Need for Speed may have lost some of its luster in recent years. But it is still one of the biggest names in the racing genre. Many franchises have shifted in an attempt to become as realistic as possible, making racers more like simulators. But EA has rigidly kept this series as arcade-like as they can.
Released in 2017, Need for Speed Payback is no different. It is all about keeping the accelerator pressed firmly down and drifting through turns in the most stylish way possible. Need for Speed games are meant for fun rather than realism. They are designed to be picked up and played by practically anyone.
At this point, though, it appears as if the series is starting to show its age. From the very outset of this title, it is obvious that the developers have taken inspiration directly from Fast & Furious. But it feels more like a desperate attempt to stay relevant rather than a truly great hook.
The racing itself is perfectly fine. It follows the same basic gameplay as the rest of the series. Although, the handling has been made a bit less precise. I would guess this is an attempt to make Payback more accessible by getting rid of some of the challenge in controlling the car.
Vehicles also feel as if they have less weight and a reduced amount of power. In that sense, collisions just do not have the impact that they have had in previous Need for Speed games.
There are all kinds of customization and tuning options available to players, although they can prove pricey. This is a staple of the Need for Speed franchise and it is done just as well here.
The fact that the racing can be so difficult means that you likely won’t experience as many vehicles. Upgrading several cars becomes a problem as the costs quickly mount up. It forces you to make a decision. Do you grind races over and over to get the necessary funds to maintain a bigger garage? Or do you stick to making one vehicle as good as it can be?
It seems that the developers recognized this was an issue, as they have a vehicle rating system for events. This number sets a minimum value that they recommend your own car meets before you enter the race. Matching it means that you can competitively race against the other drivers, while anything lower leaves you with no chance of keeping up.
This rating is attached to every event, including things like drift challenges, so you have a good idea of whether you have the ability to beat an event before you enter it. Of course, meeting the minimum requirements doesn’t guarantee success, so you will have to replay most of them at least a few times before coming away victorious.
Another major complaint with Need for Speed Payback is the narrative that it tries to force upon you. Rather than just let you drive out of a garage and explore the open world at your own pace, it drops you into a story of three characters. Even though the story itself is completely unnecessary and a major annoyance, the three main characters themselves are the worst part of the plot.
Outside of some awful dialogue, you would be quite able to put these individuals completely out of your mind. That is, if they weren’t front and center of every cutscene that you have to watch.
They are bland and leave no impression. In fact, I would be hard pressed to tell you anything about their personalities or histories immediately after putting the controller down and switching off the TV.
Even worse, the writers don’t seem aware of just how bad everything in the story is as they gleefully plug on with another scene full of pitiful dialogue.
Fortune Valley, the open world where Need for Speed Payback takes place, is a lush environment filled with forests, mountains, and green fields. As you might expect from an EA game, it certainly looks pretty. The world in which you find yourself would make a beautiful backdrop as a desktop wallpaper or social media profile picture.
Yet, all of the locations that you visit are fairly forgettable. They won’t stick in your mind or make you want to visit them again. Need for Speed Payback seems satisfied to just take you along for the journey without making any memories.
One new mechanic that Payback does bring is something called Sidebets. These allow you to gamble in-game currency on races. They aren’t just limited to winning a race either. Other parameters you can bet on include leading a race for a set period of time or coming from last to first. These add a new dimension to events, challenging you to go out of your comfort zone and really push yourself to the limit.
This isn’t enough to redeem what is, at heart, an unremarkable game. Although the racing is not bad, everything else fails to stick in your mind or make any kind of lasting impression.
Anyone wanting to drive all the cars available will have to go through grueling grind replaying every event to amass the small fortune it will take to make them viable for competitive use.
Payback just doesn’t have that essence that made the Need for Speed franchise so popular more than a decade ago. It might be best that EA stop trying to find it for now.