It’s been a couple years since the last game in the Need for Speed series and Ghost Games has had a lot of time to create something that fans of this series will thoroughly enjoy. This time, it seems that they’ve drawn inspiration from the couple of Need for Speed Underground games from the early 2000s. Will this game be a resurgence for the franchise or should Need for Speed be parked in the garage?
Need for Speed, it’s one of the longest running racing game series in existence. The series began in 1994 with The Need for Speed which focused on real simulation racing. ProStreet and the Shift games did as well. As the years went on, there were different types of Need for Speed games. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Undercover, Rivals, and Most Wanted focused on police chases. Porsche Unleashed took players through the years in different Porsche cars. Underground put a focal point on street racing and customization. Need for Speed: The Run even let players get out of their car for missions. The series has truly been all over the place and has struggled with identity. EA never seemed to go with what worked changing developers and the direction of the series so many times in the past. All of those things seem to be changing now as Need for Speed is back in a big way.
I’ve been a big Need for Speed fan over the years. I remember going to the local game rental shop and getting Need for Speed II for the fist time and how it seemed like the greatest thing to my 9 year-old self. There were so many cars to choose from and places to drive; it was fantastic. I would then go on to rent every new Need for Speed game that came out. Each one became special in its own way. Hot Pursuit was a particular favourite of mine. I used to love chasing cars with my police sirens blaring. These were new experiences, but none were quite as special as the 2 Underground games that came in 2003 and 2004. Those games had everything; car customization, product placement, cool music, drag racing, drifting, memorable characters. It was some of the most fun I’ve had with a game to build my cars up to the best they can be and race against the very best. Unfortunately, that series never made a return and we were treated to a mash-up of strange concepts and re-makes of old Need for Speed games. Now, Underground is back in spirit, and I couldn’t be happier.
Don’t get me wrong, this game is not EXACTLY like Underground, however it has the spirit of those two games and that’s what counts. I’ll start off by saying this is one beautiful game. Everything is lit up beautifully for driving at dawn and at night. The scenery around you feels lively and real. There are malls and shops and gas stations scattered throughout the city while also having those long winding roads for drifting. The cars look as good, if not better than the city with beads of water from the rain sliding down the windshields and the shine of a fresh coat of paint. The cars look so real that they transition into the background of FMV sequences and you can’t tell that it’s not actually a real car. That’s quite the feat.
The roster of cars isn’t large in number, but there’s a car for pretty much everybody. You won’t find things like Escalades in here though, it’s all cars. Your garage is limited to 5 slots, but the focus seems to be on tuning and getting the most out of a few cars rather than collecting each and every one. I like that idea a lot better and found myself attached to my 1999 Honda Civic that I cruised around for about 65% of the game in. Upgrades are the name of the game.
The performance optimizations are fairly basic, you buy what you can afford and it makes your car better. There are levels to each part that go by colours and letters, but there doesn’t seem much point other than to make it clear that they’re better. Visual customization provides a bit more freedom with the ability to change stereos, spoilers, rims, and even mirrors. You can create your own livery out of pre-made designs instead of just being able to utilize one design which makes it a lot easier to make unique rides that you can show off to your friends. A word of caution though: not every vehicle can be customized completely. I bought a Lamborghini Aventador and the only thing I could customize on it was the exhaust tip, the stereo, and a couple other things. Most of it was locked to the stock parts. It seems odd to allow so much customization, but only on certain cars.
There is a basic tuning system in Need for Speed. While it is basic, there are some decent options and a lot of little options that players can obsessively tinker with. There are things like tire pressure, braking power, drift assist, etcetera that will change the way your car handles incrementally. There is also a master slider that tunes for drift or grip that affects all the mini-sliders. I found that I’m more of a drift racer as it’s just easier to do than to try and navigate the tight bends in Need for Speed. I’ve tried both and I just couldn’t understand why anyone would go with more of a grip setup. It seems to counter what NFS is trying to accomplish. There is also no option for manual transmission which is a bit peculiar considering there are probably a lot of people who would like control over that.
Need for Speed’s story mode introduces you to five main characters through FMV sequences. These FMV sequences were relatively short except for the first one which seemed to run for a long time and wasn’t something that could be skipped. You’ll meet up with these characters from time to time sipping on energy drinks and fist-bumping. Your character never speaks though, he’s just there to represent you and silently listen to every instruction or joke that these characters have in store. Each of these characters represent a thread of races and each of those threads ends with a race against a real-life racing icon which is a spectacular idea. There are cop chases, circuit races, sprints, drifts, and time trials. Strangely enough, there are no drag races in this one – much to the chagrin of everyone who played the Underground games.
The story mode contains 79 races and can be completed in probably 8-12 hours if you’re a good driver, but some might have a bit more difficulty than that. The rubber-band AI is a bit annoying at times, but it isn’t as bad when your car is upgraded and I easily pulled away from the AI in most of my races (especially once I bought the Aventador). The people calling this a negative obviously just didn’t enjoy the challenge. What is annoying though, is the fact that random cars end up popping in to crash into on occasion. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough to be an annoyance. It is a bit of a short game, but I had a ton of fun with it and I’m hoping they add some DLC to it to add even more to it. Need for Speed is always-online and that is a rather large negative to me. This means you need the Internet to play the single-player mode and that you cannot pause. There wasn’t much purpose to make it always online, but it is and it’s something we’ll have to live with no matter how unnecessary. There isn’t much substance after the main-story besides the daily challenges and collectibles that don’t serve any purpose. There isn’t much to the multiplayer support other than challenging your friends to random races either so you don’t have a whole lot to keep busy with once you’re finished.
I would definitely recommend this game to hard-core Need for Speed fans. This game is not perfect and shouldn’t be expected to be perfect, but Ghost Games has built a fantastic foundation and I believe this game could be the start of an exciting new direction for the series. This game was fun, plain and simple. My wife is even playing through it on her own and I’ve never seen her enjoy a game as much she has with this one. I would say that everyone should at least rent this game, there is a lot more good than there is bad and it’s a game that far exceeded my expectations.