Unofficially called Underground 3 by excited fans, Need for Speed has a lot of expectations to live up to. Some of those expectations were met, others were even exceeded, but sadly, EA and Ghost Games didn’t completely deliver. From ridiculously-good-at-catching-up-to-you AI to always-online play, Need for Speed does have its fair share of flaws.
Despite many thinking this Need for Speed would be the next in the Underground series, it’s actually a full reboot of the franchise. Set in the fictional city of Ventura Bay, California, Need for Speed focuses on urban racing and culture, with particular attention on your fully customisable car. while well-known names like Magnus Walker and Ken Block lend themselves to the game as two of the iconic figures that your crew looks up to and wants to meet.
One thing that cannot be argued is that Need for Speed looks and feels amazing. There is a near-flawless change between driving and cutscenes that mean that you normally won’t find yourself floundering to regain control of your car. Not to mention that reaching and starting a race is so easy that you could almost do it accidentally if you pressed the wrong button. You can only race between dusk and dawn though, which means that daylight racing is, sadly, a thing of the past.
It's a shame because Ventura Bay is a lively city that is slightly reminiscent of Grand theft Auto V’s Los Santos, with varied regions like the coast line, the industrial district, and the mountainous region that’s perfect for drifting. While you can’t get out of your car, it’s still a great city to explore, and there is nothing more relaxing than driving through Ventura Bay just to see where you end up. Plus, you definitely won’t get mugged.
Your crew is played by actors. Not ones who have lovingly been rendered into CGI heaven, but real life actors in cinematic cutscenes between races. While a little jarring at first, thankfully there is a clear cut line between live action and virtual; people and cars. It does make the characters strangely compelling though, despite the fact that they are clearly playing up to several street racer stereotypes. It certainly makes certain scenes deeply immersive. Looking through a club for your friends from the comfort of your couch has never seemed more real.
With the game so heavily focused on your car, it’s not surprising that you can customise almost every aspect of it. Tuning, performance, and visual customisations are all here, with aftermarket, real life brands. This seemingly limitless customisation not only allows you to not only kit your car out to your preferences, but it encourages you to switch it up for each type of race you compete in.
As someone who knows next to nothing about cars, the customisation was daunting, to say the least. But it soon became second nature. Need for Speed helpfully explains how every option affects your car so that I could make educated alterations even with my lack of knowledge. To those you you who know what you’re doing, it will be a simple exercise to make your perfect car just the way you want it.
There is nothing more relaxing than driving through Ventura Bay just to see where you end up.
There are five different types of activities: Build, Speed, Style, Crew, and Outlaw. All of them involve different aims, and having this variety allows you to up your reputation however you prefer. Build races require you to meet a certain spec before you can enter, while Speed focuses either on best times or coming first. Style is just another name for drift races, where you try to score as many drift points as possible, and Crew mode allows you to roam the streets of Ventura Bay with your friends in close quarter racing. Finally, Outlaw focuses on the more illegal side of street racing, with the first few missions involving attracting and then losing police attention.
My personal preference was Style, due to a combination of drifting being cool, Manu being my favourite member of my crew, and the fact that the mountains in Ventura bay were beautiful and a lot of fun to race around. Whichever way you prefer racing, you can easily customise your car for that purpose and rack up reputation points, but if you want to finish the main storyline, you’ll need to complete a fair few of all types.
The story is exactly what you would expect. You, the new racer set out to prove yourself. Praise is heaped on in cutscenes to begin with, even if you come last in the race (have I ever mentioned that I’m actually very bad at racing games, despite enjoying them immensely), and no one seems to mind you playing dirty and pushing other cars off the road. Still, you are the best and given the opportunity, you will prove it. Even if the AI do tend to catch up a bit too unrealistically fast. Despite all the different styles, however, the main story is strangely short and leaves you with side quests and online play as your only entertainment.
That being said, there are three challenges to be completed daily for extra money, experience, reputation and most importantly, entertainment. The daily challenges are also, as the name implies, challenging, and give you something to do if you just want to log on and play for a bit. Because sometimes, you just get that need to play a racing game.
While it is cool to see other people racing around the same streets as you, (hopefully) winning their own races against NPCs, the always-online aspect of Need for Speed is disappointing. Especially since without any friends who have the game, most of your player-to-player interactions will be passing each other at 200 kmph (or 125 mph depending on your preference) and not interacting.
With only three or four people on each map, you will rarely come across another player, and when you do one or both of you are probably going to be too busy with something else to challenge each other to an impromptu race. The additions that always-online play bring to the game are rather minor, and are outweighed by the need to have a PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live subscription [aside from the main story content, which doesn’t require a sub - Ed.]. My apologies do go out to that one player I crashed into after I performed a terrible customisation job and started driving on the wrong side of the road. I’m sure he or she wished that I wasn’t on the same roads as them.
Still, Need for Speed is a good way to spend some time if you want to race in the streets, and with microtransactions and any future DLC being free, you won’t need to shell out more than the cost of the game. As long as you have an internet connection, of course.