Need For Speed: Payback Impressions: Bigger, Flashier, Cheesier Than Ever

  • Playstation 4
  • Windows
  • Xbox One
  • Racing
Need for Speed Payback
Need for Speed: Payback combines the best elements of NFS past. EA

The Need for Speed series has released more than 20 titles since 1994. Few video games have enjoyed the remarkable longevity the NFS franchise managed to achieve. Its latest title, Need for Speed: Payback, arrives on Nov. 10 and Player.One visited EA's studio in Redwood City to try it out. Needless to say, the recipe to the NFS series’ success can be found in Payback.

NFS Payback follows Tyler Morgan, a young hotshot who made a name as one of the best street racers in Fortune Valley. Morgan and his crew ruled the streets—building fast cars, winning races, pulling off big heists for money—until they was betrayed by Lina Navarro, a skilled driver that works for The House, an underground syndicate that has a grip on the casinos, the street racing scene and the police.

The cheesy plot is classic Need for Speed—Tyler’s crew are the underdogs, a 4-man Motley crew determined to take on the biggest, most corrupt organization of Fortune Valley. Cliche exchanges from these unoriginal characters aside, their real function is to set the stage for a variety of races that highlight each of their particular sets of skills. Tyler Morgan is the racer and the character played in street sprint and drag races. His buddy Mac is the showman, a drift and off-road extraordinaire. When the crew feels the heat, Jess is the runner, a getaway specialist from the cops as well as the muscle from The House. Finally, Rav is the mastermind mechanic of the crew who keeps to the shadows.

Fortune Valley's casino district is Silver Rock, a fitting backdrop for The House. In Payback, The House is an entity of pure corruption and there’s no telling how far its criminal web can spread. Morgan’s first interaction with The House broke up his crew and forced them to lay low. Morgan ended up working for Marcus Weir, a wealthy risk taker in Silver Rock that had his Koenigsegg Regera stolen in Morgan’s heist. The crew eventually learns there isn’t a pocket in Silver Rock that The House doesn’t have its hands in. All we know is, “The House always wins."

As corny as the “Street Racers vs. The Man” formula is, Payback successfully uses this device to set a foundation for both its gameplay and its new Fortune Valley open-world. According to EA, it's the biggest map ever introduced in the Need for Speed series. The heart of Silver Rock’s casino district is the perfect, lively neon-lit Las Vegas-esque atmosphere for Morgan’s street races and quarter-mile drags. The Silver Canyon and Liberty Desert outskirts become the playground for Mac’s drift and off-road heroics. Finally, the David vs. Goliath showdown between Morgan’s crew and The House also plays to Payback’s story progression, which has the gang drive everything from Ford muscle and Honda tuner cars to the ballerific Lamborghini and Koenigsegg. 

Essentially, Need for Speed: Payback crams virtually every element from the series’ storied past into one single product. Gameplay is classic NFS arcade and developer Ghost Games was keen to mention its heroic driving engine, which tweaks the handling to not only make it accessible to players, but to also make the cars move like they were all wrenched in Dom Toretto’s garage. While the handling was mostly fun and predictable to start, it’s sometimes frustrating to see the “hero” engine work for and against the gamer. A big crash doesn’t necessarily spell the end to a race, yet wide leads are sometimes inexplicably cut down. Yes, rubber-banding AI is still very much a part of Need for Speed gameplay.

Finally, it’s not Need for Speed without customization. Like Need for Speed (2015), Payback will offer a slew of performance and appearance mods for all the cars. Winning races not only earn money and car parts, visual customization options will only unlock when certain challenges are completed. I didn’t get a chance to play around with Payback’s customization options too much during my hands-on impression, but be sure to check back when we write our full review.

All in all, Need for Speed: Payback delivers many of the entertaining components that classic NFS fans have come to expect. This time, a massive open world, long car list, a new off-road game mode as well as the introduction of a new crew and mysterious antagonist aims to push the envelope just a little more. Stay tuned to Player.One for the full Need for Speed: Payback review is the week ahead.  

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