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Back to the Underground…

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    Need for Speed

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Back to the Underground…

    The Need for Speed franchise has had a rollercoaster of a ride throughout its history; from undeniable early success to more recent hit and miss titles. The self-titled Need for Speed for next-gen consoles and PC returns to its ‘Underground’ roots and, despite its flaws, creates a generally entertaining street racing game.


    NFS takes place in the fictitious open world of Ventura Bay, a city boasting approximately 300km of road (about twice the size of NFS: Rivals). The city is split into 3 sections, a harbour, a downtown and an area of higher ground, which the player has immediate access to as soon as you’re let loose into the concrete jungle. You can progress through the story through 5 separate intertwining story paths: Speed, Style, Crew, Build and Outlaw. Completing events applicable to each path earns experience and reputation, which ultimately unlocks further parts for your ride. The entire experience is based online and you will regularly find others to challenge in impromptu sprints, drifts or outruns events. Although this spontaneous street style is entertaining; it is easy to inadvertently challenge a racer with a far more superior car and performance tuning, leaving you trailing in their rubber stench.


    The plot is nothing innovative; you’re the new kid on the block, scouted by a fellow racer, introduced to their gang and you all set about tearing up the streets for cash and rep points. It’s a standard story, however it’s NFS’ FMV cut scenes that make the game unique to its counterparts. You’re introduced to the whole team early on in the game, and they are a pleasure to meet. The characters are charming, witty and good fun to be around. The FPV aspect really immerses you into the culture and makes you feel like one of the gang. On the other hand, it’s all very tongue in cheek. Despite all the fun and fist-bumps, the dialogue and direction are incredibly cheesy and cringe-worthy. If you are to take the FMV interludes too seriously, then you will not enjoy this game. However, the actors do a fine job of distinguishing their characters between one another by driving the story and show a reasonable amount of development for a racing game. The cornerstone of the FMV scenes is your own personalised car. Whatever way you have designed, changed, enhanced or destroyed your car, it will appear exactly as that in many of the cut-scenes. The developers have clearly worked at attempting to close the gap between gameplay and story, and it works wonderfully in NFS. It is a genuine pleasure to see your handy work being admired by the other characters and it is an experience that never gets old.


    NFS runs on the Frostbite engine and it definitely shows. The cars especially look incredible and the streets are gorgeously lit up with neon lights in this Tron-esque environment. The only issue is that the entire game takes place at from dusk till dawn, and, as a consequence, none of the specific sections of the city feel distinctive as you are constantly driving around in darkness. The weather changes are also equally disappointing, as it all happens far too abruptly. During the same race you can drive through pitch black darkness, rain, dry roads and then all of a sudden the early morning light is shining through the clouds. It’s a bit of a mess and it’s a real shame to waste Frostbite’s impeccable capabilities and quality on such shoddy craftsmanship. However, the worst part of the design is that the game runs at 30fps, with the 60fps performance being exclusive to PC. Furthermore, the game even struggles to run at its maximum capacity and regularly drops to about 10fps whenever there is too much happening at once, especially when challenging other players during free-roam.


    This is where NFS shines through. They may not be as many cars included in other games, but the options to customise the way you drive are inordinate. Each car has its own unique driving style with many inclusions to the catalogue that will appease many long-term fans of the series. Customisation is user-friendly and gives the player the tools to create a truly one-of-a-kind car. The performance tuning has also been upgraded to include a drift or grip specific braking mechanic depending on your driving preference. Although, some events will require the use of a drifting car and you will find yourself shooting back to the garage, the only place to customise in the game, to change your cars grip so that it can now drift more easily. This can be monotonous, but you can store five cars in your garage at once. Therefore you can obtain a total of 6 cars which can be tuned to different races. Having a maximum of six cars also creates a personal touch for each car, making them almost feel more like pets than machines. Nevertheless, the rubber banding in NFS is quite ridiculous. It does not matter how good you, your car or your performance during the race is, the AI will suddenly catapult themselves to be within a few metres of you right before the finish line. On the other hand, on several occasions, we have been within reach of 1st or 2nd place coming to the final checkpoint; we have found that the AI unexpectedly takes their foot of the gas, allowing you to win. It is a bizarre mechanic which the developers have gotten totally wrong, leading to a complete imbalance in performance in gameplay, which ultimately can ruin the experience. Finally, the only way to access the map and race invites from other people is via your in-game mobile phone. Nonetheless, you are immediately bombarded with race requests from your crew and these races are only accessible once you have listened to their message, which can be incredibly distracting when you’re in the middle of a race. The biggest problem with this is that opening your mobile phone does not pause the game, as the game is based online at all times. So, you find yourself constantly pulling over and addressing whatever ridiculous message you have been left in order to find the next race or route to your destination.


    NFS gets many things right, but it is not without its flaws. At face value, NFS is an enjoyable street racing game that is reminiscent of the Underground entries in the franchise. Yet, once you start to dig deeper, there are issues that can destroy the overall atmosphere and experience of ‘car culture’ that the game puts across. It’s disappointing, as NFS has the potential to be a fantastic return to form for the NFS team, but it simply falls into 2nd place.


    -Great visuals
    -Unique cars
    -Variety of customisation options


    -Standard story
    -Horrific FMVs
    -Unbelievable rubber-banding
    -Unusual weather mechanics
    -Game does not pause

    B-Score – 6.9 / 10

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