entirely terrible. Like 2013 NFS Rivals. It was a pretty solid and fun title with great environment and some good ideas. Wasn’t perfect, but still enjoyable, and it can be picked up at 10 bucks now or something like that. The Run from 2011 wasn’t a complete disaster either, despite lots of terrible design decisions.

  8. Foosnark says:

    Ugh, dudebros and drift. I’ll stick with Dirt Rally and its bullshit randomly placed rocks that wiped me out of a weekly event with two flat tires.

    • Tigg_Fedora says:

      Dudebros I can handle, although I’d prefer not to, but Drifting is about as welcome as a surprise bout of explosive diarrhoea. It is the wretched stain that spoils many otherwise excellent modern car games.

      I wish the drifting craze would die already or at the very least be an entirely optional game element. Heaven forbid that car game developers left out the all important engine-revving tosser in a crap car with a body kit and loud stereo sitting in McDonald’s car-park demographic.

      Maybe if drifting is so lucrative it should be in DLC, then it need never soil my screen again.

      • Premium User Badge

        ffordesoon says:

        The reason drifting is a feature people love in arcade racers, I think, is because drifting in third-person feels more awesome on a gamepad – especially one with analog sticks – than just about anything else you can do in a racing game. It looks cinematic, there is that wonderful bucking-bronco feeling of almost but not quite losing control of the vehicle, and it makes that cool-sounding screechy noise and leaves a trail of smoke and a little mark on the track.

        And you might say, “On a gamepad? In third-person view? What kind of monster are you?” To which I would reply that EA is solving for the person who uses the default setup first and foremost, and that means someone who never changes the camera and uses a gamepad. That person is going to be disappointed if there’s no drifting, so there’s drifting.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Ironically rally is one of the few motorsports where drifting round a corner might be quicker than just taking the racing line.

      • Tigg_Fedora says:

        Here’s where the irony goes further. I’m not opposed to tail happy cars or pulling a perfectly controlled slide around a corner to snatch the lead, it’s quite satisfying, and good rally games are the pinnacle of that.

        But drifting isn’t about being the fastest but rather being the most sideways and slidiest. The game is called Need for Speed not Need for Slide.

        I want a decent modern racer on PC and I don’t mind if it’s a bit arcadey but also not too serious-sim either, just as long as it’s fun. The Gran Turismo series and some of the older Need for Speed games were my favourites. Can anyone suggest some good recent PC titles?

    • KevinLew says:

      I’m absolutely convinced that drifting in games only started showing up after driving-themed anime/manga exploded in popularity 20+ years ago. In those comics and shows, drifting was symbolized as the most awesome and talented way to drive, despite that it breaks all logic and no racer does it on paved roads. Once every Japanese driving game made drifting mandatory, then every Western driving game followed it.

      Even if you ignore the idea that drifting is an outdated feature that should be eliminated, the whole point of it seems to defy the whole point of these racing games. Most of these modern racing games pride themselves on super-realism, but drifting (a.k.a. skidding) on purpose makes no sense whatsoever. At that point I have to wonder, why not just go all the way and have the cars use red turtle shells or banana peels to knock opponent cars off the road?

  9. GomezTheChimp says:

    Nobody can crush a game completely quite like Walker.
    You can never have too much sarcasm.
    Although this is quite a mild put-down when compared to his “steaming pile of shit” review of Bombshell…

  10. GallonOfAlan says:

    “Dude!” “Bruh!”

    Any game featuring bro-speak won’t be getting bought by me. Bro wankers.

  11. Paul says:

    You call Crew disappointing, but I bet you haven’t played its latest Wild Run incarnation with a good wheel on a good PC and large TV. It is amazing, and the only game apart from EU/US TruckSims that allows actual honest to god road trips with changing weather conditions and time of day. And all that in a beautiful varied car park, from Shelby GT 500 1967 to Pagani Zonda or Ferrari 458 or Nissan Skyline.
    But yes, the story was a bit pants (still infinitely better than in this NFS though).

    • Avus says:

      I can second that. The Crew is not really a bad “arcade racing” title specially after the Wild Run update. (GFX and weather update also apply to vanilla The Crew). At least the game properly support steering wheel from the start. (with lots of wheel/FFB adjustment) The map is fxxking excellent (a condense version of the whole fxxking US of A). Day and light + dynamic weather. In car view. No cheesy real life video. No Monster drink advertisement.

      If you guys rated so highly on America Truck Simulation, you should take a second look on the updated The Crew. IMO, it is more exciting than ATS because fast cars not boring truck.

  12. Fnord73 says:

    Does anyone know how Mad Max, bad as it was, performed saleswise? Is there any hope for a new generation of Sci-fi openworld driving games emerging based on those numbers? Because, man, this bru-drift style i s boring me to tears…

    • The Algerian says:

      Bad? It wasn’t bad.

      It sure wasn’t amazing and it was pretty forgettable, but I really wouldn’t say it was bad. I’m pretty sure it performed decently sales-wise.

  13. Siimon says:

    Man, this is what I feared (read: expected) out of the new NFS. Really a shame, I’ve been longing for a good one, but this seems to have kept all the worst things from the previous decade+ of NFS/Criterion games and not really innovated. Sounds like something to pick up for $5-10 and play for an afternoon or two.

    As a side note, John Walker, you said “Radeon R9 200”. Which card is it exactly, I’m guessing an R9 290, but the R9-200 series has a very wide range of performance so clarification would be appreciated!

  14. dontnormally says:

    I sure hope they get their shit together and make Underground 3 some fucking day.

    • USER47 says:

      Isn’t this pretty much it? As far as I remember, Underground was always about unbearable dudebros driving at night on the bland repetitive city streets.

      For some reason that I will probably never understand it’s considered to be a pinacle of the series by many people, but imho it just started the trend of boring city racing that the series wasn’t able to shed since and that dragged the entire NFS away from the stuff it was doing well before Underground came out.

      Why do people like Underground that much? Is it because it was first NFS game they played or something?

    • Aitrus says:

      Carbon was pretty much Underground 3, no?

  15. Wulfram says:

    You can pre-order it from Argos for £39.99.

    The bonkers £50 price on Origin has been standard for quite a while now.

  16. a very affectionate parrot says:

    24GB RAM!
    Damn John.
    Also this Need for Speed remake looks profoundly uninteresting although I’d love to watch the awful FMVs, I wish EA would just make a shinier burnout paradise with more everything. There was no reason to merge NFS and Burnout and I hope they de-merge soon.

  17. Phasma Felis says:

    I’ve been thinking of boycotting any series that thinks it’s acceptable to release two games with the exact same name.

    Of course I don’t recall ever having actually wanted to play any of those, so I’m not sure it’s a real sacrifice.

  18. thenevernow says:

    You were not told you have 24 hours to review the game. You were told you’re allowed to publish a review *starting* “8 AM the next day”. Or, one month later, you know.

    Review embargos are stupid and a sign of the lack of independences of the gaming press, but this seems like a serious case of flic dans la tête.

  19. Raoul Duke says:

    I will never understand why RPS reviews comment on frame rate yet consistently fail to include the resolution in question. Are we meant to assume that 1080p is the default?

    • Siimon says:

      I do, 1080p is the de facto standard. 720p, 1440p, and 4k are all low/high/ultra high end standards. Other resolutions are non-standard.

  20. thetoecutter04 says:

    i just bought this new NFS game thru origin for $95.00 CAD…then read this review! rofl! solid storyline is never the reason to buy a NFS game…its all about the cars, car physics and customization to me…and of course the racing. seeing as this is all about lame drifting…hopefully u can setup a viable ‘grip’ car, ill prolly be disappointed lol.I was already on the fence about the lousy ‘always dark and wet’ atmosphere of the game and now im really worried its gonna totally blow…was hoping for sum nice dry daytime roaming. i was really hoping for a remake of need for speed world MMO racing game but with new grafics and some more in depth player trade shops, etc…but wow this looks like its going to be a massive…fu(king terrible let down. also for such a car-customizable-car game ive been told it lacks like…A LOT of customization lol . is this game really that bad? anyone have any comments or suggestions id love to hear ur thoughts!