Need for Speed
I remember playing the original game in the Need for Speed series, which featured a title lifted from the film, Top Gun. The Need for Speed was a big mess of pixelated graphics, but was somehow captivating with its fluid gameplay and nice array of car and gameplay options. I mean, we’re talking 1994 here so you can’t exactly expect for its visuals to compare to anything these days, but back then they were pretty decent.
The hallowed series has seen its share of ups and downs. I remember sinking many hours into Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, and loved watching my races over and over on its cool race replay viewer. The controls were so tight and the sounds and graphics were some of the best out there at the time (back in 2000). I also found my favorite Need for Speed game to date in 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and remember tearing up its fictional setting of Seacrest country as both an illegal street racer and as a cop. Even though it featured zero car customization, it was just so darn fun to play that it really didn’t matter.
Since then a slew of other Need for Speed titles have sped by in a blur with the only one of note, at least in my mind, being 2012’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted. It was sort of developer Criterion’s attempt at making an open-world racing extravaganza ala 2009’s racing hit, Burnout Paradise. I’ve never been a fan of open-world racing games but Most Wanted was a decent title, if rather shallow.
Fast forward a few years and Ghost Games has since taken over the franchise and completely rebooted it, with 2015’s Need for Speed, first released on consoles. Almost a year later and we finally get to see the PC port. Ports from consoles to PC can sometimes be rather rough affairs. So was that the case here? Has Ghost Games reinvigorated the long-running racing franchise that has seen some lackluster releases in recent years, and saved it from the brink of extinction? Well, sort of.
Need for Speed met with pretty lukewarm reviews last year. It received negative marks for such things as its setting being perpetually at nighttime, having no pause function, and not having an option for manual transmission (I mean, really?). It was also panned by gamers because you couldn’t play it unless you were always online. Many reviewers were pretty irate that the developers seemed to focus on anti-piracy more than actually making a game with great content, and if suffered because of that. It seems that they didn’t learn much from that critique since the PC version is also online only, so if you have any internet connectivity issues this is definitely not the game for you.
The game itself is fairly straight forward. You step into the shoes of a youngster who gets invited to a generic Fast & Furious-style racing showdown. From there, the better you place in each race, the better you up your REP, which is Need for Speed’s in-game currency. The more REP you earn, the more you can customize your ride and naturally, the more races you will win. This is the same formula that you’ve seen time and time again, so there isn’t a lot of novelty here.
You also get to gradually build up your crew and eventually assemble a motley gang of characters. Said characters are rendered in live action video scenes, which I can’t tell are intentionally campy or just plain bad. Live action videos in games have never been a good thing in my opinion, as it breaks the suspension of disbelief since they looks so drastically different from the rest of the playable game. Fortunately, the in-game graphics are great in this case. Back to the characters: You’ve got the typical tough-girl character whose lines are delivered so abysmally that they’d make Michelle Rodriguez blush (and that’s saying a lot!), and then there’s the little rich kid who lives-for-danger and is constantly trying to prove himself. The cut scenes were frankly forgettable and the main things I seem to remember from them was that there were lots of bro-fisting and a ton of Monster Energy Drink ad-placement shots.
On to the actual game—Need for Speed lets you start off by picking between a Subaru BRZ, a Ford Mustang, or a Honda Civic turbo (Civics have turbo engine options now, yay). From there you can fill up your garage with more pricey rides as you win more racing events. There are a whole plethora of events for you to engage in. One of the game’s selling points is evidently being able to just drive around aimlessly, much like Ubisoft’s ill-fated racing offering, The Crew. To me, unless a driving game is some type simulator, such as this year’s excellent American Truck Simulator, cruising around in some virtual world just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s because I live in a big, traffic-clogged city, but unless I need to actually drive somewhere in real life, the last thing that I want to do to get my rocks off is farting around in some pricey virtual car that I can’t even afford, within a game.
As a racing game, Need for Speed is pretty good. There are a large selection of real-world cars that you can trick out, and although there is no option for manual transmissions, they all handle well enough. By well enough I mean that, from a gameplay perspective, each car handles very differently. You can definitely tell the difference between the dodgy handling of a muscles car, and a finely-tuned Ferrari. The races themselves are also fun to play, and really convey the white-knuckle urgency in getting to the finish line first (or at least second).
Need for Speed’s visuals are also very well done. The streets glisten with a slick sheen as street lights reflect off of their surfaces. The cars themselves look absolutely spectacular, and are near photo-realistic. I mean if I came in on a game in progress and didn’t know it was a game, I might mistake it for a live action event of some sort—they’re really that good. The sounds are also convincing and really enhance the outstanding graphics, as well as the events that take place in this well-articulated game world. When you get past the goofy, sleep-inducing live action parts, there is a pretty meaty racing game underneath all the fluff and pomp.
It’s safe to say that Need for Speed isn’t going to revolutionize the racing genre, but I don’t think that it was designed to. Rather, I believe it was offered as an evolution of an already esteemed racing franchise. It doesn’t seek to try anything too daring, but it does offer some solid racing action and some truly stunning eighth-generation graphics. In all, Need for Speed is a fun and challenging racer romp, once you get past the schlocky cut scenes. Try taking it for a spin.
Need for Speed’s visuals are darn-near eye-popping in their gloriousness, but in order to enjoy them without any drop in FPS, you’ll need a beefy gaming PC:
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