Rebooting a 20-year old racing franchise, especially one that has been a bit all over the place throughout the years, is no easy task. But that's what Ghost Games have been up to since Need for Speed: Rivals was released in 2013. Now the new Need for Speed is here, and thus we've spent some quality time in Ventura Bay, and there we've built, tuned and raced around in some decent cars from our garage of speedy motors.
One of the key decisions made here - in fact one of the more difficult choices to make early on in any development process - was likely whether to revert to a more rigid style or to continue on and offer the sort of experiences we've seen in the last few games. In the end Ghost Games didn't make a choice, of you could say that they instead decided to offer both, and a few quick and easy adjustments to the various sliders alters the tire pressure, brake power and numerous other settings that dictates how your car behaves on the road.
One of the key features of Need for Speed is customisation, as players will have a ton of freedom when it comes to personalising their rides. Everything from the overall appearance or your vehicle through to the choice of brakes, exhaust, and tires; it's all customisable. Unfortunately the line-up of cars is a bit weak, but in return the customisation options mean that you'll get a lot of mileage out of each vehicle. You have the option of driving around in a brand new luxurious Lamborghini, or if you'd prefer you can drive around in an old Volvo that you can meticulously transform into your very own custom tuned speed demon.
In general the controls are smooth and easy to master, but depending on your settings the cars will behave very differently. If you've played with a car with lots of grip for the most part and you switch over to one that's set up for drifting, the game will come across as borderline unplayable. However, that's before you've mastered the game controls and the various setting you can tinker with, once that's out of the way you'll have a wonderful time cruising around the city streets and drifting around the winding mountain roads.
Getting into various races is easy and the system is well designed. You also have the option of challenging other players to spontaneous race events if you happen to come across them in Ventura Bay. If you're looking for a specific event you don't have to take the car there as there's a handy fast travel system in place that lets you get where you need to be.
The races themselves are very varied. Everything from the straightforward sprint from point A to B, through to high score drifting challenges or showboating. There's a ton of activities for players to take part in, and if you grow tired of racing there are collectibles spread out across the game world. Finding the collectibles is not too difficult; they revolve around doing donuts, finding look outs with nice views, and locating car parts.
All races give you money and REP depending on your performance. Of course, these both feed into the progression system where you use money to buy new cars and parts, while REP is basically the equivalent of XP and levels up your profile which unlocks more car parts for you to purchase.
The content is divided into five categories that each represent different parts of car culture, and in-game these directions are embodied by five characters. Spike is the fool with a distinct need for speed. Manu wants to be crowned the new king of drifting. Amy's goal is to build the perfect street racer. Robyn just wants to hang out and have a good time with friends. Lastly, Travis is a thrill-seeker looking for the adrenaline rush of a high speed chase. These categories also feature real people, bosses of sorts, and in order to become the ultimate icon you have to beat the other icons at their own game. An example of this is that you'll need to beat Ken Block at drifting.
The five characters mentioned push the narrative where the basic objective is to impress the five icons. The plot is told via phone calls and via cutscenes with real-world actors, which grounds the fiction in reality. We encountered a bunch of entertaining characters during our time in Ventura Bay, but ultimately they fail to serve as motivation. It's just an excuse to get you back behind the wheel. It should, however, be noted that the sequences that mix footage of real actors and computer animated cars is neat. It's nice to see the car you've designed yourself in the background.
The Frostbite Engine that EA uses for most of their big productions these days is hard at work here. Everything is incredibly detailed, down to rain drops making their way down the car and the environments that flash past you throughout. One of the hallmarks of the engine, the opportunity for destruction, also comes into play as you'll be breaking plenty of lampposts, fences and miscellaneous roadside objects all in the name of racing.
On the whole Need for Speed is an entertaining game. Fortunately the plot, which barely matters in a racing game, is the game's weakest point. The depth of the customisation options allows you to truly fine tune the cars to fit your tastes, and that ensures that the rest of the game succeeds in offering some highly enjoyable racing.