The latest Need For Speed title in the long running franchise is available this weekend to those who were accepted into the closed beta. The unreleased game is also playable at EB Expo in Sydney this weekend, allowing Aussie racing fans try it out 2 months early. This time around, the game wants to be the spiritual successor to NFS Underground 2, one of the highlights and biggest successes in the series.
Disclaimer: Before we get into the initial impressions, I have to be clear, this based on playing pre-release version of the game. Things can and will change before the final product ships later this year. This is a highly tech-focused trial that does not represent final game quality. Given this, we won’t talk about the performance and stability at this stage of development. The NDA prevents users in the closed beta from publishing images or video from the game, so we’re using assets published by NeedForSpeed.
The game begins by welcoming you into the culture, a first person camera that introduced you to your crew and the culture. Pretty soon you’ll end up in the garage where you get you’ll buy your first car. It’s here you notice one of the games first gems. Blending pre-recorded video with dynamic 3D vehicles. Technically it’s insanely hard to make these things look real and while it’s not perfect, it’s a seriously great job. It would have been so easy for the developers to cut from video to 3D, then back to video, but they opted to go the extra mile and integrate the two worlds.
Little touches like being handed a drink and handed the keys to your ride, really help to make it feel like you are in the game. The downside of this scripted cut scenes is that you don’t get the choice of being a male or female, which is a shame given we see Forza 6 add the ability to race as either gender.
The scripted lines are a little cringe-worthy at times and some actors are certainly more convincing than others in their delivery. In many ways these introductory sequences are the price experienced races pay for bringing new races into the racing world.
When you get racing, you’ll be out on the streets and the way you’ll talk to your crew to continue the story line and find new events is your phone. Here’s where the problems start. Because you have a bunch of contacts in your phone who all want to race, you’re phone is constantly ringing, Initially it made sense to guide you through races, but after a while, your map is filled with events you’ll never get to because you’re so busy answering your phone. This really does need toning down before the game’s release.
Need For Speed looks fantastic. The environments are largely made up of streets that feel like real cities. If you’re a street racer, or ever been tempted to find out what that feels like, this is your game. There’s plenty of destructible elements to keep your combos multiplying, as well as enjoyable elements like crashing through a barrier into a work site and smashing a few jumps and grabbing some air.
Much of this beta is spent in a rainy night setting, which helps show off the lighting engine and gorgeous reflections on the wet road. When the night changes to sunlight and you discover a dynamic time of day and weather system, there’s a diversity that get that’s not available everywhere else. This helps give the game a very different feeling to other racers, that said like street racing in real life, much of it happens after 5.
Now for the cars. The vehicles look great from your mid and far chase cams, as well as a unique drift cam that gets down on your rear quarter panel when you’re sliding sideways through a bend. Your other choices is the front bumper camera one mounted on the windshield. Sadly this game makes one of it’s biggest mistakes in not having an in-car view. Personally this was always my least favourite views, but after racing simulators like Project Cars and Forza 6, it’s become my favourite. Putting you in the driving seat really makes it feel like you’re driving the car, not watch someone else do it from a 3rd person camera.
When they tried so hard to have the cut scenes immerse you in the story, this seems like a very strange decision and one that certainly needs addressing before the launch. This is no little task though, it requires the internal modelling and texturing of the cockpit for each of the vehicles.
In terms of the car selections, there’s really not many to choose from right now, around 20. Need For Speed has confirmed around 40 cars which you can see over on their site. When other games shipping this year have 450, the lineup certainly feels anaemic. There’s enough to find vehicles you’d like to drive, but if you have a favourite, there’s a very high likelihood that you won’t be driving it in this game.
This game really gives you two options for how you’d like to race, Grip or Drift. The biggest way you select from these two is the selection of tyres you make which substantially change the way your car handles through the corners. By default when you’re entering a turn, all you need to do is grab the brake and turn in, the car will start to slide and you can power through the corner easing the steering angle and throttle percentage. If you’d prefer the brake to just slow you down (grip) then there is an option in settings to easily turn this off.
The other way to initiate a drift is to rip on the handbrake. Depending on your vehicle setup, I often found this method caused the car to over rotate and loose too much speed, but as you upgrade the performance of your vehicle, driving gets better.
I’ve read some reactions online that hate the handling in this game and that’s as much about expectations as anything else. This is an arcade style racer, not a simulator, so don’t expect Forza, expect more fun and this game delivers in spades. The stock car out of the box is intentionally average so you can appreciate the benefits of upgrades, encouraging you to race more to earn more to upgrade more.
One of the strengths of this game is its upgrade engine to modify and make your vehicle your own. Naturally this comes in the form of 3 areas. The visual, the performance and the tuning. Visual upgrades are substantial, allowing you to not only switch out your body parts, but allows for the uncommon modification of camber angle, drifters rejoice.
Like any good street racer, you want your ride to stand out and be unique. To cater for that Need For Speed has a pretty advanced wrap (livery) editor with the ability to not just choose a paint colour, but to refine it with sliders. This kind of precision isn’t found elsewhere. Once you’ve got the base colour sorted, you’ll want to add vinyl and stickers and your favourite brand logos to your car. Thanks to the partnership with Ken Block, the Hoonigan and Kill all tyres logos are a plenty.
Overall the livery editor provides a wide variety of options for you to get your ride looking exactly right. Something I appreciated was the ability to add elements on windows, something not found in other titles and helps to create a car that feels more authentic as every racing or drift car will have logos slapped on glass.
The upgrades to your car are restricted largely based on your driver level, so initially you get to upgrade your hood, but over time you side skirts, headlights, taillights, boot, spoiler, front and rear quarter panels and more. After spending around 6 hours in the game, at least an hour of that was spent customising my BRZ and Evo.
Of course upgrades don’t come for free, so you’ll have to make decisions between the visual and performance upgrades. In terms of performance, you also have to obtain a certain driver level to unlock higher tier mods. The deeper you go into the game, the more adjustability you get, something like an adjustable handbrake is certainly appreciated and mods are generally well felt in the performance and handling of your car.
The game as it stands right now has a very rudimentary damage engine. You can scrape and scratch the body panels, but there’s no body parts falling off the vehicles, there’s no popping tyres. When you crash substantially, even during a race, your faced with a impactful crash both visually and audibly, but your car simply resets and you continue on. This is weird and you really should be restarting the race. Plenty of times I’ve crashed mid race, then been able to catchup and win the race. There’s no option or setting to switch between cosmetic and realistic damage, hopefully that does arrive when the final game ships.
This game has one of the best sound tracks of any modern racing game I’ve played. Music is from well known artists like the Chemical Brothers will have you enjoying the in-game music, instead of turning it off and finding your own. It obviously helps the entertainment value to have great music when you’re racing and if you don’t like the current track, just hold down the left stick for a second and it’ll skip to the next.
One of the staples of the Need For Speed series is police. The cops in this game will see you’re street racing antics and slap you with a fine. That is of course if you choose to pull over and pay up. Most of the time, you’ll want to gun it and see if you can evade them. The longer the chase, the more crimes you commit, the bigger the fine and if you get caught, you’ll loose it all (your cash that is).
In reality I found the cops far too easy to evade, especially once I strapped in some NOS bottles and hit the go button. With a flame out the exhaust it was easy to simply drive away from them. If you know how to take corners (you’ll learn quickly), you just need to take a few quick turns and you’re away. I’d like to see far more of a challenge or there’s really no risk.
Most people will play this game with a controller and that’s fine, it works well, compensating well for harsh user inputs like full steering lock. One of my biggest complaints is the lack of support for steering wheels and pedals, frustrating when you’re sitting in front of a G920 that can’t be used. Let’s assume this gets fixed before the game ships.
Another thing to point out is there’s no customisation available right now in terms of the controller, none. This means if you’d like to switch the handbrake from the X button to the B button, you can’t. You also can’t change from automatic to manual gear box. This has to change before the launch of the game.
Need For Speed is loads of fun, it’s an arcade racer that’s measuring up to be a great addition to the franchise. Is it NFS Underground 3, that’s hard to say, something we’ll reserve judgement on until the final product ships. The 17.9GB beta download was well and truly worth it, even if it did take many hours on ADSL2. It is a shame the access will end tomorrow, as this would be fun to jump into for a couple of races when you have 10 minutes free. There are some big issues that have to be addressed before the game is released, namely the manual transmission, wheel and pedal support.
One final thing, mostly for others in the closed beta, after spending 6 hours in the game I’m 19% complete. Once you reached Rep level 20, you’ve essentially finished this beta. You’re rep level will then continually bounce between 19 and 20. You can continue to race events, earn cash, upgrade or even buy new cars, but the level counter ends, which will impact your ability to upgrade to parts restricted to level 21 and up.
Need for Speed will be released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on November 3rd, with a PC version coming in 2016.
More information at NeedForSpeed.com