(Pay)Back to the basics of arcade racing.
Racing games tend to be the conduit for showing how powerful new consoles are. It’s no surprise, with the release of upgraded consoles PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, that this holiday season has been riddled with racing games. Need For Speed: Payback is one of the contenders aiming to fulfill the adrenaline desires. Published by EA and developed by Ghost Games arrived to store shelves on November 10th, 2017. As the 23rd entry in one of gamings most iconic franchises, Need For Speed: Payback has the difficult job about giving gamers a reason to stop playing the other incredible racing games available now. Full speed ahead to see if this game will continue to revitalize the series that the previous entry reignited.
Right out the gate, racing games have two very important jobs. The first is for the console manufacturers. They need to extract every possible amount of power that the little box can muster and make sure to show it off through visual representation. Need for Speed: Payback does an incredible job making the world feel alive and real but it doesn’t do anything that makes it stand completely outside what other racers are doing. Fortune valley, the most recent recreation of Las Vegas in video games, is a beautiful city filled with different environments that help to breathe fresh air into the long drives. The cars all look fascinating, accurate, and provide a real representation of some of the worlds greatest super cars at home. Some of the character models for less important characters look a little shoddy but nothing of importance is ever effected by the lack of attention. This new racer does a great job of showing off all the technical power in these new consoles but it doesn’t do anything to break the mold or really stand out.
The games title is pretty telling when it’s comes to the plot in this particular game. The story opens up with a typical race crew of misfits who each fill a general role working together to steal a car with some crazy prototype technologies. Things go bad pretty quick and a member of the crew screws the whole team over. The team falls a part everyone goes on their own sad adventure till they eventually team back up to fight the good fight. In no way is Need for Speed: Paybacks story bad. In fact it’s actually pretty great. The story unfolds through the eyes of the 3 playable characters from the crew and the fourth who happens to be the team mechanic. The issue with the story, as with many of the titles this year, it feels to predictable. Maybe it’s a writing issue or maybe it’s a reviewer issue. The story just lacks any real sense of freshness. However it’s still a really good fun story to experience, just not one that will have the edge of the seat warm by any standards. Also, not sure why one of the main characters is Bruce Wayne. Just saying.
Hearing the roar of the roar of the most powerful engines in the world is one of the most endorphin-inducing sounds for any person. Vehicles moving at speeds that literally break wind (insert fart joke) have to sound as real as possible. The screeching of tires, the sounds of collision, everything sounds incredibly real. It would be easy for a neighbor to confused the sound of this game through surround sound for an actual vehicle collision. On top of the hyper realistic world noise, the voice acting is also pretty good. Lines are delivered in ways that feel convincing and compelling. None of the characters fall into a muddy or uninteresting tone however there maybe a little backlash over the stereotypes in some of the characters voices. Arguably the most important audio component in any racing game or sports game is the soundtrack, and boy does Payback deliver. Boasting a playlist that covers a wide range of genres that keep the blood pumping the music really pulls everything together. It’s super easy to envision someone racing down the street with A$AP Ferg’s “Trap and A Dream” playing at neighborhood rattling volumes.
It’s hard to judge gameplay on a game type that has one basic mechanic: Drive fast. Sure some of the game modes and challenges add a little dynamics to the concept but overall it’s just drive really fast. And for better or worse that’s where Need for Speed: Payback sits. It doesn’t really do anything new but it also doesn’t really get anything wrong. The one gameplay mechanic that was kind of a silly decision was not including police cruisers and chases in the free roam. All police chases are tied little bait boxes which provide loot when completed but have no negative impact at all when failed. It’s a really interesting choice that doesn’t quite make any sense no matter which lens it’s looked at through. It was just a bad choice that hopefully can get patched in via an update or something. Who knows how games work? Either way all the other modes and race styles almost make up for it but not quite enough. The one thing that seemed to be a major point of concern were the loot boxes EA is trying to force into every game. After playing the game for a few hours, there was never a moment where purchasing a loot box felt necessary. The pay to win model, for single player, doesn’t exist, however the impact on multiplayer is still not entirely clear. Hopefully the concern remains baseless.
Tying things back to the beginning of the review, the second important mission every racing game is tagged with completing is owed to the gamers. Every member of the development team who wasn’t taking the console apart to figure how to abuse its power, is now focused on making sure the game carries endless amounts of fun. Check this box for Need for Speed: Payback for sure. Hours and hours of fun can be had with this game whether playing through the interesting story or driving around fortune valley smashing billboards there is something for everyone. Vehicle customization remains a staple feature, now that EA finally figured out no one ever asked for racing games with out customization, and boy does it get deep. Of course it doesn’t get as deep as the ultra pro racing sim, Forza, but it definitely goes a lot further than any other arcade racing sim available now. Locating derelicts feels like an exciting scavenger hunt in this brand new world while racing around the world aimless still feels just as adventurous. The major complaint is still the lack of police cruisers when free roaming but outside of that can’t imagine putting the control down once the engines start.
At the end of the road, Need for Speed: Payback will be remembered for giving fans almost everything they love without to much extra filler. Beautiful cars to drive through beautiful scenery while playing beautiful music. That sums up the fun in a beautiful way. Anyone looking for a great story or something incredibly brand new in racing gameplay may not be 100% satisfied with this selection but it would be hard to believe they didn’t enjoy themselves at all. Need for Speed: Payback is almost the game fans of the series wanted but in the world’s current state, maybe complaining about the little things isn’t to great of an idea. Just hop into Payback and push those cars to wind breaking speeds. [Editor’s Note: Fart Joke Here Too]