Title: Need For Speed Payback
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Ghost Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: Out now
tl;dr:: If Burnout 3 had a baby with Forza Horizon and it was raised by Need for Speed.
Price: $60 / £60
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

Need For Speed Payback is set in Fortune Valley where our three protagonist, Tyler Morgan, Mac and Jess, try to pull off the perfect heist and steal a one of a kind unique speed car. Unfortunately, as they appear to have successfully pulled it off, Tyler, driving the stolen vehicle, is betrayed by a former friend, Nina. As Morgan tries to evade the police, he gets an offer he can’t refuse from The Gambler. Tyler accepts begrudgingly to work for him to avoid jail time. Six weeks later, Morgan is still trying to conceive a plan to get revenge on Nina and The House; a cartel who controls the city’s shaddy activities and fixed races. After concocting the ideal plan, Tyler gets the band together with Mac and Jess in order to get some payback.

Need For Speed Payback is an arcade racer featuring three distinct, aforementioned, characters: Tyler, Mac and Jess. Each protagonist has their distinct style of driving. Tyler is the racer; his missions will be based racing around town. Mac on the other hand is the off-road racer; his missions will be off-road racing. And finally, Jess’ missions will be more time-based races where she needs to drive through checkpoints and reach the finish line before the timer ends. It makes for a great mission variety as you can alternate between distinctive races. Each character will have their own type of events to win in order to reach the boss and then close the chapter.

Before each race type, players are offered the chance to take a side bet to increase their winnings if they win. They’re basically side quests so to speak where players, for example, might be required to jump X number of feet during the race or hold on to first place for 60 seconds.

Before attempting a mission, the game will also compare your current vehicle against your opponent’s. You’ll be able to determine if your car is underpowered, overpowered or evenly matched to know if you stand a chance. What I did enjoy is the fact that even if your car is under the recommended level, you’ll still have a chance to win; it’ll just require more skills.

Across the vast map that is Fortune City, players will find hidden tokens and breakable billboard in order to earn a bit of extra cash. There are also various side activities such as jumps, speed traps, speed runs; among others. It makes for a fun diversity when wanting to take a quick break from story missions. Gas stations and car stores are also peppered across the map. The gas stations allows players to refill their nitrous whilst car dealerships are where players can buy new vehicles. Each type of car (racers, off-road) has its own distinct dealership. Thankfully, both gas stations and car dealerships can be used to fast travel (for a small fee) if you’re tired of driving around. In order to take down The House, our band of heroes will need to go through various rival crews. Each crew has their driving type and each will require a specific character of the three protagonists to take them on. Once players go through races and events against the henchmen of the gang, they’ll face off against the crew’s boss in a one-on-one event. Win and you’ll get information about how you can take down the House.

Being a racing game, you can expect your vehicles to be upgradable. The way it works in Need For Speed Payback is that after each race won, players have the opportunity to choose between three speed cards. Each of them containing a new part to improve your car’s performance. Once the card has been chosen it can be installed, sold back for some cash, traded or be sent to the garage. So any card won can be used for any vehicle owned by being shipped to the garage. Speed cards can also be purchased with in-game currency from the Tune-Up shops.

The game looks mediocre overall. There are some beautiful panoramic shots that can be taken through Photo mode (which requires an EA account for some reason), but overall it has pretty meh visuals. You’d expect Ghost Games to make a bit more effort on the visual side of things for a game that arrives four years into this generation of consoles. While the vehicles look fine, it’s the rest that doesn’t live up to par compared to other games this generation.

Fortune City looks dead (even more dead than Agents of Mayhem‘s fictional Seoul). Most of the game’s cutscenes simply has characters sitting in cars and talking through the windows. If they wanted to create a much more interesting and deep story with minimum character development, they would have put in more sequences of characters interacting with each other. Character models look pretty good, although lip-sync isn’t on point at times, sort of breaking the immersion. Another baffling issue is the lack of traffic and suprisingly high amount of visuals hiccups. If Fortune City is meant to be a replica of Las Vegas, I’d expect more vehicles on the streets; even Burnout games from two generations ago had more traffic. Add to this the fact that cars in your lane, most of the time, are stationary… and sometimes a mirage, as you can drive right through them unharmed. The game also features bafflingly long loading times; especially when loading the game. If you quit and return to the game later, expect near five minute wait for the game to boot.

Audio wise is a bit iffy. The soundtrack is actually a solid, albeit limited, mix of rap, hard rock and indie rock featuring fitting (UK’s Royal Blood, Queens of the Stone Age) and questionable choices (Jaden Smith; I’m sorry but his dad’s musical skills didn’t pass down to him). The game’s score, composed by Joe Trapanese, is appropriate and makes races feel enjoyable and tense. But even this is ruined at times when, finishing up a mission and driving to the next one, there’s no music playing, so you have to “enjoy” the sound of your car all the way to the destination. Additionally, all voice over work sound phoned in. While I can understand that the game’s story isn’t the focal point, a bit more effort from the actors would’ve been welcomed.

Need For Speed Payback is the perfect example of substance over style. Sure the game doesn’t look *that* great by today’s visual standards, but it’s great fun. Despite the quirky glitches, audio and visual, all types of races are actually pretty fun and intense. The variety of missions along with sidequests make up for an enjoyable racer. Need For Speed Payback proves that gameplay is more vital and visuals for its success.

The Good

  • Easy to pick up and play
  • Interesting diversity of missions
  • Upgrading cars made simple

The Bad

  • Some drives feel longer without music
  • Visuals glitches
  • Photo mode requires a connection to an EA account

Family Focus

Need For Speed Payback is rated T and PEGI12 due to the presence of language, mild suggestive themes and mild violence.

This review is based on a code provided by Xbox UK.