The Need for Speed games are ones that have become easier to skip out on during the last few years. For me, gameplay never had the charm that existed in the entries predating Carbon. Racing felt just ‘alright’, the story tried to hard to establish stakes that didn’t really matter, and cars haven’t looked nearly as good in Need for Speed games compared to franchises like Grand Turismo or Forza. With Need for Speed Payback, this problems could be a thing of the past.
During a preview event during EA Play, I was able to get my hands on Need for Speed Payback. Playing alongside the developers, I was treated to the same gameplay demo that was seen during Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference (seen below). In it, players are tasked with stealing a Koenigsegg Regera from a group called ‘The House’. To do this, you drive a beefed-up Mustang GT down a crowed highway and try and intercept the truck transporting the car. Hindrances such your adversary’s vehicles trying to take you down and hairpin turns make it far from a simple task.
First and foremost, driving feels great. After talking to Johan Peitz, a Producer on Need for Speed Payback, it’s apparent that the team wants to deliver a game that fans love to play, and that means refining the driving. Because of that, they have gone back to what makes the Need for Speed titles so much fun to play. The game’s approach to action and excitement based racing as opposed to a more realistic simulation experience is a great decision. As much as I enjoy simulation style racing games, it’s really refreshing to play one that prioritizes how cool racing is as opposed to how realistic it is. Instead of drifting around a corner being a very precise process, you can do it very effortlessly. Which makes the high speed races and conflicts feel smooth and action-packed. Hugging the corners, drafting other cars, and doing other technical racing actions don’t take as much precision, and so the racing feels more arcadey, which is exactly what I enjoy about Need for Speed‘s earlier games. There are also various additions like a refilling nitro gauge that add to the thrill of the game. These tools are aimed at making you feel like an experienced racer without forcing you to spend the time perfecting all of the aspects of actual racing.
Another very satisfying improvement in Need for Speed Payback is that wrecking other cars causes a Burnout style slow motion view of the whole debacle. In the demo, it was remarkably easy to take down opponents cars, although this might have been adjusted for the sake of keeping the demo short and the massive demo line moving. It seemed like my vehicle took no damage compared to the others, and I was being hit way more than I was hitting them. I’m sure this will be adjusted in the final game, and if not the possible addition of different difficulties might at least help (although this has not been confirmed). Even though destroying these opposing cars wasn’t challenging, it was still had the potential to be exciting. Running your foe into an oncoming power pole or concrete barricade is so satisfying, and the the slow motion glimpse of their demise is the icing on the cake. I hope that they improve how accurate damage to the vehicles are before release. One out of place thing is that when I drove straight into a solid steel pole, the whole front end of the vehicle crunched up instead of just having one solid indent where the pole came into contact with my car. Again, this is something that could possibly change as development focuses more polished before release.
The part of the demo that stuck out to me, for better or worse, was the emphasis placed on the story. In the same way that the racing is more action focused, the story too is meant to play on racing as a high-octane fantasy, and nothing else. Fans, on initial reception of the game, allude to the presentation of the game and story as very similar to The Fast and the Furious – which I get. At the same time, it’s hard to have a story told in a racing game (or movie) that doesn’t feel pulled from The Fast and the Furious because the movies series did it so well, and set a high bar for anything attempting the same thing. The demo I played did not dive any deeper into the story of the game than was shown at E3 unfortunately. Based on what we have seen, I think we can expect a cheesy story of revenge backed up by a ton of cutscene stunts ending in explosions. This could work really well for Need for Speed Payback, or cause it to feel like ‘just another story infused racing game’ depending on how they handle it. From talking to the developers, it sounds like they know their fans expect something big to set the franchise back in the spotlight, and they’re are working hard to deliver.
We’ll know if their hard work pays off when the game releases on November 10th, 2017.