The radiant city lights of Ventura Bay form a breathtaking vista against the night backdrop. The brightness of the lights draws you in like a moth to the flame, inviting you to explore the many streets that are tucked away between the skyscrapers and high-rise buildings that dominate the skyline. The asphalt that links the city and its inhabitants will become your playground as you seek to impress the group of underground street racers that take you under their wing.
Bright city lights
Ventura Bay is your playground
Need for Speed (NFS) is Ghost Games’ reboot of EA’s long-standing arcade racing series; in fact no series is probably more synonymous with arcade racing in the last ten years than NFS. Make no mistake, this is an arcade racer first and foremost. This experience is designed for players that simply want to pick up the controller and burn some rubber without having to undergo a slew of driving tests to play. If you’re after a simulation-type driving experience you’re most likely going to be disappointed. But that’s not to say you won’t have any fun, because you’ll probably find a sense of satisfaction with the impressive array of customisation options, but we’ll get to that.
Let’s start with the story, or lack thereof I should say – which shouldn’t really come as a big surprise. Set in the beautiful, open-world fictional city of Ventura Bay (where it’s strangely always night), you play as a talented street racer that is noticed by one of the Bay’s upcoming underground racing groups. There are five members in the group: Spike, Travis, Amy, Robyn and Manu. Each member represents a different category (Spike’s is speed and Robyn’s is crew etc.) who are trying to impress their idol, all of whom are played by real life motor sport figures. Your role is to complete various events and missions throughout the city to help the members win their idol’s attention.
Despite all the cheese, the live-action scenes are extremely well produced, and the actors play their parts to a tee. Ghost Games should honk their horn to salute themselves for nailing this part of the game.
The story is told in two ways. The first method is through live-action cutscenes, where the first two things you’ll notice about these is that the dialogue is extremely cringeworthy and that the preferred greeting gesture is a fist-bump. Despite all the cheese, the live-action scenes are extremely well produced, and the actors play their parts to a tee. Ghost Games should honk their horn to salute themselves for nailing this part of the game.
The second method of storytelling is through phone calls, and if you’re like me and always have your phone on silent, then this aspect of the game will drive you up the wall. For starters they are relentless – calling what seems like every thirty seconds. Not only that, but they will call you during races, which depending on how fast you’re going can be a little distracting, and sometimes even the person you’re racing with/against will call you. You would think that once you’ve heard a phone call, it would go into your archives and you wouldn’t have to hear it again. Negative. Every time you load the game up, you’ll receive a phone call you’ve already heard for every one of your active missions. The game is one big glorified advertisement for hands free communication.
You wanna fist bump again?
The cars handle considerably well for an arcade racer, and seeing as you’ll be doing a lot of driving, this is a good thing. There’s an array of cars for you to purchase during the game, most of the big names are there (Toyota, Nissan, Ford and the like) and if you’ve played any sort of racing game before it won’t take you long to get the hang of it. I myself am no racing enthusiast, but after a couple of races and a few joyrides coupled with the sound of my roaring engine I had found my groove. The drifting is the only mechanic that takes a little bit of practice to get down pat.
The customisation of your vehicle is one of the more impressive features of NFS. For those with inner grease monkeys the choices are endless. You can choose how much pressure the front and rear tires have, the range of the steering and how much strength is in the brakes. Your build can be one that is solely built for drifting, or you can have a ride that would give Sebastian Vettel a run for his money. Every single part of your car is upgradeable; from the air filter to the sway bars (who doesn’t know what they do?), you are the architect of your perfect ride.
Do you even drift, bro?
Every single part of your car is upgradeable; from the air filter to the sway bars (who doesn’t know what they do?), you are the architect of your perfect ride.
The customisation isn’t limited to performance either, aesthetics play an important role in crafting your dream machine and there is a plethora of options to give your wheels the look you’re after. The cars themselves look incredible, with little details such as scratches and dents giving it that authentic look.
Once you’ve pieced together your perfect ride and become accustomed to the handling, you’ll have copious amounts of fun tearing up the rain-slicked streets in your souped up automobiles. That is at least until you realise how barren the streets of Ventura Bay really are. The open-world map looks big on paper, but it feels rather small after several races have you taking similar routes. While the driving remains fun regardless, the game world feels like your personal practice route.
The garage is your oyster
A drifter’s dream ride
The missions themselves are fairly straightforward. There are sprint races, time-trials, solo and crew drift challenges and style challenges. You’ll also have challenges given to you by the ‘Outlaw.’ Typically these will have you tormenting the Ventura Bay Police Department (VBPD) in the form of resisting arrest for five minutes before escaping. The challenges/events aren’t overly difficult to complete, especially once you’ve earned enough funds to buy a quality set of wheels or to tune one to suit your needs. The sharp difficulty drop-off as you progress is one of the game’s biggest downfalls. Initially, I struggled to grasp the drifting mechanics, especially during the crew drifting challenges which require you to be within a certain distance to your crew mates to be able to score points. But about a third of the way through the campaign I bought myself a sexy little Corvette and I tuned it to be a perfect drifting machine (see video below). From that moment on I was leaving more skid marks than Johnny from Metal Gear Solid 4. Every drifting challenge was a breeze, and in challenges that required 60,000+ points to complete I was scoring 150,000+ points (again, see video below).
The sprint and time trial challenges suffered from extreme rubber-banding AI. No matter how much you were emulating Vin Diesel, the AI would still be hot on your heels, even if they wiped out. But if you managed to keep it together through the last half a dozen checkpoints you were pretty much guaranteed pole-position, which made the races more about luck than skill. The game would have benefited from a bigger VBPD presence within the missions and races to create a sense of urgency. Occasionally you’ll get their attention by zooming past them during a race, but by the time you’re at the next junction they’ve already forgotten about you.
Hide and seek with the 5-O
Completing or winning these challenges/events will see your bank balance and REP level boosted. A fatter wallet will you give the means to buy better parts that you unlock as you rank up your REP level and complete missions. Your REP level is boosted by your driving style and whenever you pull off a drift or hit a high speed you’ll receive REP points. The more stylish the moves, the juicier the rewards.
For a game that was made online only in order to deliver a thriving community-based game world, this aspect is a huge letdown. The only time you encounter another human driver is when they themselves are hooning around a corner at full drift, presumably in a race of their own. But you wouldn’t know because you can’t see any other contestants. Several times during races I was collected head-on by an oncoming player and while I appreciate the idea of an online game world, there was nothing more frustrating than being three-quarters of the way through a race only to be written off by another player who had no connection to your race other than being in the same game world.
Early on in the game I found myself joyriding through VB to learn the mechanics and to take in what I thought was a vast city. However in the later stages of the game driving around felt like a chore, especially when I was driving around to find the fuzz to simply progress in the story.
The flavourless taste of the game world is no more obvious than when trying to find VBPD to instigate pursuits with in order to complete either the Outlaw or Daily Challenges. My final playtime was just over thirty hours and while early on in the game I found myself joyriding through VB to learn the mechanics and to take in what I thought was a vast city, in the later stages of the game driving around felt like a chore, especially when I was driving around to find the fuzz to simply progress in the story.
These challenges were designed to be completed during free-roam and it is one aspect that the similar game The Crew did a much better job of. In that game, by destroying property or running into other cars the local authorities would be alerted to your hoon antics and start actively come looking for you. In NFS finding the popo is your job. The saving grace is that not all Outlaw missions are set up like this but too many are.
There are certainly some fun moments to be had while free-roaming in the world. For instance, if you manage to piss the VBPD off enough they’ll start laying down spikes on the road and to try and bring you to justice. Once you hit the spikes, it’s all over red (range) rover. I decided to see how big of a fine I could rack up before being caught. I got to a touch over $32k (roughly twenty odd minutes) before the road spikes took me down. The only downfall is once you’re rocking one of Dan Bilzerian’s sports cars, escaping the 5-O doesn’t pose much of a challenge.
The online only world gives you the opportunity to join other players and compete in generic multiplayer events such as ‘spontaneous sprint,’ which goes for about twenty seconds. Not once was I challenged by another player within my game. The only time I experienced the multiplayer was when I raced a mate a couple of times, however he was twenty REP levels below me so the challenge and fun of it was non-existent.
The breakdown 2.0
While there is no denying its beauty, Ghost Games’ Need for Speed reboot fails to fire on all cylinders. Its deep customisation, shiny fast cars and fun driving mechanics will definitely be enough to engage casual drivers and some rev heads, but its rubber-banding AI, desolate streets and lack of story will have those looking for a more polished and rounded arcade racer disappointed.
Reviewed on PS4.