Review: Need for Speed (PS4)

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Title: Need for Speed
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (19.1 GB)
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost Games
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
Need for Speed is also available on Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
‘Old school’ is the phrase which comes to mind with Need for Speed – as old as it may make us feel that the PlayStation 2’s era can now be looked back on with nostalgia. (Editor’s Note: Or even the original PC release in 1994!)

The street racing video game fanbase has been clamouring for a classic, nitrous-fuelled victory lap around a neon-lit city. I should preface this review by declaring, I’m a part of that community.

Whilst I’m a keen fan of the driving genre in general, the likes of Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition and Need for Speed Underground 2 are amongst my favourite ever games. This latest EA racer gave me hope (albeit with trepidation) that the sub-genre could, finally, be revived.

Thankfully, it has. Need for Speed is a throwback which will hopefully convince developers to re-enter this market, rather than focus purely on hyper-realistic driving sims.

… fans wanted a nitrous-fuelled victory lap around a neon-lit city …
On that thought, let’s begin with the feel of the cars. Predictably, if you’re looking for an authentic representation of thousands of vehicles, you’re in the wrong place. Equally, Need for Speed will not cater to those wanting a painstaking, punishing recreation of racing.

Instead, this game is fun. The handling of the vehicles is a key pillar of that, as players will always feel completely in control. It’s a little forgiving, which is needed to keep it enjoyable, and is a very smooth experience overall. Whether at high or low speeds, with a great or poor car, the handling feels very good.

Through the excellent drive of the cars, this is a joy to play at high speed, with very few moments of frustration. Cornering is great too, which is all-important when blasting through the city streets of the fictional Ventura Bay at full throttle. I found the responsiveness of the controls to be good overall, and the vehicles felt well balanced in terms of weight and speed.

NFS1

The actual racing routes are not overly inspired – this isn’t a painstakingly crafted game world – but are still fun to play. Each is well suited to the task at hand, which is one of Need for Speed’s key unique selling points. There are five distinct classes in the game: Speed, Style, Outlaw, Build, and Crew.

Events are divided into these categories, and reputation points (earned constantly, whether cruising or racing) are divided into them. For instance, points from a drift come under Style, whilst causing damage to public property contributes to your Outlaw status.

Splitting the event trees under several categories works really well, consistently keeping the game fresh and helping to implement different play styles cohesively. It also means each of the characters in your story mode are given their time in the spotlight.

… ‘cop baiting’ is a unique thrill ride …
That’s due to the story being played out via full motion video. Whilst FMVs and ‘next-gen’ aren’t often uttered in the same sentence, it works brilliantly in Need for Speed. It’s a throwback to the peak of the series.

Your crew (full of street racing stereotypes) greet you with fist bumps and high fives, whilst gushing about how you, the new guy, are taking the city’s racing scene by storm. Is the acting great? Of course not. But it simply fits the sub-genre well and overall is a pretty enjoyable link piece between the races.

NFS2

Another of the game’s core strengths is its unique, innovative takes on the genre. ‘Drift Train’ events, for instance, see you collecting points for drifting, but with a multiplier depending on how close you are to the pack. Lead the way, and you’ll be rewarded with double points. Fall too far behind, and it’s impossible to score, creating a great risk-reward element.

‘Cop baiting’ is a thrill ride too. Without spoiling details of the story (yes, for all of you who also take the plot of a Fast and Furious flick seriously), it predictably involves staying close to cop cars or causing damage in order to drive up your heat level. Manually angering the VCPD before finally escaping is an unrivalled experience.

Similarly, even minute tasks such as finding collectibles are shaken up, with the game requiring players to ‘donut’ in a specific location rather than simply driving through a floating object. These small, unique elements build up to create a game that feels fresh.

… five car limit in the garage …
What isn’t fresh though, is the age-old annoyance of rubber-banding. It admittedly tones down slightly as you progress through the game, but is still evident in some later events. As a racing game nut, I’m pretty accustomed to this by now, but I suppose in 2015, there’s really no excuse for AI issues such as this.

There are also some really unintuitive game design choices. One example is the five car limit in the garage. Seriously, EA, why? One of the added bonuses once a story mode in a street racing game has been completed, is collecting every car. Not being able to store more than a handful is extremely annoying.

‘Teleporting’ to an event via the map is a further complaint. Rather than placing players straight into said event (why else would you want to be teleported to that spot?), the game puts vehicles right next to the event marker, meaning we must sit through two loading screens instead of one. Speaking of loading, the initial time upon boot-up is horrendous.

NFS3

However, despite the laundry list of problems, it still grabbed me. This is a wonderful, traditional street racer. The high spots are thrilling; blasting 200mph across a bridge, before seamlessly drifting around a ring, is a stunning feeling. In its best moments, Need for Speed reaches heights of racing joy that no ‘serious’ sim can ever dream of reaching.

The drifting mechanics are fantastic too, making those events incredibly satisfying to play through. Unlike past entries in the franchise, the police presence is not intrusive and often not difficult to escape (unless you’re ‘cop baiting’, as previously discussed).

In terms of as yet unmentioned street racing tropes, the overt effect of nitrous has been dialled down (races aren’t won and lost on one good blast of N2O, a la Midnight Club 3), but it can still prove to be a very useful tool, in a slightly smarter fashion.

Meanwhile, the customisation options are exactly as any fan would want: an array of aftermarket parts with clearly labelled effects on performance, alongside aesthetic choices such as body kits, paint jobs, tinted windows and more.

… reaches heights of racing joy that no ‘serious’ sim can ever dream of …
Visuals:
This game is gorgeous. The ever-dark Ventura Bay captures the feeling of a PS2 street racer, but with the scale and jaw-dropping aesthetics of a PS4 title. The lighting and rain effects are often spectacular, whilst the region – despite occasionally seeming bland – warrants exploration.

Whilst overall it is extremely pretty, it does infrequently suffer from visual hitches such as pop-in at high speed (not to the extent of Forza Horizon 2, however) and disappearing vehicles (which is a side-effect of the online portion of the game, to be ranted about later in this review).

In addition to the previously mentioned awful game design choices, the decision to put intrusive help messages on screen whilst in the middle of a race, is completely dumbfounding – a case of a visual choice affecting the gameplay. Lastly, the game is not focused on big set pieces, which will no doubt please/annoy, depending on your affinity/hatred for the Fast and Furious series).

NFS4

Audio:
Sound effects of vehicles in the game are fine, as is the voice acting. The music choice – genres such as house and electronic – will obviously be polarising. Personally, I think the lack of depth is concerning (it grated during my first play session), whilst I’d also prefer a street racer to have more hip-hop and rap added to the mix.

Yet more bemusing design choices from the developer affects the audio too. Disabling certain songs is impossible, whilst skipping a track requires a three-second push of the Left Stick. In order for the input to register correctly, you essentially need to be driving along a perfect straight of over three seconds (rare in a street racer).

One aspect of the game I enjoyed (another throwback to iterations gone by) was the use of phone calls from your crew, which keeps periods of cruising interesting. However, it must be noted these phone calls can be repeated upon the next boot of the game, if the relevant mission has not yet been completed.

… without being signed in to PSN, the game is completely inaccessible …
Online/Multiplayer:
‘Less is more’ is a phrase Ghost Games needs to be using in their studio. If Need for Speed did not have any sort of online component, it would have been one of the most easily recommendable racing games in years.

Alas, it not only has an online mode, but relies on a persistent connection to the internet. This is a move that, for some players at least, makes Need for Speed a complete car crash of a game.

Last week, a new version of PS4 firmware was available to install. I clicked on the Need for Speed tile anyway, presuming it would allow me to play the game without any online features – you know, like any other game besides MMOs. The game loaded, but only as far as the error message below.

NFS6

That is a completely inexcusable flaw with the game. Without being signed into PSN, Need for Speed is completely inaccessible. A player’s single-player experience with the game is entirely reliant on their internet connection, PSN, and EA’s infamously inconsistent servers.

When you are connected, the game is not bettered for its connected features – aside from the notable exception of daily challenges, which are an addictive little bonus within the game. Firstly, it means there is no way to pause. Frankly, that’s unacceptable. It’s only when you’ve lost it that you truly realise how invaluable gaming’s pause button is.

Elsewhere, the other human players inhabiting your city can often spoil the experience. The amount of single-player races I had ruined at the vital moment, by fellow maniac drivers… it’s infuriating to even think about. The fact is, the premise of Ventura Bay having multiple humans has zero benefits but causes countless problems for anybody attempting to enjoy a solo experience.

[Update: Though the option was not available on PS4 during launch week, it seems that there is now a ‘Play Alone’ option buried in the menus. Some research suggests this option was available pre-launch, during the beta and on the Xbox One’s EA Access, but oddly was removed on PS4 until a patch in November.

This improves the game, though there are still two issues with its implementation. Firstly, it must be manually selected during every play session (essentially meaning the game must load twice each session). Also, it replaces humans with AI racers that act like humans, in that they are still very annoying and actively try to crash into you all around the city.]

Even for those who do want to play online (which, in fairness, runs smoothly once you’re in a race) will struggle to ever get in a game. Finding a standard online race is nigh-on impossible, unless you specifically arrange a meet-up, as you must first track down other humans and then challenge them.

NFS7

Conclusion:
To crudely quote Jean-Paul Sartre, “hell is other people”. The game is inescapably hampered by its insistence on a persistent online connection.

This awful decision – alongside a multitude of unintuitive design choices – prevents Need for Speed from a return to glory. It’s a crying shame, because this is an excellent, old school street racer. It features almost everything any fan of the sub-genre could want, it looks beautiful, and creates some fantastic high points.

Overall, this is a very good racer at its core which deserves to be tried. Most importantly though, it’s an outstanding base for the future – one that has a concerted direction – which should refill the empty nitrous tank of street racing games. For the first time in a long time, this series has regained an identity.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

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  • ChazzH69

    I enjoyed the beta which ironically didn’t let other players appear in-game, most of the time. We could see each other on the map. I loved the look and tremendous realism it had at some points but hoped it wouldn’t force online play.

    I’ll wait until they make a sequel or a massive update that untethers the online necessity.

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