Whether you look at music, movies, toys, or even video games, everything old is new again. There are a lot of ideas and concepts being revisited with the hopes that they will catch on again. I don’t think it is an issue of creators running out of ideas, but rather many of them taking a chance on revitalizing some of their forgotten favorites, regardless of the medium. Although the game is being called a “fresh start” for the franchise, the new Need for Speed (NFS) feels like it is an idea that we have seen before.
Just like 2003‘s NFS Underground, the new NFS is all about the nightlife of street racing. Set in the open world of Ventura Bay, you’re given a virtual playground to explore and exploit at your own will. The experience is a lot more open this time around as you can go where ever you want, when ever you want; the entire city is open to you from the start. As a newcomer to the area, you immediately fall in with a group of racing friends, who you interact with through a variety of first-person FMV clips. The acting is incredibly corny at times, but the characters you meet are strangely likable, even if they’re all stereotypical and contrived for each of their roles.
Each of your friends represents a style of driving or racing presented in the game. They each offer you opportunities to pursue a storyline based on their “area” of the racing world too; it is almost as if there are five different directions that you can take the tale, each culminating in meeting up with their respective driving icons. For example, Manu is a fan of drift and style events, therefore following his path will lead you up to a showdown with real-life rally driver Ken Block. Spike is all about speed, and he will lead you to coming face to face with Magnus Walker. As you progress, you earn reputation in each of their respective categories, which all adds up to create your total ranking in the game. Improving your overall ranking will open up new events as well as new parts and customization options for your vehicles.
The entire reputation system works really well. It really allows you to drive the way that suits your personality and you will be rewarded and progress accordingly. It also works well with the layout and design of Ventura Bay. The layout of your virtual playground gives you plenty of opportunities to implements each of the styles into your night life. There are the wide open interstate sections that let you really open things up and push the speedometer as far as it will go as well as intricate, urban areas that test your about to react and drift under pressure. Regardless of which style you gravitate too, this gorgeous, living city gives you places to practice your craft(s). Just be careful though as the Ventura Bay Police Department is always watching out for racers like you and your crew. They don’t have anywhere near the level of presence that they have had in other NFS games, but they will occasionally give chase to you and set up road blocks in an attempt to stop you and fine you. It is extremely easy to lose them now and they almost feel like an afterthought by the time you get deep into the game.
Your non-playable crew members will steer you to their respective events by constantly pinging you on your virtual cell phone. Seriously, this thing is ALWAYS going off with one of them bugging you to meet them some place. It feels a bit too real and I often wished I had a could put the phone on silent. It works well for the game’s design, even if there are a few anomalies that pop up such as you getting a call from someone you’re already participating in an event with. Those sort of things just don’t make any sense but I guess it is just a game.
The mission system and setup of the game really feels like a chore early on as everything feels so spaced out. When you have a really low ranking, it feels as if you are spending all of your time commuting across the map in order to trigger another event or race. It gets better as more races open up outside of the main storyline, but until you reach that point traveling is a bit of a chore. The in-game GPS doesn’t make things any better either as it gives you some of the strangest directions that you could be have. It’s only goal is to get you to a marked point on the map with the shortest route possible, however this usually involves sending you the wrong way on the interstate and shooting down railroad tracks. It works, functionally, but really fails in the practicality department.
The entire concept of the game is focused on the racing nightlife. Everything is dark and damp, either from the almost constant drizzle of the rain to the moist dew that collects on things in the more rural areas. This games the Frostbite engine a chance to truly shine as it handles all of the various street lights and their interactions with the water. Everything in the game is downright gorgeous. You never get a chance to see a variation in the weather or time of day as the game handles the progression of time in a strange manner.
This wouldn’t be an issue if there wasn’t a hint of visualization of the time progression; you see dawn coming and the begins to rise as morning comes around, but then it magically turns dark again. The entire thing just seems odd when it happens; surely the storylines could have been used in order to handle the representation of time passing buy, having storyline events depict the late night / early morning races and end with you calling it a night.
As you drive around Ventura Bay, there are quite a few “collectible” items hidden for your added pleasure, but nowhere near as many as I would expect for a modern game. These all come in the form of locations that are marked as photo opportunities, broken down trucks with “free” car parts ready for the taking and spots that are perfect for pulling doughnuts in your ride(s). Given other games that have had things like these, such as Burnout Paradise, gave players hundreds of these things to collect or do, I really found it surprising that there were only 30 spots for each doughnut and picture and 12 car parts to find. There are challenge races to be found too, but in terms of “collectible” items, you can easily knock them out in an hour or so, which is extremely disappointing.
As I mentioned before, increasing your reputation earns you access to new parts for tuning and customization. While there are a good variety of options in this department, it isn’t anywhere near as deep as some of the sim-based racers on the market. The options are there, but what it ultimately comes down to is that the more expensive the equipment, the better it is for you. You always want to buy the most expensive part available. It is only in the handling department that things really get detailed in terms of fine-tuning your rides to your liking.
The car variety is also nowhere near as varied as other racing games. This is an arcade racer after all, so what is here is a narrow but targeted selection of cars. There are around 50 cars in the game, however you can only own five at a time. The amount of cars that you can own goes hand in hand with the driving styles depicted by the game’s story characters. You’ll most likely want to dedicate a spot in your garage to a vehicle that is tailored for each style. Your sporty drift machine isn’t really going to do much for you when it comes to matching Amy’s challenges for raw horsepower, and vice versa. Pick a car that you like visually, and than tune it to meet your specific needs. Don’t worry about banging them up along the way either as a quick visit to the garage will clean them up and all damage is purely visual (no effect on performance).
Strangely, NFS requires you to be online at all times in order to function. This is both good and bad. It’s good because the online integration is seamless and it functions extremely well in the game’s setup. You will see other drivers on your map in your game world and even come upon their events and races as you cruise around the city. This really makes Ventura Bay feel alive; I love coming to an intersection at a stop light and seeing a pack of 8 - 10 cars blow by that are partaking in an event that I have nothing to do with. At the same time, it is also sort of fun to grief these other races and slowly roll out into their paths, but I don’t think you’re supposed to do that. You can also challenge these players when you come across them in the night. There are also daily challenges offered from the developer which will help boost your in-game bank account a bit.
On the other side of things, requiring players to be online creates some unique problems for players too. First off, since this is a living world within the game, you can’t pause things. If you need to stop, you need to pull your car over and park it some place safe. Of course, that only works when you are not participating in an event. The biggest issue though isn’t one we have to worry about now, but in the future: what happens when EA wants to pull the plug on the game?
In the end, NFS has proven to be a great arcade racer when you’re actually in the heat of things. It’s when you’re not actively participating in a race or event that the experience begins to struggle and things the weaknesses begin to shine through. Traversing the city outside of races can often feel like a chore and the non-story aspects of the experience are extremely limited. There are a ton of great ideas laid here for the future of the franchise, as well as a ton of opportunities to improve on some of these new gameplay mechanics and systems. I have no doubt that players will have a ton of fun with the game, I’m just not sure how long that fun is going to last.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Guess who's back!!! If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, former certified news monkey. I still consider myself all of those things, just maybe not in the grand scale that I once did. I’ve been blogging on the industry for more than decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die (in some form or another).
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it (at least once).