The Need For Speed series has been around for quite some time now (1994 onwards) and since its early beginnings has evolved into something entirely different than mere street racing and evading cops. Now in 2017 there is a desire to tell a story and put players into the hot-seat as racing gangs face-off against each other under the watchful gaze of the controlling gambling organization cum cartel refereed to as “The House” in a fictitious Fortune City. You play as three characters throughout your journey Tyler Morgan (The Racer), Mac (The Showman) and Jess (The Wheelman) with the task of taking down The House. With all the drama, upset, bruised egos and screeching tyres is Need For Speed Payback worth jumping into?
It has to be said right out of the gate that Payback is remarkably similar to Microsoft’s Forza Horizon series in so many ways, by its looks, design and gameplay approach. So if the Horizon games have been played to death, Payback seems like another offering under a different name. That said, it’s the story element of Payback which sets it apart and if you can dig the cast of cliche characters, then there is an interesting set of goals to strive for as you move up the ranks to reach the end race. Along the way, each of the characters set of skills are used for specific races where story progression is halted until beating a set number of races from numerous gangs, finalizing in a showdown with the gang leader. Tyler is the go to man for street races, Drag (no not dressing up in women’s clothing) Mac off-road and drifting specialist and Jess is great for simply being an over-the-top badass, better than the men female wheelman well suited for escaping cops. Players are free to pick and choose which races to undertake until the three characters come together for the next story segment.
The character system works well but is hampered by the game’s car upgrading mechanic despite there being a nice selection of cars to unlock as you progress. It is here where any car (under specific classes) can be upgraded to participate in any race, but to do so requires tuning parts. These can be won from completing tasks or purchased whilst travelling the open world via vendors, but are limited and might not be enough to help win a race. So if you are having difficulty with a race then it is encouraged to upgrade and try again. There is a time limit before parts are refreshed at vendors which is a little convoluted especially if the parts offered are worse than currently equipped. Players can trade parts and craft new ones from gained part cards but this is also hampered by the fact players are encouraged to open shipment crates to get new cards and vanity accessories. You can earn these from completing challenges and content within the game world but this is a slow process, you can also spend real money to and get more – a contentious option in gaming at present. Whilst it’s quite possible to progress without spending a dime, it does appear that the speed is made deliberately slow and laborious (a recent update has partially addressed this).
Aside from all the tinkering which does include options for individual flair with customization paint jobs, the driving itself is pretty solid, resting on the side of arcade more than simulation. It’s a fun ride for sure and given the open world it’s pleasant to simply drive around and take things on at your own pace especially with select side-missions being available for each of the three characters. There is a day and night cycle, other motorists but sadly no people littering the streets making for quite a lifeless world despite all the Las Vegas style colour.
Payback does look good though and holds its own performance wise when events get hectic although it does feel there isn’t much to push the hardware if we once again compare to the Horizon series. Where the game does excel though is blending the movie scenes with the gameplay of which it handles this aspect flawlessly. Whilst the characters and their small talk might begin to grate, the execution of the scenes into gameplay is impressive. There is a photo mode on offer as well for taking neat snaps and if you look closely enough you will see some in-game branding from the likes of LG and Coca Cola. It’s a pretty inoffensive game that will appeal to most audiences hence the inclusion of these brands, but a more adult themed game might have been more gritty and less predictable. There is a decent soundtrack on offer with contemporary artists such as Stormzy making an appearance which helps drive the action along at all times. Sound effects are as you would expect and the voice acting, well…typical for this style of game.
Players can sink quite a number of hours into the experience what with all the activities and collectibles, story and such like on the large map which contains themed areas. There are persistent challenges with rivals (friends)to best and if players want to go the whole hog there is online multiplayer to mess around with as well. Payback has a lot to offer and as mentioned, if you have the time to invest, there is no need to spend any cash on extras.
Need for Speed Payback is a neat game in its own right but pales in comparison to Forza Horizon 3 for example. Sorry to bring that up here again. That said, for an entertaining story and just some fun driving in an open-world, it offers an interesting prospect. There are niggles with the way the progression is designed, and in this regard requires a much patience. Once you overcome this and just enjoy the drive you will possibly find it pleasantly addictive. If you like driving and racing as a fan of previous games then sadly it does feel some elements have been stripped back such as cop evasion challenges, but if you are new to the series then this will fill a racing itch, especially among younger players weaned on The Fast and Furious movies.