After two decades, over 20 different versions and a 12-month hiatus to learn from its mistakes, you might expect the latest Need For Speed to deliver a perfect blend of arcade thrills and simulation fussiness. But while this ballsy reboot certainly looks, sounds and feels the part, NFS is undermined by finicky issues that taint an otherwise impressive and accessible racer.
In terms of presentation, NFS is near-flawless, with over 50 recognisable vehicles that feel powerful and real, twisting city streets that glisten tantalisingly in the rain and provide a charismatic backdrop for daredevil urban scrambles, and meaty sound effects that bring all your rides roaring to life.
Aiming for a balance between arcade racing and real-world tuning, NFS does a fine job in offering players myriad ways to alter their car’s set-up, and tinker with vehicles to make them outrageous drifters or tight-assed gripsters. For the most part, this leads to a hugely satisfying experience where you have complete ownership of a vehicle, and can slowly evolve your favourite ride to take on new challenges, rather than jumping between better cars as they become unlocked. Occasionally, players will need to spend time tinkering with their tuning to crack challenges laid down by in-game characters, each of whom has a specialist driving style; but it’s still possible to pimp a car and take it from the first event to the final lap, making this illicit street racer more engaging than other promiscuous petrol pumpers.
But even though NFS is fun and engaging, fans of the series will be disappointed by recurring flaws that have blighted previous versions, and which block this 2015 revival from becoming the upcoming holiday season’s must-own racer.
Although the five petrol-heads you encounter in Ventura City will encourage you to experiment with different driving styles – Speed, Crew, Outlaw, Style and Build – the live-action cut-scenes that introduce them are excruciating, and slow the action to a cringe-inducing crawl when all you want to do is hit the road. Like other games in the series, the AI of rival racers is also aggravating, and you’ll often see computer-controlled cars whizzing past if you don’t take a perfect corner, even though they didn’t have a chance in hell of catching you. Poor navigation – where you’re expected to follow guiding arrows on the road or else keep one eye glued permanently to the map – also makes for irritating moments, and as the game always needs to be played online there’s no way to properly pause, which is frustrating when you’re forced to leave a race to answer the door (or a call of nature).
For thrill-seekers who crave a dizzying turn of speed, Need For Speed is robust, satisfying, and takes the gameplay back to the heady days of the popular Need For Speed Underground outings. But as so many speedsters have outclassed NFS in recent years and trounced the world’s most popular racing series in innumerable ways, it’s a shame to see this latest version being let down by niggling issues that prevent EA’s speed demon from reclaiming its crown.