Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
We played on: PlayStation 4
Since its huge shift into the new age with Need For Speed: Underground, the Need For Speed franchise has gone through a wealth of changes. The different games have leapt from style to style, highlighting various strengths and weaknesses in the racing game genre. Most Wanted brought back high-speed police chases. ProStreet tried and failed to bring heightened realism to the franchise. Hot Pursuit in 2010 felt like a return to series’ roots. And The Run focused on the narrative. The 2015 Need for Speed is a reboot that attempts to marry all of these concepts while bringing the franchise fully into the “perpetually connected” current gen.
One sign of this new interconnectedness is that players are required to have an internet connection at all times. Racers play in a fairly large map and can spot both online street racers and random AI racers traveling around them. Unfortunately, the game does not offer any incentive to race with online companions. Other than seeing a few other users driving around the map, the choice to be “always connected” is a waste and ultimately a nuisance.
The foundation of Need for Speed’s experience rests with five different racing disciplines: Outlaw, Style, Build, Speed, and Crew. Outlaw focuses on toying with and escaping from Police pursuit. Style leans on drifting. Build forces players to dig deep into visual and tuning customization. Speed puts drivers on long stretches of road to reach their maximum velocity. Crew has you hitting the asphalt with your team. Build and Speed are quite redundant, but each type of racing introduces unique branches in the game’s short narrative.
The Outlaw branch suffers from a very nagging issue that’s a result of always being online. The other four disciplines have characters that will call or leave voicemails with race information. Even without listening to those, the races appear on the game’s map. The contact for Outlaw communicates heavily via text and, since you can’t pause the game, you’ll have to pull over to read his messages or risk wrecking. In addition, there are no “races” to initiate for that branch, so reading the messages are a must in order to know the police pursuit goals.
When it comes to the actual racing, the game maintains the mediocrity of the previous games. While there are options to customize how loose or tight the controlling is, the game never felt right. Leaning more toward drift friendly controls improves the experience, but even then the turning will be sporadically sensitive.
Visually, Need for Speed is quite impressive. The six districts of Ventura Bay are covered with a consistent layer of rain, making things all the more majestic with reflections in the puddles and subtle sprays of water as you drift. Those districts also have different layouts tailored to different racing styles. There are photo objectives that play into the beauty of the game’s graphics, but which often fall flat when you run into scenic shots of the side of a warehouse. A strange design choice has you driving 95% of the time at night with brief moments of driving at dusk that only last a minute or so in game. It’s so brief you’ll wonder why the developers even included it instead of having a full day/night cycle or just leaving it as only night, which would fit the illegal-street-racing narrative.
Need for Speed is rated T for Teen with warnings of language and mild violence. Some of the in-game characters can be seen holding up their middle fingers and, during pursuits, players are encouraged to violently engage with police vehicles and barriers.
With a great sense of speed and solid cast of cars from different eras, players will drift and boost through an uninteresting experience that’s the result of questionable design decisions and redundancy. Even without similar games to compare, 2015’s Need for Speed underwhelms incredibly. Turns out the perpetual drizzle giving the game its constant wet sheen is just a cloud of sadness.