Article first published as Xbox One Review: ‘Need For Speed’ on Blogcritics.
There isn’t another arcade racing series on video game consoles with the reputation Need For Speed has achieved. For over 20 years the Need For Speed franchise has been a cornerstone of the EA portfolio. Though its popularity has ebbed and flowed throughout the years, it remains the most successful racing game series in the world. The height of the series’ success was from the late 1990’s through the early 2000’s as the series transitioned from Hot Pursuit 2 to Most Wanted, and the pair of Underground games. This year’s Need For Speed iteration is a spiritual successor of those Need For Speed: Underground games.
There are quite a few iconic Need For Speed games, and you’d be hard pressed to name a really terrible one. That being said, it’s tough to identify a great one that’s been released over the last decade. That same fate is also what is likely to happen with this, the latest effort. While there is fun to be had, none of it completely makes up for the game’s limitations and annoyances. With so much competent competition, the new Need For Speed game is really aimed at a niche audience, and is missing the universal appeal the franchise once enjoyed.
First and foremost, all of the racing in Need For Speed is done at night, and most of it, on wet roads. This visibility issue will automatically frustrate some gamers. There isn’t much tougher in gaming, than trying to play a dark game, on a screen with any glare on it. Adding to the visibility issues are some pretty severe technical issues, not the least of which is the frame rate occasionally slowing to crawl during races. While connectivity problems are likely contributors, pick up and play, arcade style racers are expected to run smoothly.
Speaking of connectivity, why is Need for Speed always online? Just to begin a normal “single-player” game, Need For Speed forces players to wait while it populates the city with other players. This can sometimes take up to ten minutes. Once it does start the game, those players have almost no effect on the gameplay at all. As a matter of fact, being able to interact with other is so cumbersome, it’s unlikely that any but the most hardcore Need For Speed enthusiasts will utilize the features at all. For everyone else, it will just serve as an obstacle to a quick racing session.
Like the nearly universally loved Most Wanted, this Need For Speed uses narrative to move the racing action along. What’s new, is the use of live actors instead of rendered characters. While it might seem a bit campy at first, for the most part it works. The idea behind it is that because the car models and environments are so realistic looking, modeled characters would break some of that illusion. Unfortunately, the story’s not great. While it is really the only motivation in the game to race, there’s not anything inspiring or memorable about it.
Luckily, Need For Speed does offer more than just the thin story, and an online system that’s more annoyance than anything else. The game offers a pretty deep customization array. From paint, and decals to mechanical upgrades, and tuning, Need For Speed will let you make any of the about 50 available cars yours. The only catch to this is, that despite the five actual disciplines the game offers, the game is heavily geared towards drifting. Making your vehicle able to hold a curve, won’t benefit you much. Like the old Underground games, getting proficient and moving sideways is about the only way you’ll really succeed in this game.
Once you’re actually racing, Need For Speed is a pretty fun game. The problem is, that because of the online component, everything takes way more time than it should, and there’s not really anything that makes all of the frustrations worthwhile. Though the police are present, and an aspect of the overall game, it’s a relatively minor one. The races themselves are definitely the main attraction. Seemingly aware of how disproportionately long everything in the game takes, the developers actually included a fast travel feature. A driving game that lets you avoid driving doesn’t inspire much confidence in its overall quality.