Just for a moment, close your eyes and picture yourself speeding along beautiful landscapes in an amazing car, and racing for a chance to make it big. Now imagine that, in the middle of that race, you hit 20 potholes, an oil slick and you fly off a cliff.
That’s Need for Speed Payback.
The game kicks off by throwing you into the story with a prologue, of sorts, with random cutscenes taking you away in the middle of racing. Nothing is more infuriating than being taken away from a race right in the middle, especially for cutscenes with some of the corniest voice acting ever.
From there on, players are treated to a near 20-hour story that feels like a knockoff Fast and Furious film as opposed to the street racing series fans have come to expect. While that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if done right, it doesn’t work here.
The three main characters are betrayed during a heist that results in them wanting to get revenge on the person who wronged them. It’s as stereotypical of a plot line as you can find, and the acting, as mentioned before, does it no favors. In fact, it often makes it worse with some of the most dull and boring cutscenes you’ll see from a game of this genre.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much better when driving because this is a game where most of the most memorable moments are done in cutscenes. What players get more control over are the tedious events, and getting from Point A to Point B the way the game is scripted to make you.
There’s nothing within the gameplay that gets you excited about playing or even makes you think about replaying it later on. When all you are doing is driving from cutscene to cutscene, it takes away any sort of joy that could come from the game.
Even police pursuits, which the series had been known for since its debut in the 1990’s, are a let down due to players being forced to hit specific checkpoints in a linear fashion just to get away. You can’t just find the best way to evade the cops. No, you have to go the way the game tells you. Oh, and the police are only present in the game’s story, not when you’re in free roam. SUPER FUN!
Of course, with any game that focuses on cars, players want to be able to customize their ride to their desire. Need for Speed used to be the king of car customization back in the days of the Underground installments, but it has since been near the back of the pack for options. And despite promises to the contrary, Payback’s customization is, arguably, the worst it’s ever been in the series.
Visual customizations are now unlocked by performing various tasks within the world that feel more of a forced reason to “explore” than anything else. Performance upgrades are now unlocked via card collecting. Known as “Speed Cards”, these cards are required in order to upgrade your car to a high enough level to complete certain events. Unlike past games — or mostly every other racing game — where you can earn money and upgrade your car, you now have to grind just to get these cards to improve your vehicle. You can use in-game currency to buy Speed Cards, but you need to decide whether you want to spend the money on new vehicles or performance upgrades that may get your car to the required level for an event.
The open-world is much larger than the game’s predecessor in 2015, and definitely has a lot more to do like drag racing and other racing events. It’s just nothing to write home about.
When it comes to the actual control of the car, it’s pretty simple to pick up and play. While some racing games have players fighting with their cars, Need for Speed Payback does a nice job of avoiding that by making the vehicles pretty easy to control from the start. It’s actually a nice touch to keep it as inclusive as possible.
Yet another attempt by EA to make the series relevant, Need for Speed Payback does few things right while doing so much wrong. From the dull and cliché story to the straight and narrow police chases, there’s just nothing with this game that brings out any sort of excitement. The game looks nice and drives well, but it just isn’t much fun which is the worst thing a video game can be.
**NOTE: A copy of Need for Speed Payback on PlayStation 4 was provided to SGO for review purposes**