|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC (2016)|
|Dev: Ghost Games|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: November 3, 2015|
|Players: Single-player, multiplayer|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i||Language, Mild Violence|
by Jason Messer
There's only a select few franchises I keep up with religiously in the industry. I'll pretty much play any Mario title I can get my hands on and I've yet to miss an entry in the Mortal Kombat series. There's something about these childhood staples that continue to call to me, and the dude must abide. Another on that list is one of best racing series of all time (what I'd actually consider THE best). Naturally, I'm referring to Need for Speed. There has been no shortage of 'Speeds to hit the market in recent years, an approach I feel has been to the franchise’s detriment overall. Clearly this a trend which has not gone unnoticed by those behind the scenes, thus explaining the motivations of EA considering this latest outing a re-do of sorts.
Before sliding behind the wheel, there are a few things you should know about this rebirth. In some ways, it features familiar mechanics that are cherry picked from other series titles and wrapped in new packaging. Other bits look to take what we love about Need for Speed and evolve it to better fit the gaming landscape of 2015 and beyond. That means leaving behind the traditional style of racing alone while you try to outwit the computer controlled AI or beat the pre-recorded time trails. There's plenty of that in here, of course, but you'll have to make room for the "always on, always connected" sandbox you'll also be expected to share with fellow gamers. The game is essentially one big persistent server, where the action continues when you log off. You'll be able to jump in and out of things like race events, challenge people instantly in real-time and continue the story mode at your leisure, but the online elements with other racers are always going on around you no matter what. It never stops...much like jacking in and out of the Matrix (perhaps I should consider rebooting some of my dated references, too).
When you first fire up the game, you're immediately going to notice the smooth visuals. I can easily say I this was one of the first notes I made when I sat down to immerse myself. The game constantly switches between pre-recorded cutscenes and CG elements (often mixed and matched in the same space) to where it's hard to tell what is in-game engine and what is live action. When out on the road, the glassy wet streets and glowing neon perfectly meld for a sexy presentation that should satisfy anyone’s craving for next-gen eye candy. This is one of those instances where owning a PS4 or Xbox One is really going to seem worth it, as having the extra horsepower is truly needed to push out these kinds of visuals and maintain the silky smooth frame rate.
The real meat and potatoes of any good racer go beyond just the visuals. First is the roster of sweet rides you can find in your garage. At launch there were 50+ to choose from, which might sound like a lot, but I found it to be somewhat limited. I like to have a lot of variety when deciding which car I'm going to spend the next several days decking out with decals, paint and upgrades, so I'm usually kinda picky. For my tastes, I would like to have seen more old school options (like the '69 Dodge Charger, for example, which was conspicuous by its absence). But even as I write this, I'll almost guarantee there are several DLC car packs primed and ready to nickel and dime us to death in just a few short weeks. An unfortunate side effect of the microstransaction’s rise to prominence over the last several years.
Another huge factor that can make or break any good racer is the level of customization. Here I can tell you that Need for Speed delivers and then some. To be honest, I think it kind of over delivers. It breaks things down to such a degree that you almost have to be a certified mechanic to understand the impacts of all the various changes you can make. Between being able to tweak virtually every aspect of your car’s performance, to all the aftermarket parts that break down into complex categories such as starter wiring, handbrake pressure and intake manifolds, trying to sort it out can almost make your head swim. In the end, I just kept heading back to the garage and buying the next-best part in line I could afford until I slowly but surely maxed out the car’s level. There are also some performance presets you can use, which help if you don’t want to delve too deep into the minutia.