Have you ever wondered what it would look like if every major heist movie was thrown into a racing video game? Need For Speed Payback is basically the high-octane fueled offspring of those two ideas, sporting similar character selection mechanics found in Grand Theft Auto V. That being said, Payback manages to set itself apart from the handful of realistic racing games released this year by offering up a package that is a bit more cinematic and less serious. The question is, does Need for Speed Payback cross the finish line in first or dead last?
The answer is somewhere in the middle of the two polar opposite positions. The content here supplements your basic revenge story, as Tyler and his crew are betrayed on what they believed to be their “big score’ and ultimately their ‘final heist’. If it sounds cliche, that is because it is. The story is fairly predictable, touting many commonplace narrative components for this type of tale. It attempts to provide meaningful plot twists, which don’t always manage to be as impactful as desired, but they will likely please fans of The Fast and the Furious movies. In its favor, the story manages to seamlessly transition to gameplay in an adrenaline-fueled fashion. However, the game isn’t able to stand on its own by the story alone.
After you look past the cinematic aspect of the game, it boils down to a wide open race comparable to the most recent Need For Speed games. That means there are plenty of slow motion crashes that evoke memories of the Burnout days. The races are broken down into clubs or gangs who own parts of Fortune Valley. You will choose one of the three characters to go at these clubs in their respective classes which range from Race, Drag, Drift, Off-Road, and Runner. Runner is only for Jessica, as she handles the taking down of cops and deals with the seedier end of the story. The other four categories are split between the two remaining racers. Off-Road and Drift go to Mac while Race and Drag are Tyler’s forte. The game is presented in chapters and slowly the map will be cleared of clubs. There are usually five races/missions per club, which include the ‘boss round’ where players face off against the main person behind said club. It is between these organization takedowns that the game shows its most alluring aspect. The characters team up in cinematic missions that allows control over all three drivers. These were among the strongest points of Payback.
The races themselves all are solid, but there definitely could have been more to them. Granted, there are side activities like speed traps, drift sections, jumps and billboards to find along with derelict cars to put back together. The latter of the bunch can be customized to any vehicle class you want. However, all of it adds up to a lot of content that feels like filler in comparison to the main races and missions. One unique aspect of the open world though are the roaming racers. These are AI driving around Fortune Valley, cruising from various high-end clubs that you can challenge. Points are based on how long you are in the lead and the distance of your lead determines how fast you rack up these points. The first to 100 points is declared the winner. After you take out all the roaming racers in a club, you unlock their boss. It’s an entertaining addition to the open world that earns its place in the game.
Customization is a huge part of the Need For Speed franchise and Payback brings it back to the forefront. Players can customize everything from sideskirts to fenders to mirrors and much more. However, on certain cars this requires you to unlock the ability to customize them by completing certain tasks, such as collecting five speed traps with the car or drifting a certain amount. This is a great way to mush the gameplay into the customization, but a lot of fans will likely be taken back by how they are unable to customize how they want right from the start.
An area that could use some more love is the car tuning. The performance tuning and visual flair, or extras for your car, are based on a card system. These cards are obtained through races, purchasing them at shops, or from shipments. The last of the three are Need For Speed Payback’s version of loot boxes. These can also be bought with real money, allowing one to essentially build a car up to be the most powerful racing machine on the road. You can also try your hand at the slot machine that rewards random classes of parts to upgrade your car. It is not terribly hard to earn these shipments though, just time consuming. Between daily challenges and regular leveling up, many will find themselves with plenty of shipments to unlock. It would have been better if the in-game currency earned from winning races could outright purchase upgrades and level up the tier of a chosen car, rather than being stuck with a mid-tier car even if ranked up all the way. Leaving car upgrade paths at the hands of the RNG gods is far from satisfying.
Multiplayer becomes a separate entity if you want to race against other players. However, the main game does have leaderboards for everything ranging from missions to individual activities. Online multiplayer is broken into rank and unranked playlists. In each, you will choose one car from your garage to represent the available archetypes, as once a race starts you cannot change the selected vehicle. From there you will progress in a series of five races against seven other players. It’s your standard racing fare, offering a decent amount of variety and an enjoyable pastime with friends. Nothing to write home about though, the leaderboards are really where many fans will stay, for bragging rights.
Need For Speed Payback manages to implement some of the essence of Burnout: Paradise in its soul, and that in itself is a sizable compliment. However, the online doesn’t quite live up to that caliber of the 2008 racer. The customization and story are partial steps in the right direction for Ghost Games and the Need For Speed franchise, but the ‘shipment’ based tuning and overall feel of the loot boxes in this entry are complete missteps. Hopefully, EA and Ghost Games learned from what clearly doesn’t work here and take the criticisms to heart. In the end, we are left with a competent racer held back by unnecessary and underdeveloped systems.
Need For Speed Payback is a step in the right direction in some departments, but a few poor choices where it counts sets the game back overall. If you are looking for an adequate solo affair and don’t mind grinding for speed cards to upgrade all the vehicles in your stable, than it is possible to find something worthwhile hidden behind Payback’s misguided structure. If thrilling online races and roaming with friends in endlessly customizable cars is more your style, you are better off looking elsewhere.
7.5 Speed Bumps Out Of 10
Release Date: November 10th, 2017 (US)
Available Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost Games