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Need for Speed / 9th of November 2015

Developer, Ghost Games, have had a year off to really put the hours in to ensure that this, their latest effort is the very best that it can be, and yet, it is rather lamentable that the results have proven to be bitterly disappointing, though this will hopefully send the team, with their tail between their legs, scuttling back to the drawing board. Unless, that is, I am mistaken and there are literally hordes of gamers out there eager to sample a Mega CD-like, FMV driven affair with substandard gameplay, shoddy physics and abysmal dialogue delivered by a cast full of brainless, energy juice drinking, fist-bumping morons? No? I didn’t think so.

First off the bat, it’s probably best to point out that, for some bizarre reason, Need for Speed (they evidently couldn’t think of a better name) is an online only affair, forcing players to constantly remain connected to EAs notoriously dodgy server farms, this is made all the more confusing as the game, as is usually the case, is primarily built around a core single-player experience. This aspect of the game is arranged around a flimsy story mode that is progressed through video sequences which are viewed from a first-person perspective, as a collection of the aforementioned morons fist-bump the hell out of the game in a rather comical, and utterly misguided manner. The dialogue that they deliver is just as stupid though, with all manner of terms probably more suited to a gaggle of eight year old children, and do they really need to mutter acronyms quite so much?

Events are divided up into five unique categories, though there aren’t a heck of a lot of them in all honesty, though long-time fans will be pleased to know that there is still an element of police evasion, even if it isn’t quite on the same scale as Hot Pursuit, though finding yourself on the receipt of unwanted police attention after starting a race can become rather irritating anyway. This isn’t quite as bad as the terrible handling though, which can feel overly loose yet simultaneously sluggish, even for an arcade racer the handling is a million miles away from the term “accurate” – though there is some degree of tuning now in place to rein it in slightly. Despite this, and its preposterous presentation, Need for Speed is a game that takes itself far too seriously, removing the over-the-top antics of Criterion’s efforts, so gone are the crazy jumps, and in their stead, is an intolerably slow and boring racing experience that gives off no sense of speed whatsoever.

Racing is further worsened by cheating AI opponents who repeatedly benefit from catch up logic, allowing them to sneak ahead on a final corner, or sometimes even closer to the finishing line. The rubber band antics of the computer controlled opponents is arguably the worst opponent AI that I have seen in around twenty years of videogames, and it was irritating then, now it’s also grossly antiquated. Perhaps then, you’d think that it’d a good thing that the single player game can be finished within a couple of days, right? Well, this certainly would have been the case if the overall package had more to offer in terms of a multiplayer component.

Despite its always online philosophy, there is no proper PvP feature, there’s no way to invite players into the game and set up races, though you can, obviously, race against other opponents, who you race is out of your hands, and besides, there has been so little effort put into the multiplayer that it seems to be missing an abundance of modes anyway. Surely this will have most querying why the game has to be online at all times, and quite frankly, given the extra year of development time afforded to it, this reboot is only likely to further aggrandise and alienate gamers leaving another reboot as a rather likely possibility.

Now, that is not to say that Need for Speed doesn’t get anything right, visually speaking the game is a bit of a treat, running at a solid frame rate amid the twinkling lights of a rain soaked city at night. The open world location, Ventura Bay, is a realistic looking environment that has been well realised, but there have obviously been sacrifices, for one, the map is rather small, which makes it fairly repetitive to navigate time and time again, particularly as the world is perpetually shrouded in the veil of night. At times the time of day evolves to the extent that dawn is about to break, before suddenly thrusting itself back into darkness, this itself is a bit of a weakness as it stifles variety and keeps the city streets relatively empty, which give the world a rather lifeless feel. Audio wise the game is equally hit and miss, with car audio sounding very good and especially throaty, though this is somewhat blighted by the obligatory garbage soundtrack unfortunately.

The return of vehicle customisation is a definite step in the right direction for the series though, for beyond its limited tuning options, there are upgrades to unlock and liveries to create and use. Vehicle customisation is dependent on the particular car in use, however, meaning that some of the more attractive supercars limit what can be done to personalise them, and in some instances, such options are entirely unavailable. Still, whilst it may not compete with the likes of Forza, it’s still an improvement over previous iterations and right now, Need for Speed seems to be clutching at everything even remotely close to a compliment, times really are that hard for the franchise.

This latest release has managed to underperform substantially, blending together elements of Bizarre’s Project Gotham Racing and Genki’s Tokyo Highway Battle, yet without embracing the positives of either, leaving the final end product feeling altogether flat and uninspired. The always online demands will take their toll on most gamers, whilst the horrific presentation and shoddy online features will send them away in droves, in short, Need for Speed hasn’t just stalled, it appears to have broken down entirely.

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