I have never really been a gearhead. At the grand old age of the big three zero now, I have precisely accumulated zero hours of driving lessons. It is something that has never really bothered me, learning to drive. It is probably down to the fact I am more interested in the world paint drying championships than I am anything to do with cars. Many people over the years have tried to pique my interest, but none have succeeded. While I have no motivation at all to drive in the real world, driving in video games is quite fun. Over the last couple of months, I have reviewed two quite full on racing games in F1 2017 and Project CARS 2. Where I have enjoyed playing them, there was an awful lot to learn due to me not knowing my exhaust from my flux capacitor. What I really needed was an easy arcade racer with an easy progression system with some fast, fast action. Step up, Need for Speed: Payback.
First things first, EA have not had a good time of late. All the controversy surrounding the loot boxes in Need for Speed and Star Wars: Battlefront II have really affected the company’s already questionable image. Need for Speed has received the same sort of treatment as Battlefront II, so it is easy to upgrade your car without spending any additional money. Two games have nearly faced ruin over some decisions made at the corporate level at Electronic Arts as they saw an easy way to make a lot more money. The backtracking is welcome, but should it have gotten to this stage in the first place? That is a debate for another day, at the moment let’s just get back to Need for Speed.
Need for Speed: Payback takes place in the fictional county of Fortune Valley. It is a bit like Las Vegas but not as glamorous. That’s not to say that Fortune Valley is a bad setting, far from it, but it just doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of Vegas itself. Fortune Valley does have a lot going for it though in terms of being a racing setting. It has some great areas to drive around in, ranging from the rural, open desert landscape that makes up the outskirts of the main city to the smaller, more closed urban streets of Fortune City itself. The map is absolutely HUGE! It is great fun to drive around this open world setting with the souped up cars at your disposal. Open world racers can often fall flat if the world isn’t fun to just cruise around in, and thankfully, Payback doesn’t have that problem. Away from the races and storyline, putting on some tunes and just driving around Fortune Valley is a blast.
Speaking of the storyline, yes, there is one. It is a bit hit and miss, much like the series in general. On one hand, it is great to have something there to create a break between driving, but the actual storyline itself is quite dull and at times really dull. You’ll get to play as three characters throughout the story: Jess, who is sort of the getaway driver of the group, Mac, who specialises in off-road driving and Morgan, who is the central character of the three. The plot is very simple: A criminal cartel called The House control Fortune Valley’s underworld. Morgan and co. want to take them down. They do this by winning fixed races, stealing cars and just generally being a pain in The House’s backside. It is something straight out of a Fast and Furious spin-off, and at times it can be interesting, but often times it’s just a bit dull. The actors do an okay job here, but their dialogue is dreadful. The conversations they have amongst themselves is just toe-curlingly cringey at times. They could be in the middle of a high-speed chase and the ‘banter’ between them is just bad.
Out of the storyline, the action is what you come to expect from a Need for Speed title. There are your normal races, lapped or sprint, off-road races, drift challenges and drag races. Occasionally, there will also be some pursuit missions where you can try and outrun Fortune Valley’s finest. On the occasion you do have to escape from the police, the initial excitement of a high-speed chase soon wears off as it is really no challenge to get away from them. All you have to do is race through the checkpoints shown on the minimap within the set time limit. Once you reach the last couple, they really just back off. You will never really have more than three cars chasing you at one time, and let’s put it this way, they do not take after their crazy Los Santos colleagues. This is exactly the same if you have some lackeys from The House chasing you. It would have been nice to be given the freedom to try and escape from your pursuers in your own way rather than following the minimap, but it is fun to use the Burnout-style takedown system.
EA has referred to the gameplay style in this entry of the Need for Speed franchise as ‘action driving’. Again, a bit like the storyline, it is rather hit and miss. Yes, there are a lot of action sequences, but the majority of them are all just shown through cutscenes. There are some truly exciting moments of lunacy, again, what you would expect from a Fast and Furious movie, but just like the movies, you’ll be sitting and watching. All you get to do is drive to the specified location to trigger a cutscene. The only real ‘action’ you’ll get to take part in are the various Burnout-style vehicle takedowns you can perform in a pursuit race or some stunt jumps in the open world. These two are fun, and there are loads of Billboards to smash through, but it would have made some memorable gameplay moments to be able to take part in some of the Hollywood-styled action sequences rather than just watching them.
The actual driving in Need for Speed: Payback is a lot of fun though. For someone who doesn’t take racing games seriously, the high-speed all or nothing style is great. Payback is the sort of racing game where the break is really only there for the most dire of emergencies. Once you can master the extremely easy to learn drift skills needed, you can pretty much forget about using the brake altogether. Whether you are just driving around Fortune Valley or taking part in one of the many, many races, driving really is a blast. Which is handy because, strangely in a racing game, there is actually some grinding to do here.
Yes, you heard me correctly, grinding. When you hover over a race on the map or you pull up to one ready to start, there will be a recommended level for your car to take part in it. Let’s say, for example, your car is rated 197, but the race recommends a level of 210. All the racing skill in the world will not make you win that race. How you upgrade your car in Need for Speed: Payback is also quite strange. Instead of just installing new parts to a car, like most racers, EA has brought their obsession with ‘cards’ over to Payback too in the form of Speed Cards. Your car has six different slots: engine head, engine block, ECU, turbo, exhaust and gearbox. To upgrade the various stats on your car, like top speed, brakes, etc., you will need to purchase these Speed Cards from the various tune-up shops scattered around Fortune Valley. It is a bit different and does take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, then it becomes relatively simple to upgrade.
The grinding, I hear you ask? Some of the cards can be quite expensiv,e so to earn the money needed, you will need to go back and win some previous races. At this point, your car is usually well above the recommended levels for the older races, so it doesn’t really offer a challenge, plus it can become quite dull playing these older races over, and over, and over. Another way to get a Speed Card is to trade in your unwanted cards. Three trade-in cards will get you a Part Token, which allows you to have a go on the Speed Card slot machine. The only problem you will really have with this system is that you will spend all your money upgrading the first car you are given after the prologue, so it leaves nothing to buy another new shiny ride for a good number of hours. So, just make sure you really like the first car you get to choose.
Developer: Ghost Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 10th November 2017