EGX 2015: Need for Speed Hands-On Preview – Not Just a Pretty Face (PS4)

October 1, 2015 Written by Michael Briers

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Before EA and Ghost Games formally pulled back the tarpaulin on its Need for Speed title for 2015, fans of the esteemed street-racing series kept two fingers crossed for the announcement of Underground 3. Lo and behold, November will herald the release of a back-to-basics styled reboot for the neon-clad franchise, and such an approach is paving the way for an electrifying arcade racer.

Returning to the fray after a brief, one-year hiatus, the Need for Speed of 2015 is gunning to render a high-octane experience that is decidedly old-school. As the creative minds behind 2013’s Rivals, the Swedish-based developer behind the wheel needs no introduction, and its team had ample time to get acclimatized to the franchise’s various tenets and quirks.

Too Fast, Too Furious

On paper, Ghost’s title is essentially a seamless multiplayer experience set across one open-world environment. Think Burnout Paradise infused with a drop-in/drop-out multiplayer mechanic that wouldn’t look out of place in Destiny. It’s here that the somewhat controversial always-online component comes into play, with players duking it out with real opponents all in a bid to ramp up the reputation points (street cred, basically).

Granted, the vertical slice present at EGX hosted a LAN party for myself and seven other budding speedsters, though EA has allayed fears that the game will encounter sever issues come launch.

Fast tracking us into a car and behind the steering wheel, Need for Speed’s early build opened in the garage, where the racer’s exhaustive customization options were placed front and center. It’s a feature that has long occupied forum posts and comments section across the internet, and we’re pleased to note that Ghost Games has went above and beyond the call of duty.

Utilising a responsive 360° degree camera, the car modding elements of the racer truly allow you to get up close and personal. You name it: every nook and cranny of your prized asset can be fine-tuned to your heart’s desire, be it a custom paint job or tweaking the minutia of a car’s performance in order to really personalize the look and feel of your ride.

After revving up the engines and exiting the garage, our experience began in earnest, and it’s only when you’re ploughing through the streets — missing obstacles, people and other vehicles by a fraction of an inch — that Need for Speed begins to fire on all cylinders.

Our task for the evening revolved around Rep Attack, a game mode wherein players attempt to rack up Rep points by any means necessary. Be it competing a timed mini-event or simply drifting around Ventura Bay, there is certainly no shortage of ways to progress through the levelling system, and it was really a question of not how fast, but efficient you were within the allocated time.

Barrelling down the streets in Need for Speed, ignoring every red light and cop in the city, really lends you the opportunity to drink in Ghost Games’ rendition of urban car culture. As the first entry in the series built from the ground up for current-gen consoles, the studio’s adrenaline-fuelled racer sings on new hardware, and the serpentine streets of Ventura Bay pulse with life.

From the neon skyline glinting in your rearview mirror to the screeching of car tyres, Need for Speed’s environments come together to form one sprawling vibrant playground — one amplified by the impressive weather systems and nuanced lighting effects.

City Slicker

And though it wasn’t showcased during our hands-on time with the game, Need for Speed does boast a story under the retina-pleasing hood. Adopting live-action cutscenes not dissimilar to the stage scenes glimpsed in the soon-to-be-released Guitar Hero Live, pre-release footage has showcased a NFS narrative that has evolved with the times, appealing to the “GoPro” generation with its immersive first-person perspective and real-life acting cast. How exactly it pans out across the course of the game and whether it can avoid generic clichés, however, is another question entirely. 

Then again, Need for Speed games aren’t exactly renowned for upholding the industry standard of storytelling; rather, EA’s revered arcade racer is all about a blisteringly intense experience that cranks up the fun factor to 11. Mixing gameplay elements of Hot Pursuit, the most recent Most Wanted and even Rivals — all with the added spice of that all-important car customization — early signs point to a possible return to form for EA’s long running series. 

Indeed ardent fans of Most Wanted and Hot Pursuit will be pleased to hear that the Autolog scoring system returns in this year’s Need for Speed, allowing you to once again compare how your own scores stack up against your friends.  

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In 2014, EA and Ghost Games opted to make a decision — one that we hope will become more commonplace in the industry — to rest a series that was teetering on the edge of franchise fatigue. For annual juggernauts such as Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, carving out a brief respite may not be a financial reality, but for Need for Speed, the gap and longer lead time on development is already paying off dividends.

What we have here is a leaner, meaner vehicle ready to muscle its way back into the genre in the face of stiff competition. Whether Ghost Games’ overhaul is enough to reinstate Need for Speed’s status as an annualized franchise is up for question, though by all accounts, the studio has jump-started the franchise for a new generation. Will it hit the ground running come November? 

An unlockable frame-rate may have pushed the PC build into early 2016, though fans will be able to take Ghost’s Need for Speed out for a test spin across PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on November 3.