Need For Speed Payback Review – Spoiler Free
Need For Speed Payback is the latest addition to the long running Need For Speed franchise. This new Need For Speed arcade style racing game takes place in an open world environment where you will follow the stories of three street racers. Players will also be able to compete online in ranked or casual racing modes. Both modes allow players to take control of some of the most famous car brands in the world in a variety of drag, off-road, on-road and police escape races.
I’ve always been a fan of the Need For Speed franchise ever since I first played some of games from it back in the PS1 days. There’s been some games in there that were great and some that were really bad and everyone knows which ones those games were. Need For Speed Payback is the latest game to be added to the series and one which I was cautiously optimistic about. With the last game in the series being kind of a disaster due to a whole bunch of issues, I was hoping this one would be an improvement.
Judging from the trailer and much of the promotional material it looked like we were getting something interesting. Need For Speed Payback offers players a campaign with a street racing narrative which forms the basis for the reasoning as to why you are racing in the streets.
The campaign itself is overly simplistic. I honestly think this is because they are going for the widest audience possible to sell the game and in order to do that, the tone of things needs to remain light, maybe a little funny and all in good fun. The game has no dark themes or really any negative moments at all. Need For Speed Payback is really something anyone from age 8-36 could play. Although I should mention that there is a strong gambling theme all throughout the story and it even remains present in some of the gameplay as well, with side bets placed before each of the races so you can win extra in game cash.
In the story you will play as one of three characters who you will switch to and drive with as the story progresses. The characters are Tyler Morgan, Sean ‘Mac’ MCalister and Jessica ‘Jess’ Miller.
Tyler is really the main character of the story, he is a naive street racer who actually thinks that street racing is about skill and is shocked when he learns that actually the people who run these illegal street racers are not at all ethically inclined people. In fact, the street races are fixed and the winners are all arranged. Tyler being the one skilled racer in the city goes against this and it upsets the organisers, known as ‘The House’. A plot then forms by The House to take out Tyler for good, but he survives. Now Tyler is going to race his way to the top and prove to everyone he’s the real ‘legit’ street racer.
I don’t want to go too much more into the story for fear of ruining to plot for anyone. But the characters you play as aren’t the smartest bunch. How you wouldn’t know that street racing, which is illegal is not dodgy I don’t know and also how you would think that by beating these guys and taking over the street racing scene is the best action to take, I don’t know either. But it’s the goal of the game to provide street racing and that’s okay as Need For Speed is more about racing gameplay than story, but still, it could be better than what it is.
It doesn’t take long for Tyler to assemble a street racing crew which will help him climb in the rankings so he can eventually race The House again. This storyline mechanic with different characters was actually something that I did enjoy. Switching characters as the story progresses and doing different career missions with them helped to keep things fresh and different. Each character also has a different style of race gameplay. When the story calls for it, Tyler will be used for regular street race or drag race options. Jess will be used for the runner missions, which are the ones where the cops will chase you and Sean is used for the off-road and also drift style missions.
Sean, Jess and Tyler as characters are all very over confident and love showing off their skills. All three think they’re the best drivers out there and this reflects strongly in the way the characters talk and sound. At times it can be a little annoying playing as a character that always thinks their the best in the world, I particularly didn’t enjoy my time with Sean. It is a little hard to relate to people like this and even though the campaign is quite long, there isn’t really any development for the characters, they’re static characters.
As far as gameplay goes for Need For Speed Payback, a lot of it is quite fun. It was nice to have such a variety of game modes throughout the campaign. The races were varied enough that things were not boring and cars were also different in the way they handled based on which type of mode you were going to race in. An example of this would be a drag race car. To compete in drag races, you needed to go to a drag race dealership (there were dealerships for each race mode) and buy a car from the place. You could tune it as much as you like, but the car could only be used for drag race options. You’ll find that cars from this category weren’t great at turning, but were very good for straight lines. A regular racing car or one of the runner cars had much greater handling, but less speed. This variation is a welcome addition to the series and by the end of the campaign, you’ll find that you own quite a nice variety of cars.
There’s also the occasional mission in the game where you will play in a sort of ‘heist’ style way. When in these types of missions you will be tasked with for example stealing a race car. Your team will be all working on the same thing and maybe something will go wrong and you’ll have to escape the cops. During these types of missions you’ll hear your characters talking to each other on the phone as things are going on around the city with them. The music is made louder and the stakes become really high. During these types of missions you will actually switch between the three characters multiple times and experience what’s happening with them. These were the high action points of the game and were things that I enjoyed the most. While most of the time you do your organised races, these were different and felt more ‘alive’ than the races did. There are a few times in the story where the gameplay is like this, but I thought it might have been really great if the whole storyline was like this instead.
There is a new way of upgrading your cars in Need For Speed Payback which I haven’t seen used before in the Need For Speed series. You still have to go to the tune up shop or your garage to upgrade your car, but instead of buying parts you buy these things called ‘speed cards’. In a tune up shop, when you take your car there, there will be several cards available to choose from and you use your in game money to buy them and they help to increase the stats for your vehicle. You can also unlock more speed cards by completing a race and winning or doing multiplayer races. I found the whole concept of this to be actually quite annoying, rather than getting to know my car or learning the various components that make a car fast when I upgrade it, I instead am just focused on the stats. I felt that the card system takes away from the ‘car upgrade’ culture that I thought Need For Speed was about. It’s like I’m applying trading cards to my car and I just look to see if it gives me “+2” on my speed or increases my car rating, if it does I’ll buy it and apply it. But really I learn nothing about cars this way.
With the speed cards, players who have a lot of real life money can also unlock more cards by paying for them using micro transactions in the game. I recommend not doing this as you will have more than enough of these things as the story goes and you won’t feel that far ahead if you do. You also unlock things as you go called “base shipments”, these things are free and will give you items such as unlock points to get more cards if you want, but also have extra goodies in there such as in game cash or things like different coloured smoke. Base shipments are a bit like loot boxes. If you’re having trouble with a race and feel tempted to buy some cards with real money, I will say to you that it’s better to just lower your difficulty setting if you want an easier run through the game than paying to upgrade your car so it’s faster than the AI competition. I guess I also have issues with the card purchasing due to the way it spins when you activate one, it spins until you get a randomly selected card and to me it always looked like a slot machine wheel, which is a little discomforting to me knowing that young people will play this.
Need For Speed Payback is nicely presented and won’t disappoint many in the graphics department. I played the game on PC on it’s maximum settings, which I know that not everyone can do, but I was impressed with what was there. The music and sound effects are also on point and did create a fun atmosphere which matched well with the tone of the story.
Overall Need For Speed Payback is a fun arcade style racing game. The core gameplay is it’s strongest selling point with players being able to participate in drag races, street races, drift events, off-road events and police escape events throughout the game. The idea of structuring the story around three characters who had different race specialities was a good one as changing between race modes kept things fresh and exciting. The characters themselves though aren’t too well developed and story and their motivations are a little silly though, so don’t expect much from that side of the campaign. The game has a decent amount of cars you can choose from and the cars do feel different to drive gameplay wise depending on which race mode you plan to use them for. But Need For Speed Payback has a silly tune up system for upgrading your cars, which relies on special cards to increase your car’s stats rather than just purchasing parts. I feel it meant that you just don’t get to learn too much about cars from the game as a result.
In the end it’s a fun game to play and I enjoyed my time with it overall. It’s fun to have a few races every now and again and the ‘happy’ and ‘fun’ tone that the game has makes it relaxing to play at times. Sure it has a few shortfalls in multiple places, but as a player, if you like the series and enjoy arcade style games, there’s a lot of fun to be had with Need For Speed Payback.