Need for Speed: Payback Review for Xbox One

Need for Speed: Payback Review for Xbox One

Need For Speed: Payback Has Conflicting Ideas

The story shouldn’t be a major consideration in the critique of a racing game, but story is an obvious major concern in Need for Speed: Payback ’s design. The evidence is in the promotional material. Initial hype suggested I’d be able to immerse myself in an engaging, action-packed story. Were this to be the case, I could, perhaps, forgive the lackluster gameplay. And, were the gameplay not lackluster, I could perhaps forgive the transgressions in the trite, predictable narrative.

In Need for Speed: Payback , players are immediately introduced to Tyler “Ty” Morgan., Sean “Mac” McAllister, and Jessica “Jess” Miller. These are your player characters. Each represents a different style of racing. Jess functions as a getaway driver, Mac is a drifter, and Ty is a diehard racer. It’s a nice touch that each of these driving styles suit the personality of the characters.

Tyler is filled with a streamlined ambition to race and race better than anyone else and, at the start of the game, it seems as though he has accomplished this; his reputation as a driver is well-known. Multiple times, he even insists that he is the “best racer.” And, as the best racer, he has secured a gig working for Marcus “The Gambler” Weir, whose thing is to make calculated, high-stakes bets. Unfortunately for him, Tyler and his crew aren’t looking to make Weir a fortune; they intend on jacking the car and are confident that they can do so. They are, after all, a well-oiled machine. But, when a character in a story starts at the top, there is only one way for them to go – down.

This short scenario encapsulates the essence of the story. Need for Speed: Payback prefers the comfort of the tried and true main roads, rather than risk the perils of a detour. With EA’s story-centric marketing elevating expectations, it is hard not to feel disappointed by the final product.

There are facets of the story that are well handled, certainly. See, soon after my “speedster” was replaced by a “beater,” I found myself in the seat of another “speedster,” and, then, in some sort of suburban Mom-car. I am not a “car guy” by any stretch of the imagination, but when I only have a beater to drive, I start to appreciate the “speedsters” (I assume this is something people say) I had the privilege of using in the game’s opening; my apathy is replaced by motivation which, really, just proves that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. In this way, mechanics can be emotionally manipulative and, to Need for Speed: Payback ’s credit, there are a few cases where narrative and gameplay form a perfect marriage; it’s one of the many small things the game gets right.

The upgrade system sucks, plainly and simply. Despite this, it has an enormous presence in Need for Speed: Payback . Events are effectively locked behind stats. There’s a recommended level for your car and, if you aren’t near it, you won’t win. Sure, the system increases the game’s longevity which, considering 2015’s Need for Speed , is an understandably attractive option but, as they say, length isn’t everything.

Need for Speed: Payback Screenshot

Now, it would be one thing if the player was only tasked with upgrading one car to some kind of super status, but that isn’t how Need for Speed: Payback plays out. Racing events also require different sorts of cars, which keeps the player working laterally to upgrade a spread of different types of cars: drag, race, and drifting, for example. It doesn’t really feel like progress, which is a crucial feeling to have in a game. It is technically progress, but it is such a drag.

After enough cycles of racing, grinding, upgrading, time-saving shortcuts will increase in appeal. Shortcuts, so to speak, do exist. The acquisition of parts, which take the form of cards, requires the player to spend an in-game currency to purchase what are essentially loot boxes. There are also cards given as rewards for races, but it doesn’t do much to alleviate the pain. The true anodyne for tedium in Need for Speed: Payback comes in the form of microtransactions.

Need for Speed: Payback Screenshot

Employing microtransactions only manages to make the system tolerable. The upgrades are so minor and lacking in direction that there’s no sense of accomplishment to getting good parts; there’s no “quest” for specific parts, so to speak. You cross your fingers and hope you get a decent part but, odds are, you won’t. And even if you do, there’s not much of a thrill to it because, well, you didn’t work for it.

Need for Speed: Payback is, at its heart, a joyous arcade racer; it’s miles away from the hardcore racing sim side of the spectrum. It’s not overtly technical and doesn’t punish you unfairly. This is how it should be and, in this regard, Need for Speed: Payback mostly stays in its lane. But then there’s its upgrade system which, while simple, impedes a sense of progression and, in effect, drains motivation; it would have been better to omit the frustrating drudgery and, instead, tie progression to obtaining newer, better cars.

Racing itself feels as it should. The sense of speed is serviceable and the cars handle extremely well. Drifting and offroading will be a highlight for some. Others will find that the street racing is more to their liking. For me, I love running from the cops. Playing as the three main characters helps alleviate stagnation. At first, I just wanted to run from cops, but if I were to do that all the time, I would grow tired of it. Being forced to off-road or street race or navigate the open world keeps each form of play fresh. It doesn’t hurt that, as you drive around, regardless of the mode, the scenery and machinery look hella beautiful.

Need for Speed: Payback Screenshot

Spectacle has a special spot in Need for Speed: Payback . It is such a focus, in fact, that wrecking a car will prompt the game’s camera to lock onto it so you can gaze, in slow motion,upon its glorious destruction; you know, admire your handywork. To assist in this, the game will also control your car because, while you are watching your enemy go up in flames, you are not watching the road. It’s only a small assist and, for the most part, only makes minor corrections to your path. There were some occasion where I was destined to crash, happened to wreck another car, and was steered back on course by the game’s AI. It’s not always ideal but I welcome the trade-off.

Most navigation is handled automatically. Checkpoints (large, blue loops that arc over your path) tell you exactly where to go. This way, the action stays in front of you and you don’t have to devote a whole lot of mental real estate to navigation. It works, except when it doesn’t. Rubbing paint with cop cars and ruthlessly wrecking them, arguably a fan-favorite activity, has a satisfying, visceral feel, but the actual act of escaping lacks creativity; a singular escape route doesn’t leave much room for daring maneuvers. The confrontations with cops are really the only place where navigation becomes an issue and, even then, it lessens the gratification of escape by a relatively small degree; they are still fun.

In fact, the takeaway here isn’t that Need for Speed: Payback isn’t fun; it certainly has its moments. But those small moments of genuine excitement only exemplify the primary problem. Need for Speed: Payback is full of good ideas and, every time a new element is introduced, there is a stirring sense of promise. There’s a momentary thrill until the dawning realization that this promise will suffer the same fate as those that preceded it; they will let you down. In the end, Need for Speed: Payback is a middling hodgepodge of conflicting concepts that frustrate in the knowledge of what could have been. If Ghost Games can find a way to properly refine and execute their ideas, they’re on track to something great. Need for Speed: Payback , however, finishes in the middle of the pack, and that’s a damn shame.

Beautiful, shiny metals? Fiery explosions? An expansive view of the wide open road? What’s not to love? 5.0 Control
The controls are tight and drifting feels excellent. Auto-assist AI that prioritizes spectacle can be overly forgiving. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice over is, frankly, terrible. It has the quality of a low-budget film without any of the charm. There’s a decent selection of music and the roar of engines is exhilarating. On the PS4, chatter over the in-game police scanner plays through the low-fidelity speaker on the controller which is a nice touch. 3.5 Play Value
A repetitive grind with very little replay value. The multiplayer is lacking in options and some fan-favorite modes are missing. There is a lot going on in the game in terms of style and some of it is quite good but with so much going on, the game lacks focus and no particular part gets to shine. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Scrap to Stock to Supercar: Endlessly fine-tune your performance through each of the five distinct car classes (Race, Drift, Off-Road, Drag, and Runner), to turn the tables on the competition in any race, mission, or challenge
  • Live out an action-driving fantasy: Play through an explosive adventure as three distinct playable characters united by a common goal: revenge at any cost.
  • High-stakes competition: Get on a roll and win big with risk-versus-reward gameplay. The return of intense cop chases means the stakes have never been higher.

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