After Electronic Arts’ E3 press conference, there was a lot of grumbling online about the Need for Speed trailer. Simply, people didn’t believe that it was real gameplay footage. It looked too good.
Well, believe it. EA’s Need for Speed looked just as good in practice as it did on the screen at USC’s Shrine Auditorium. The game’s virtual Los Angeles is, in a word, stunning – even to a native resident, it looks exactly like the real thing – and the in-game vehicles blend seamlessly with live-action footage. If this isn’t the most realistic-looking game ever made, it’s awfully close.
The Need for Speed E3 demo played like an expanded version that reveal trailer. The demo started with three minutes in the garage, where players could customize their cars (both visually and mechanically), then pitted all eight players against each other in a minute-long race. After that, players had about five minutes to explore a truncated version of Need for Speed’s open world.
Over the course of the demo, players earned points for engaging in Need for Speed’s five main gameplay types: speed, drifting, social (hanging out with other players), gear (tweaking the car), and outlaw (running from – or running into – police). At the end of the demo, a Need for Speed developer announced the winners, and broke down how each player achieved his or her top scores.
The Need for Speed team took great pains to emphasize that each of those five gameplay pillars are important – and that they’re entirely optional. Need for Speed is designed around player choice: there’s no right way to play. That’s true even at the basic vehicle customization stage, where players can choose to emphasize either classic “grip” style handling, or focus on the “drift” mechanics from more recent Need for Speed titles. This is the first game in the series to offer both options; like the developers said, it’s about the player’s preferences.
Nowhere is that more obvious than in the customization screen, which is impressive in its breadth, and also completely overwhelming. Even in the demo, which had most options locked away, there was way, way too much to look at in just three minutes. Need for Speed offers enough customization options to make cars feel personal – which is the point – but ultimately, the appeal of this mode is going to rely on how much of a gearhead the player is. People who are really into cars are going to love it; everyone else will probably be happy to change the color of their vehicle, add some custom rims, and move on.
From there, it was off to the races. This is where the promise of Need for Speed’s trailer fell apart. In terms of graphics, the game held up, but the trailer run – in which the player’s car drifts effortlessly around corners and stylishly evades the police – is performed by an expert player who has had a lot of time with the game.
In real life, that’s not what happens. Put eight players in a race, none of whom have played the game before (and most of whom spent their time making their cars as ugly as possible instead of tuning them mechanically), and utter chaos unfolds. Immediately, cars started crashing into buildings and veering wildly off course. The game isn’t hard to control, there is a learning curve. The resulting madness was hilarious, but not exactly stylish or cool.
After the race ended, players were free to explore a truncated version of Need for Speed’s open world. After cruising around for a few minutes, the controls started to click, but sadly there wasn’t too much to do – a couple of time trials, a couple of drifting challenges, and that was it. It also wasn’t clear how the always-online multiplayer environment added to the game. Nobody participated in races together (if that was possible, the developers didn’t bother to explain), and most people spent their time either ignoring or purposefully running into each other.
That’s limitation of the demo environment, not the full game, but it does make the entire Need for Speed experience hard to judge. The graphics are fantastic, and as promised, Need For Speed incorporates many of the franchises’ best elements, but the E3 demo only provided a cursory look at each. Need for Speed will ship with tons of content, but whether or not that content is interesting long-term remains to be seen.
Need for Speed races to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on November 3, 2015.