Rating: 7/10

Yes, it’s a flying 1971 Nissan Fairlady 240ZG, a flying Porsche Panamera Turbo and a flying 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. All specced for serious off-road racing. The kind of thing you can only do in the world of Need For Speed.

It’s the newest addition to the NFS franchise and its return to arcade-ish street racing format – Need For Speed Payback. Released originally on 10th November by Ghost Games, the game has already been out for a couple of weeks now, the reviews weren’t too promising, but I just had to try this out, as a fan who now has a console again.

First impressions? The graphics are good, the cars are cool, the gameplay is engaging, the open-world is a bit bland apart from the jumping challenges and the playlist is nice and recent. There is a storyline to justify the sequence of events that revolve around the main trio of characters who participate in different events in career mode – lead man Tyler (street and drag racing), Mac the interesting British one (off-road and drift racing) and a poorly voiced Jesse (running covert ops and fighting other cars, usually cops).

The support characters are actually the more interesting ones, particularly the ‘bad’ guys who are your opponents. About 90% of the cut-scenes are pretty exciting and the way it blends into gameplay with almost no drop in graphic quality is a notable point. It’s a rough adjustment of driving physics to the extreme braking and easy-to-achieve oversteer of NFS Payback, particularly after a tough few hours on GT Sport. But once you get the hang of it, it’s a joy to send just about any car into a slick drift down the mountain pass. The AI is aggressive and tough to beat at every level which makes the wins feel more rewarding. Unfortunately, at the later stages of the game, the rewards in terms of upgrades and in-game currency is underwhelming considering the time and skill it takes to win a tough event and the money spent in-game to upgrade your car.

NFS Payback also introduces something called Speed Tokens which are lottery currency to win Speed Cards, ie, performance upgrades for your car. The Speed Card you draw after winning an event can be traded in for a single Speed Token. Speed Tokens can be used in a lottery system of winning Speed Cards where you can choose any one specific category of upgrade, be it component, brand or an additional boost. You spend 3 Speed Tokens for one roll of this lottery at the performance part shops to get a Speed Card that may not be available for purchase. One trick most players will often miss out on is that you can trade on older speed cards for more tokens.

The format where you can only use one car per format will inevitably have you redoing events or boosting crates for cash to buy and build up your rides. Apart from that, players can also earn Base Shipments by completing various tasks and events that give them a random allocation of in-game currency, tokens and vanity items. If desired, players can give EA and Ghost real money to buy Speed Points which can help them buy Premium Shipments which contain more loot than the free-to-earn Base Shipments.

Need for Speed™ Payback_20171230163216
In-game sequence, captured using Need For Speed Snapshot Pro

Active tuning was an interesting element of performance adjustment that allows you to tune certain driving settings depending on the type of car you’re currently driving in the open-world of Fortune Valley. One of the side-story kinda element is the concept of derelicts, which are junkyard finds with a set of four parts, all discoverable around the Valley with hints given on maps you win after defeating league bosses. These cars once built can be upgraded to be turned into gorgeous super-builds, depending on what race format you built them for in the first place. I personally love the super-built Chevy Bel Air off-roader that is Mac’s cover car for the game.

Put all these elements together and you have a very well-performing arcade racing game with fun cars that you can customize and personalize and drive around Fortune Valley to race or have em jump off ramps in high places. But, Need For Speed Payback hasn’t quite hit the mark, something is missing from the game that doesn’t leave a player with a notably satisfied feeling upon completing the game. The bland open-world environment, the shallow development of most of the playable characters, the lack of any Toyota cars, the EXTREMELY underwhelming rewards for completing the campaign story and other small niggles make this game feel incomplete.

It’s still a fun game for a change of pace from playing other titles you might own, but not one I’d say is worth the full price, get it for a decent discount. NFS has mentioned more DLC content to come for Payback in the coming months, but I suspect if I’d be willing to give EA and Ghost more money for those.

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Rating: 7/10

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