After a movie, twenty games and more than 120 million copies sold, the venerable Need For Speed series seeks a blank canvas with its 2015 reboot. As such, this year's installment feels like a fresh start — and one that will likely be improved upon when its inevitable 2016 sequel rolls around.
Racing games typically fall into two varieties: simulation and arcade. From the very first moment that Need For Speed puts the player behind the wheel, it's very clear that this game is part of the latter category, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It's somewhat unusual for a reboot to demonstrate such a focused view of what a series is all about, but Ghost Games has cut to the core of the franchise here. Modernized for 2015, Need For Speed essentially cherry-picks from its Underground installments and combines that with The Fast and the Furious, and the results are mostly good.
Driving is straightforward arcade fare, with plenty of customization and tuning options to make each vehicle handle differently. Drifts feel good — particularly as the player's garage improves — and vehicle control is broadly enjoyable, although there's an over-exaggerated weight to the cars that infrequently distracts from the experience.
If there's any problem with the core mechanics of Need For Speed, it's that they're not particularly distinct from any other driving game. It's all serviceable enough, but the gameplay alone likely won't keep many hooked until the closing credits.
That being said, efforts have been made elsewhere to keep players engaged. The game's plot plays out via live action video, with results that are as pleasingly cheesy as those of Guitar Hero Live. There were times when these sections grated, but they're infinitely preferable to seeing the same scenes played out by polygonal actors.
The story isn't too complicated, but it does a good job of giving some context to the string of races, time trials, and other events that players are tasked with completing. There's nothing all that novel about these challenges — anyone who is familiar with Forza Horizon will find a lot of similarities in the overall structure of the game.
Stylish driving at events or in the open world helps the player level up, with a higher level allowing access to better parts and higher-paying events. It's well-trodden fare, but it's all polished enough to be engaging in the ideal scenario.
Presentation is certainly this game's strong point; from the way cutscenes pair live action video with digital car-models and neatly segue into gameplay, to the strong manifestation of a city tapped in perpetual night. Need For Speed is a good-looking game, even if it's largely a superficial beauty.
While graphics are largely well polished, other areas of the title leave a little to be desired. The always-online multiplayer is a little half-baked, and its implementation of daily challenges seems like a half-hearted attempt to modernize a game that's really quite traditional.
If this Need For Speed reboot came out last generation, it would likely be much the same with a few more loading times and less pretty graphics. There's really nothing wrong with that, but it's certainly worth keeping in mind that the game isn't trying to reinvent the wheel — or the custom-made carbon fiber rims adorning that wheel.
However, anyone looking to break up the punishing schedule of fall FPS releases with a different genre will likely find lots to enjoy here. It's not a game that will linger in your memory for months, or demand a replay years after your first time through, but it is a satisfying racing release.
Some players just aren't looking to spend tens of hours getting good at a simulator like Forza Motorsport 6. That sort of audience might prefer a tauter romp that doesn't allow its arcade gameplay to outstay its welcome — and Need For Speed does a great job of that.
It's a solid driving game, but it's non-essential. Anyone thirsting for a brisk trip around the block in some souped-up motors will likely come away satisfied, but for the unconvinced, there's little here that contradicts waiting for a bigger, better installment next year.
Need For Speed is available November 3 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a PC release set to follow in 2016. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.