Like a warm blanket for fans of street racing, The Fast and Furious films and hideously ugly, self customised cars, the Need For Speed series has acted as a way for wannabe teenagers (like myself at one point) to create the car of their dreams. Epitomised during the Underground editions of the series, in recent years the street racing scene was pushed to one side in favour of high performance vehicles with minimal customisation, but now, and after a year long hiatus, the series returns with the simply titled Need for Speed (2015)
It seems EA has purposely avoided the ‘colon noun’ formula that has become a feature of the series and the obvious reason is to avoid confusion. EA clearly didn’t want to label Need for Speed (2015) as Most Wanted 2, a sequel to The Run or Underground 3, and instead opted for a relaunch, a return to the drawing board in order to set the series off in a clear, singular direction. Don’t let that excite you though, Need for Speed (2015) isn’t exactly waving the flag for innovative driving mechanics, gameplay or offering something new and never seen before. For what it’s worth,Need for Speed (2015) is what the Underground games presented, offering an open, perma-dark map, a heavy focus on customisation and a constant threat from those pesky police; all with a current-gen coat of polish.
The first few minutes with EA’s series reboot set the tone for your relatively short 6-8 hours of playthrough; awkward but beautifully presented. Away from the cut-scenes of previous iterations, Need for Speed (2015) opts for live action scenes from a first person perspective. You play an unnamed mute who earns the respect of a local crew, a team of petrol heads who want to be renowned for their skills behind the wheel. It’s a brilliant idea in small doses, but quickly becomes a cringeworthy affair of awkward fistbumps and tired cliches, made even worse when one of the five icons from the real world of car culture is on screen - suffice to say a few acting lessons wouldn’t have gone amiss. Small things like being congratulated on your victory even though you came third really break the immersion.
The same can be said once you get behind the wheel. Need for Speed (2015) offers a range of vehicles to drive; spanning from humble roadsters, powerful saloons, American muscle cars, all the way to European supercars, yet aside from the obvious difference in power, they all feel like the same, weightless and easy to handle vehicle. Granted, Need For Speed is not trying to be a realistic simulator, but it would be good to experience the unknown risk of putting your foot down in a Lamborghini Aventador or the heavy turning circle of a 1969 Mustang which would give you different options depending on which events you participate in.
If you’ve played any number of Need For Speed you’re going to be instantly familiar with the types of races on offer; time trials, circuits, sprints and drifts are the core, but each offer different variations, be it targets to reach, competitors to battle it out against or crews to keep up with. Each mode is in theory different, contributing to the game’s five different fields of car culture (speed, build, style, crew and outlaw) but other than the XP and story progression, earning for different icons never really feels any different. It would have been good for EA to allow to the player to perhaps focus on a particular style of driving to save each feeling so watered down.
Races are the usual high speed jostle for position across freeways and narrow streets, and twinned with the eclectic soundtrack of electronic, drum & bass and dub are when the game is at its best and most realistic. Drifting however, is quite the opposite. Previous games made you drift on a specialist track or designated closed road, yet the open world nature of Need For Speed means your professional skidding is on open roads, quickly becoming nothing more than pile of colliding cars, vying for the same piece of tarmac and leaving a trail of destruction behind them. For what is perhaps the most desirable and niche skill, it’s a shame it becomes nothing more than an expensive demolition derby.
Recent Need For Speed games pushed customisation to one side, offering a diluted version of a once rich feature, but EA have doubled down on it this time around giving the player the tools and leaving them to their own devices. The result is the most in-depth car customisation ever seen in a racing game of this ilk, though it’s not exactly smooth sailing and patience is required. The usual combination of things ranging from alloys, body kits, spoilers and hoods can all be upgraded, alongside the tuning side of things where you can add turbos, exhaust systems and the like to increase horsepower. Though don’t get your hopes up over fully customising any of the supercars, most remain untouchable when it comes to altering their bodywork and the like, a big disappointment for fans of those cars.
The biggest change comes in the appearance of vehicles. Unlike previous editions where you had to unlock decals which attached to one part of the car like a persistent stag beetle, Need For Speed’s decal and paint options allow for infinite possibilities. Hundreds upon hundreds of shapes, designs, letters, numbers and sponsors can be layered on every inch of your car and all can be scaled, rotated, stretched and coloured to make the most garish or beautiful vehicle you can possibly imagine. It’s a daunting prospect when you first step into the garage and one that I feel could do with holding your hand to some extent, even to the extent of offering small tips and tricks, instead you have to go through trial and error, resulting in frustration.
Ventura Bay is Need For Speed’s very own take on a northern California industrial city; high rising twisty hills merge with straight and fast freeways, gymkhana hot spots open up to narrow suburban districts and all offer a variety of areas to explore and race through. It’s a city that somehow is always covered in the inky black of night and despite odd glimpses of dawn in certain areas, it never arrives. It’s also something of an empty world, there's never really any glimpse of traffic; bustling freeways or interchanges making Ventura Bay nothing more than the world’s most elaborate race track. And when it comes to the police, after tuning your car, they don’t really put up a fight, easily left in your dust in an instant.
Need for Speed’s always online feature means that your race times and scores go onto a leaderboard, comparing scores between friends and online opponents. Each time you log on, it connects you into a world with a handful of other drivers. While most of the time you’ll remain apart, you can challenge them to head to head races, and that’s as far as multiplayer goes. A shallow attempt that makes the always online nature somewhat unnecessary unless more modes will become available further into its existence.
For it’s flaws, Need For Speed is a gorgeous game; like an average looking model, you just have to look at it in the right light. Cars are the perfect recreation of their real life selves, not just in appearance but in sound too; a crackle of a blown exhaust, the throaty growl of a turbo, all enough to send shivers down the spine of the most passionate petrolhead. Everything is intensified in the wet too (which oddly is 95% of the time, despite it never raining) as droplets of water are pushed back by the acceleration, reflections in the black mirror of the road are wonderfully distorted and smoke pours off rear tires during donuts. What’s more, your in-game car can be seen in the live action scenes, seamlessly fitting in with real life, regardless of how you’ve customised your car, a fantastic new feature I’ve never seen before and am intrigued to see how it will be used next.
Need for Speed (2015) is far from perfect. In rebranding the series, bringing it back to the basics, it seems to have got lost in the direction it was headed. While it appears as an underground game, there's huge elements of Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted, though it doesn’t nail any one feature, flip flopping between high speed races and drifts between shipping containers. It’s certainly the best looking street racer to hit consoles, offering fantastic customisation options and an albeit, awkward live action section, but it’s quickly dispatched with and is generally very easy. Unfortunately, Need for Speed (2015) suffers from the classic problem of a jack of all trades, master of none making it nothing more than current-gen version of once innovative series.
Need for Speed (2015) (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Need For Speed promises so much yet fails to deliver to any high standard. While it is one of the most gorgeous street racers you’ll set eyes upon, cringeworthy live action cutscenes, an empty world and a lack of singular gameplay direction mean it’s nothing more than another average addition to the series.