I’ve never really been a car guy. I’ve also never had any desire to rev my engine at a stop light, or fly around I-5 going over 100 MPH. I’ve never had any kind of itch for these things in real life, but the second I got behind the wheel in EA’s 2015 reboot of Need For Speed, I just had to slam the pedal to the metal. There’s something about tearing down the digital pavement with the speedometer reading 180, where even a twitch of the wheel might spell disaster. It scratches an itch I didn’t even know I had, just like tapping the brakes at just the right time to perfectly drift around a corner mid-race does. Need For Speed is the reboot we didn’t even know we needed.
Need for Speed puts the player in the shoes of a new racer to an LA-like city, somewhere in Southern California. The player bumps into Spike, the man in charge of the speed races, who introduces them to his crew, consisting of several characters straight out of Fast and Furious. You’ve got the gearhead (Amy), the popular girl (Robin, who flirts and bumps heads with Spike every other cut-scene), the leader of the group (Travis), and the meditation muscle man (Manu). Each has their own storyline, and the gist of the game is really all about becoming the ultimate icon in the city. While the characters may seem like generic racer types, the many cut-scenes throughout the game are actually pretty well done, with each being live-action, and having actual believable acting – I was happily surprised. Each character has a different emphasis; Crew, Build, Style, Speed, and Outlaw. All of these basically have their own storyline, culminating in a couple races to top it all off when all variations have been completed. Each type of race has a legend tied to it; a driver known far and wide for that specific event. The goal of each character in the game is to meet their idol, and you are there to help them along the way. One of my favorite things about this game is the entire premise; you’re just out with your friends having fun, racing around, and trying to avoid the cops. No cities need saving, no kingpin needs to be taken down, no corrupt cops are in the picture.
The game itself is incredibly gorgeous. Every time I fired it up (once the lengthy initial load time had passed), I couldn’t help but be blown away by the detail and the textures present all throughout the city. Everything looks crisp, and really pops off the screen, and it really felt like I was screaming along when my speedometer was over the 150 MPH mark. The cars themselves are beautiful and look identical to ones you’d see on the street. Not to mention, the amount of visual customization that goes into each car is astounding. Between the different body parts, spoilers, primary and accent paint colors, and decals, the possibilities for what each and every car can look like are almost limitless. You can give every single one of your cars a unique spin and look. In terms of performance, the tuning aspect strikes an excellent balance of friendly and expert. You can win every single race in the game with minimal tuning if you’re not really a car person, or don’t want to invest the time into figuring out the system. However, there is definitely an advantage to tinkering enough to get that perfect build for each race. I also really enjoyed the general performance build mechanics. There are many different parts that go into the performance of your car, ranging from your electrics system, to your fuel intake, to your engine block. For each category, the more expensive the part, the better it is overall, and there’s minimal thinking that needs to go into part trade-off and whether to prioritize top speed over acceleration when choosing an engine block. When in doubt, buy the most expensive thing there.
The game seems to offer many different types of race variations, all with different names, but at the end of the day, there’s really only two types of races: speed and drift. In each race, you’re either trying to drift better than everyone else, or be the first to cross the finish line. I ended up using two cars throughout the entire game (minus the races where I was forced to use a specific car). I had my Ferrari for speed races, and my Subaru BRZ for drift races. With minimal tuning on each, I blazed through each race with ease, not having to restart more than a couple times. Granted, the big rubber banding mechanics could make this frustrating, where a perfect race for 90% of the way could be ruined by one slip up near the end. The game also forces the player to be online at all times, and injects the world with other real live players, as well as many AI-controlled drivers. More than once I found myself setting a new course record on a race, when another racer would come tearing around a corner, trying to escape the cops, when they’d hit me head on and I’d end up having to restart. I never had to deal with anyone racing in my story races, luckily, but I did enjoy some of the made up names given to the AI. The initial load time for the game always astounded me, but much like Halo 2, once that was completed, all other load times were minimal, which was nice towards the end races when a few restarts were required. In addition to the races, the police interactions were done really well. I found my heart beating just a little bit faster when the red and blue lights start flashing in the middle of a race, and the cops add an extra dimension to already tense moments.
For better or for worse, everything stems from the level system. The player earns Rep from pretty much everything they do. Hitting a car’s top speed, accelerating from 0-60, drifting around a corner, destroying city property all earn small amounts of points. Finishing races is where the real gain comes from. These points are essentially experience points, and add to the overall Rep level of the player (the original cap was 50, but a few system updates later have increased it to 70). Many races aren’t unlocked until different Rep levels have been hit, specific performance parts require specific Rep levels, and various visual customizations aren’t available until the player has attained the right Rep level. Luckily, the game is pretty generous in what it hands out, and there isn’t much grinding required. The overall difficulty of the game isn’t too bad either. I ended up buying the most expensive car (the Ferrari) about 30% of the way through the game, and upgraded it to lightning fast speeds rather quickly. I never had any trouble with my car not being fast enough or anything around that. One thing that was really disappointing for me was the lack of drag races. How can I (as a great man once said) live my life a quarter mile at a time, if I don’t have the option to drag race? That being said, the game does provide incredible value to the consumer, adding many system patches, including an entire 15 race series titled “Eddie’s Challenge” (not to mention bonus Rep weekends, helping the grind go that much quicker).
Need for Speed is a phenomenal reboot that injects a lot of fuel into the series. Amid tons of fist pounds and stereotypes, something really great rises to the surface. The game delivers exactly what you’d expect after taking a couple years off. Amid the absolutely gorgeous scenery, beautiful cars, and heart pounding races, I couldn’t help but smile thinking about how much fun I was having. I’m not the kind of guy who feels the urge to fly around back roads when I get behind the wheel, but there’s just a pure feeling of glee when I slam the trigger down. This is the best Need For Speed game I’ve played since Underground 2.