As regular readers, my Xbox Live friends list and random people I meet on the bus are probably well aware, I have a real soft spot for the Need for Speed games, so much so that I was moved to write an article ranking them from the very best, to the worst of the lot. Now though I wish to focus on one specific game, Need For Speed; the 2015 reboot of the franchise.
Now, I first became aware of Need For Speed when I attended EGX at the Birmingham NEC in September 2015. The EA stand was pretty cool, with a full size TIE-Fighter on display, as I assume they were trying to push one of their Star Wars games. It was however the Need For Speed stand, complete with a highly modified Nissan GT-R on display, which was my sole focus. After standing in an hour long queue, I could finally get hands on, even if it was on a PS4 with one of their ‘unique’ controllers; those thumbsticks are just clearly in the wrong place. Anyway, I got into a race with the other seven lucky players who were included in my group, and I have to say, based on those initial ten minutes or so of gameplay, I was impressed. I liked the new style of driving, with a real feel to the drifting that had been missing from the series before. Gone was the “Get to a corner, turn, pull the handbrake, profit” kind of gameplay loop, and here in the reboot we found ourselves actually having to drive through the drift and out the other side. I went home with my interest thoroughly piqued.
Fast forward to October, and I was clutching my own personal copy of Need For Speed, scurrying home from GAME with baited breath. I had, in the intervening period, spent my time reading and watching just about everything I could about the game, researching pretty much as much information as I could. Of particular interest were certain snippets that mentioned “Although this game won’t be Underground 3, it will share a lot of the features that made the first two games great”. Another bit that had me encouraged was that the reboot was being developed by a team of people who had moved from Criterion, makers of the Burnout series of games, and would now be concentrating on the Need For Speed franchise. So, with all these thoughts running through my mind, I finally inserted the disc and settled down to play.
The story of Need For Speed was so of the time that it almost stung, with a disparate group of racers living in Ventura Bay, a fictional city based on LA. Here, a group of six friends from different styles of motorsport all meet up at diners, making plans to get noticed by the leaders of their style; people like Ken Block and so on. So basically what the game turned into was a series of events of different types – Speed, Style, Crew, Build and Outlaw – all needing cars with different tuning and driving styles. It was possible to try and finish one thread of the storyline, but I found it to come into its own by mixing and matching, one second racing, the next drifting everywhere to build a score, and so on. Eventually, after much battling and racing, you are crowned the ultimate Icon, and your reign of the streets begins.
One of the things that did cause a few rumblings on launch was that the game was always online, and as such couldn’t ever really be paused. EA said that the only reason this was required was for the new AutoLog screenshot function, which could reward the person taking the photo with Rep, EXP and in-game money if enough people liked it. Whilst that didn’t appeal to all, on the flipside was the fact that NFS, despite coming from EA, saw no microtransactions or even paid DLC released for the game. All the post-launch updates were free, with around six title updates that added new features, ranging from simple cosmetics like wraps or customisable number plates, right up to drag races, multiplayer tournaments and the ability to replay story missions on harder difficulties. This was a classy move by EA, as the game kept evolving, and there was always something new to try out. New achievements never hurt either.
So, while Need For Speed wasn’t an Underground game, it did share a lot of features, such as the way all the protagonists must have been vampires as they never met in sunlight. Yes, it was always dark in Need for Speed, and while this made the city look great, with glowing neon everywhere, it did make it hard to see exactly where you were meant to be going, and when you were just tooling around the place it was hard to see the oncoming traffic. The AI was pretty psychic too; no matter how well you had raced, they would always seem to be right on your back bumper if a mistake was made. The amount of times I lost a race on the last corner made me a very sad panda indeed.
For the good though, there was stuff that didn’t sit well with me. The focus around social media managed to make me feel very old, so constantly chasing “Rep” and being rewarded for people liking your racing just left me a little cold. Add to this the almost constant phone calls that you received when driving – nearly on a level of GTA and the constant requests to go bowling – and the whole thing just became a bit of a chore if I’m honest. The music left me cold as well: what was wrong with Rob Zombie from the earlier games? Who were these angry men shouting on my stereo? Is it time for my Horlicks yet?
Anyway, these are my (mainly cranky old man) memories of the rebooted Need for Speed. Did you play back in the day? Were you young enough to follow the yoof culture? What did you think of the world the game created? Let us know in the comments, and if you haven’t yet played it get over to the Xbox Store and pick it up.