When the reboot of Need for Speed back in 2015, I was quite pleased with the work of Ghost Games. One of the things that got me the hardest when Criterion was in charge was that she was very keen to put a generous dash of Burnout on the franchise and the new managers seemed more sensible about it.
Was the story shallow? It was, but it worked and, more importantly, communicated very well with the rest of the game. The gameplay was arcade in the right measure and the mechanics of customization is one of the best among today's racing games. A solid foundation for a new game, right? Well: Need for Speed Payback comes to prove that with every step forward that the series gives, two steps back follow immediately.
In a desperate attempt to do something more ambitious, Ghost Game wanted to put a relevant story in Payback. If the idea was to make a game clearly inspired by Fast and Furious, the end result was something closer to a farofa movie.
Although it is a big problem in itself, since the game relies heavily on the story and its extremely annoying protagonists, during the game it is still fun. But there you see serious problems with graphic bugs, with textures coming up all the time and in the whole game and a system of performance improvement of the cars that, in a way, forces you to resort to the microtransactions if you do not want to keep repeating races to get the infamous speed cards.
This is how it is Need for Speed Payback: a game that could have been good and that brings an ambitious proposal, but that is stained by serious execution failures. Time to figure out, then, whether or not it's worth it for anyone looking for a more arcade racing game.
A great intention, but a poor execution
Back in 2011, when Need for Speed The Run was released, the game was met with harsh criticism. People expected a Underground 3 or a Most Wanted 2 by the hands of the excellent EA Black Box, but instead they were given a racing game with a big focus on story and narrative, with QTEs and action scenes.
Still, the proposal and intent to innovate resonated, and here we are in 2017, with a new Need for Speed focusing on a more elaborate story - the difference is that this time the pitch may have been larger than the leg .
The three protagonists, from left to right: Mac, Tyler and Jess, with preparer Rav on his back
The Payback story is genuinely bad: of the three controllable protagonists - Tyler, Mac and Jess - only the girl is really interesting. The other two mums look like two spoiled and overbearing teenagers who, though involved in a plot of car robbery worth millions, behave like two kids.
By the way, almost everything in this new Need for Speed is one of a sizeable farofa: at the same time that tries to be more ambitious, the game itself does not make any effort to be taken seriously and, given the shallow plot and poorly elaborated, the mechanics and the context do not seem to talk.
Briefly, the story is that the trio got involved in a robbery that went wrong by being passed by a member of The House, a criminal organization headed by the Collector and manipulating, among many things, illegal races in the region.
The youngsters join coach Rav to get their revenge (hence the name of the game) against the mafiosi and this happens through participation in Outlaw Rush, the race that counts on the participation of the best runners in the world.
To get to the competition, you need to defeat the different groups that participate in the illegal races and their respective bosses.
The point here is that aside from Jess, one of the only characters that makes the plot not a complete failure is Marcus Weir, the bettor, who brings a sour mood to the plot and was very well built.
It makes me think that if Ghost had left all of Tyler and Mac's galaxy talking all the time about how good and sensational they were and focused only on a more serious and serious story involving Jess and Weir, Payback would have a much greater potential of being a great title.
The dialogues are extremely forced and it seems that the game has a need to narrate absolutely everything that is happening, either through the lines of the characters or through the Curator, the supposed radio DJ of the game. It becomes unnecessary and often takes the focus off the gameplay.
In all, the campaign goes from 17 hours if you need to do a basic grindzinho to get progress (I talk about it in more details sooner). Beyond history, you have a series of activities scattered throughout Fortune Valley that, thanks to the traditional leaderboard system, can keep you entertained longer.
The fun is in the essence
Despite the problems with the narrative, in essence Need for Speed Payback can enjoy: the races, although not very difficult, end up involving the player. The steering has been refined and now the controls are more accurate and the vehicles have a good feeling of weight.
Anyway, it is always worth remembering that because it is a game with a more arcade footprint, Payback does not have big commitments with complex physics of direction or behavior of the cars.
The pursuits, although only on predetermined missions and following a script, are quite exciting and challenging due to the aggressive behavior of the AI at times.
One of the most welcome news was the rally races, which, although quite simple, helped to make the map of the game more open and allowing an exploration that goes beyond the asphalt tracks.
Yes, the Las Vegas region-based Fortune Valley world is bigger than the one seen in Need for Speed 2015, but the fact that it allows you to explore terrain off the road gives you an impression that it's gotten much more massive
Ambient variations are satisfactory, between the great highways that cross the desert, past the mountainous region with its winding roads perfect for the drift, until arriving in the city of Silver Rock.
Fortune Valley and its different areas
Although everything is visually well done, here comes another stumbling block from Need for Speed Payback ...
Pop-ins of texture ... Pop-ins of texture all the time
Graphically it is possible to say that the new NFS is very good but, again, a good job is stained by failures. The vehicles are well modeled and, as a rule, all environments have been well constructed in the visual part.
There is only one problem: in consoles, the game suffers from texture pop-ins that make a lot of elements around them transform or appear before your eyes. Cars that start with square and textured plates are gaining shape in cutscenes, elements sprout on the horizon, the asphalt constantly changes color and shape, bands appear and disappear ... It is a horror because it really impacts the experience.
Yes, it's a screenshot. Yes, this aberration will appear in motion in the video analysis.
At one point, not even the world had been loaded right into me and the cars appeared floating. In another situation, during a chase, the police armor was simply invisible to me, which made it impossible to get away from them, and they were "riding" piece by piece until they hit my car in full.
It's frustrating because this sort of thing happens throughout the game, and if that were not enough, NFS Payback still suffers from significant frame drops when there are too many elements on the screen.
When everything loads right, however, you can see that it is a beautiful game. Thanks to the dynamic weather, watching the sun rise or set on the horizon as you cross the road is a spectacle apart - even with Mac and Tyler dropping their unnecessary dialogue lines every time it happens.
Customization remains the high point of NFS
As I said earlier, the customization of NFS 2015 is still one of the best I've seen in racing games of all subgenres today, if not the best. Luckily, she stays solid for a lot on Payback, but has undergone some changes as well.
The key is that now, to unlock some cosmetic customization pieces, you need to fulfill some specific requirements like going through X drift areas or walking at a specific speed for some time - something different from the level system that originally existed.
No need to be scared: the requirements are relatively simple to meet. In addition, as much as possible, they encourage you to explore a little more of the map and participate in parallel activities, which turns out to be pretty cool.
Another aspect that has changed is that, unlike what happened in NFS 2015, you now need to define which category of your car will be among the five existing: race, drift, drag, rally or chase.
This definition will directly impact the vehicle customization process, since some specific parts may be changed.
Some variables that could be changed, such as how the wheels stay out, or the rake of the vehicle, no longer appear. Still, the game does not suffer from these absences.
In addition to creating their vehicle, the game also incorporated the restoration of abandoned vehicles. In a competition-inspired footprint, every time you defeat a leader from rival groups you get tips on where to find the vehicles.
You need to collect the chassis and four other specific parts to have a base on which you can work to turn the car into a masterpiece on wheels.
Another new feature of NFS Payback is the special cosmetic items that can be purchased through remittances, which are nothing more than loot boxes that you earn by meeting challenges or buying into micro-transactions. Neons, colorful smoke, colorful nitro fire, horns, all of this can be achieved out of the routine gameplay.
Speaking of remittances ...
If gameplay and customization hold the wave and prevent Need for Speed Payback from being a disaster, another aspect that plays against the success of the game is the system of performance improvements of the cars - something that directly impacts your progress.
Now you do not buy a specific piece that will improve the performance of the vehicle: you need to acquire the so-called "speed cards", which are cards that correspond to some part of the car (block, exhaust, turbo). They have one level and can count on up to three different attributes that are generated randomly.
These speed cards are acquired in a very questionable way at the end of the events: you can choose between three cards marked with a question mark - which makes me think that it would be much easier to give a hell of a random card at once, since in practice it is not possible to differentiate any feature among the options that are made available.
Because it is a RNG (random number generator) system, you might get a really good card and it will actually improve your car, or pick up trash that will not make any difference to you.
If this is the case, you can go to the stores scattered around the map to buy cards with the game currency - but these are also generated randomly and undergo changes periodically.
That means in practice that you have no guaranteed way to progress in the game and depends on the programming willingness to get speed cards that will put your car at an acceptable level to compete in racing at the end of the story.
Did not you win good cards and did not have anything good in the store? Do not worry: with another currency you can make one. This parallel currency can be purchased through remittances, which are basically loot boxes, and, as you can imagine, can be bought with real money through microtransactions.
Now you just have to put the pieces together: your progress in the game depends on a completely random system, but it can be "streamlined" through microtransactions. So either you can choose to pay to have a greater chance of getting pieces or you will be stagnant, having to repeat races and cheering to get a decent piece.
It is this unnecessary grind that proves, even subtly, how Ghost Games and EA built the structure to encourage the use of microtransaction in the game.
Although it is not impossible to progress, it is clear that it is a much more expensive task than for those who decide to spend a little money in loot boxes to earn the cards that can be made into speed cards. This problem is very pronounced in the final portion of the campaign.
This is not a criticism of the microtransaction system itself, from the moment that this has a direct impact on the progression of the game, it becomes a point that is at least questionable.
The last pillar that supports Payback: the sound
In the soundtrack, the engine sounds and other sound effects of Need for Speed Payback are not spectacular, but they do their job well.
However, the great highlight is for the soundtrack that, as usual in the franchise, was handpicked. Although it is not possible to choose the style you want to hear specifically, the songs go from rap to rock with a more indie footprint and also electronic.
Haikaiss' Brazilians have been nominated for "Raplord" and other names like Nothing But Thieves, Royal Blood, Queens of the Stone Age, RAT BOY and Run The Jewels are also present and play a big part in the rhythm of the game. For those who use Spotify, the songs are available in a playlist dedicated to the game.
Neither disposable nor the first option
Putting everything Need for Speed Payback offers on a scale, it's clear that some decisions have charged their price on the final quality of the product. If Need for Speed 2015 had been a step forward, despite the regrets, the new Ghost Games title ends up being two behind.
Graphics glitches that impact the experience a lot, an extremely forced story and weak characters take a lot of the brightness of the gameplay that is engaging, the most exciting and fun moments of the game and also the visual quality that is compromised by the problems.
The system of improvements, with the speed cards and the whole scheme of microtransactions that make the progress of the game hostage to luck and randomly generated numbers, also has a significant impact on the player.
The impression is that Ghost Games wanted to take a step higher than the leg and forgot that, as they did in 2015, the least, from time to time, could mean more.
However, if you ignore the whole plot and graphic issues and focus on gameplay, it is entirely possible to have fun with Need for Speed Payback. The game, by no means, is disposable - but, also, it is not by far the first choice of arcade racing game for users, regardless of platform.
"With an ambition greater than the execution capacity of its developers, Need for Speed Payback is a step back from the 2015 reboot"
Gameplay is solid for an arcade game
Customization of cars remains one of the high points
Hand-picked soundtrack composes the environment well
Gameplay is exciting and fun as long as you ignore the context
When everything loads right, the graphics are good
Shallow and bad story, with weak characters and annoying dialogues
Frequent frame crashes
Texture pop-ins are part of the game
Performance improvement system is random and can be a problem in progression ...
... What becomes a way to encourage the microtransactions present in the game