Need for Speed Payback is the latest release in the acclaimed racing franchise from EA, following the revitalisation of the franchise in 2015. Payback follows the story of Tyler Morgan, and his friends, Mac, Jess, and Rav, as they embark on a mission for redemption, and to take down The House.
Need for Speed Payback throws you straight into the action, with you and your crew embarking on a daring heist to rob ‘The Gambler’, of his Koenigsegg Regera, a heist in which you ultimately get played by Lina Navarro, who takes the car for ‘The House’, the largest organisation in town, who are set on ruling the streets. This ultimately leads to you being forced to work with ‘The Gambler’, in order to both retrieve his car, and enact revenge.
From here you get your mitts on your first 2 cars, and the game’s class system rears its head. The game divides its races, and subsequently its cars, into 5 classes. Race, Off-Road, Drift, Drag, and Runner. To start off you take your pick of an old Golf GTI, Honda s200 and Buick GNX for your first race car, cars that Rav has out back of his garage. You’ll then be heading to the dealership to buy yourself and Off-Road car, with a choice of either a Subaru Impreza or a Range Rover.
Car classes are the first of many features that shows where Need for Speed Payback has taken cues from other titles. The car classes appear to be lifted straight from The Crew, but are arguably executed better in Payback. Not every car is available in every class, and the Off-Road class is left with rather slim pickings at the higher end of the performance spectrum, but other than that, they’re executed really well. Each class has a few of its own visual modification quirks, but for the most part, every car can receive every visual modification available to in in every class. You can even mix and match body kit parts this time around.
The Game’s visual customisation system will be familiar to anyone who played Need for Speed 2015, the performance system however, is arguably the largest, and most controversial change made to the game. The classic Need for Speed system of individual parts upgrades is gone, and replaced with what the game calls ‘Speed Cards’. These are levelled cards (1-18) that are focused across 6 areas. Block, Head, Turbo, ECU, Gearbox, and Exhaust. There are also 6 different brands, of which you gain a bonus for having 3 or 6 of the same brand equipped, as well as boosts to certain areas such as nitrous, brakes ect attached to each card. So far so good right? well not quite. There are 3 ways to acquire these cards.
1, Through races, where you have no guarantee of a Speed Card that is actually of any benefit; 2, through credit purchase at a performance shop, where there is no guarantee they’ll be stocking any cards that are of benefit; or 3, through a spin at the performance shop, where, you’ve guessed it, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a card of any benefit. The spins do however allow you to hold one of the three spins, meaning that you can hold a part, a brand, or a bonus, giving you some control over what you get. Even then there is no guarantee the part will be usable, with parts often coming in under the level of the part you already have equipped.
In order to use one of these spins, you must spend 3 tokens. You can obtain tokens through trading in your unused Speed Cards, for which you’ll get 1 token. Regardless of the parts level. Meaning you’ll have to trade in 3 parts in order to spin for a single new card, and it might be junk. The other way to obtain tokens is through the game’s shipment system, which involves everyone’s favourite topic. Microtransactions. Video games in 2017 everybody!
Of course, the crates are available within the game’s progression, but you can’t help but feel as though the progression within Need for Speed Payback has been purposefully slowed. You gain a crate for levelling up, however levelling is a much slower affair than that of Need for Speed 2015, and most other titles. You can also gain crates through daily challenges, but this number is extremely limited.
(note: since I reviewed the title, Ghost Games have stated plans to address the game’s progression system following fan feedback. This however doesn’t address the core issue of a core gameplay system being changed for the implementation of a microtransaction.)
Within a crate, you’ll get 3 items: a random credit amount, a random cosmetic, and a random number of tokens. You can get 3, you could get 8, it’s randomised. The cosmetics in crates are only available in these crates, and include novelty horns (a Forza Horizon 3 staple), underglow lighting, nitrous colours, and air suspension. Now I have zero problems with the inclusion of these cosmetic items, yes its a bit crap that a game that puts such a big focus on car customisation would then put customisation features behind a randomised crate, but its the fact that the crates are the best source of tokens that really takes the biscuit. The games encourages you to either go back and grind out races you’ve already done, or get your wallet out. You can’t help but feel like the whole performance system has been changed from the brilliant system of the previous title to the shit show we’re presented in Need for Speed Payback.
Need for Speed Payback‘s story is an enjoyable yet predictable affair. You’ll find yourself saying ‘of course’ at every swerve, and you’ll know full well what’s happening every mission before you’ve even beaten it. It’s a shame because I did really enjoy the characters in the game, yes there’s the typical youth pandering, but they’ve created characters with personality, even the opponents you meet are all unique and have their own personality. It’s just all wrapped up in such a predictable package that you’ll soon overlook it all.
Gameplay wise, the game is solid. The driving physics haven definitely seen some improvement over the previous title, but not enough to phone home about. The class-based races are nice, and vary up the gameplay on offer nicely. The drag class though is a bit of a shambles however. It’s great that the game gives the cars proper drag spec wheels (you can change these at your leisure, of course) you get a proper drag car. And then you’re given a sprint race. What? I was so excited for the drag racing in Payback. And when you do get to actually drag race it’s great. Except the road isn’t straight, and there’s traffic despite the fact you’ve blocked the road? Sigh. At least my 100hp beetle wheelies like a pro-mod I guess. Sarcasm.
The races themselves are fun, and offer a good amount of challenge, right until you know the track like the back of your hand cause you’ve ran it 14 times trying to get a new turbo that actually helps. But seriously, the races are fun, the map offers a great selection of roads from mountain drift passes to long highway pulls and everything in between. When you’re not racing, there’s always drift zones and speed zones to tackle. And yes, they are ripped straight out of Forza Horizon. In a more unique feature, the bait crates are boxes of cash and parts you can steal around the map, that cause an impromptu police chase. Sadly, these are the only way to get a police chase outside of missions and Jess’ broker quest lines, the removal of free-roam police definitely feels like a step backwards. In a less unique note, there are also billboards to crash, and cars to find.
Need for Speed Payback does put a unique spin on its derelict system. Unlike Forza where you find the car and your mechanic extraordinaire friend builds it, you have to find not only the car but the parts required. Which is a fancy way of making it take 5 times as long. Once built, you have the choice to turn it into whatever class of car you wish. and these cars can be taken all the way to the top of the performance index, and can be turned into a ‘super build’ once above 300. The system is nice, but then leaves you with a bit of dismay as to how on earth you can make a knackered old Beetle into a higher rated car than an R34 Skyline.
Graphically Need for Speed Payback is a good looking game but it has its flaws. I’ve encountered numerous graphical glitches including a rather comical one where half my car is missing, as well as extortionate load times. The world looks great, but the characters facial expressions leave a lot to be desired. We know the Frostbite Engine is capable of much, much more on that front as countless other titles have shown us. It lacks the graphical polish that titles such as Forza Motorsport 7 and Project CARS 2 have brought to the market this year.
With regard to features, the game has its campaign, some multiplayer, and that’s about it. The campaign is thorough and obviously the bread and butter of the game, and has enough itself to pad this out, but the multiplayer leaves little to be desired. You can get into online free roam, but through a work around, not actual in game selection. Which is DUMB. The multiplayer itself involves speedlist events, basically events from the game but in an online setting, and has both ranked and unranked sessions. These are fun, but can be a bit finicky, and often take 2-3 tries to access.
I wanted to love this Need for Speed Payback and in some ways I do. You can see the makings of a classic Need for Speed title there. But there’s just too much crap going which masks all the good the game has to offer. There’s content missing on launch. You’ll race against and see 6 cars that you can’t buy or find. The total overhaul of the performance system to allow for the implementation of microstransactions, the graphical glitches, the recycled content, all packed into a fun yet forgettable storyline.