|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Ghost Games|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: November 10, 2017|
|Players: 1-8 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Violence, Language|
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.
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.