Giant Bomb Review

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Need for Speed Review

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  • XONE

The quality feel of the driving and nice-looking environment are buried under heaps of technical issues and bland objectives.

This is a car.
This is a car.

Need for Speed is back for 2015 with a reboot-friendly name and a premise that seems to want to roll five different racing styles into one. It's also back with an open, connected world and multiplayer system that are disappointingly similar to the previous game, Need for Speed Rivals. New options to tweak handling and easily turn your cars from grip to drift give the actual act of driving a car some cool versatility that the previous games have usually lacked, but that can't save this one from its bad AI, weak police presence, and totally disjointed structure.

That structure comes from the five different racing disciplines that Need for Speed tries to represent. Those are Speed, Style, Crew, Build, and Outlaw, in case you were wondering. At the beginning of the game, you, a nameless race dude, encounter a crew that just so happens to have one person who cares about each role. So the energy drink-sipping, twitchy douchebag, Spike, will hit you up for speed-focused races. The lady wearing overalls, Amy, is obviously the one that wants to build sick cars. Manu is the style racer because he... occasionally is seen meditating? Robyn is the "crew"-focused racer because she likes to hang out with a drift team? It's all very thin. They all have real-world idols, like Magnus Walker (an actual Porsche enthusiast), Ken Block (the Gymkhana guy), or real-life alleged Yakuza associate, Shinichi Morohoshi. These different tales weave in and out of full-motion video cutscenes that hearken back to the good old days of the original Need for Speed or, more recently, the first Need for Speed: Most Wanted. These scenes are poorly acted, full of product placement, and lame as hell. They're... also a guilty pleasure.

Each type of driving has its own progression with its own events. You'll get calls from each one of the characters that point you to the next event or two. Upon completing those, you'll be ready for the next event. Each story, though, is simply that you're trying to attract the attention of each discipline's real-world representative. And then, near the end of each story track, you might get to race against the person in question. Perhaps you'll even get to see them in a cutscene or two. Having completed both the speed and outlaw tracks, I can say that these ones specifically go nowhere. You race well, the people (both characters and non-characters) in charge of that chunk of the action recognize you as a good driver, and then you're dumped back into the world. The final races are harder, but not meaningfully so. It's all a bit of a letdown, especially since there's some potential for more to be done.

'Nother car, I think.
'Nother car, I think.

The outlaw side of things is a bit different. You get mysterious text messages from the Outlaw himself, and these events start as easy things to do with the game's police force. After some of those, the outlaw's identity is revealed and you'll get into some actual events, which are just like the standard events except the police are behind you. The other characters in the story occasionally talk about the outlaws and their identity. You getting mixed up in all that could have been a hugely interesting reveal, but completing the outlaw story goes nowhere. You see a few people in a diner, one of them says that it's time for you to "drink with the big boys," and then he hands you a tall can of the energy drink that's been dropped into just about every cutscene. Yep. That's totally what "the big boys" drink and that's absolutely how "the big boys" would refer to cracking up an energy drink. It all just feels disingenuous and, just as often, wildly inauthentic.

Take, for example, the style side of things. Here, you're trying to impress Ken Block, the guy who made all those insane Gymkhana videos. Gymkhana looks like an art form. It looks like something more akin to street-style skateboarding or ballet, instead of driving. It's about tight, precise drifts as the car carefully loops around a hot dog cart, often coming within inches of the obstacle as part of a beautiful, graceful drift. In Need for Speed, Gymkhana events are races that occasionally have some jumps and tight corners in them. You need to beat a time while also racking up a set number of drift points. That's not Gymkhana. That's... well, it's nearly the same as the game's drift trial events, which aren't that different from the touge events, which aren't that different from the drift train events. Tack on some time trials, circuit races, and point-to-point races and you've got Need for Speed. The event variety doesn't feel different enough, even when you go from one style's story to another. It's just a set of around 80 events, and the main difference is that later races make it somewhat harder to recover from mistakes because the AI doesn't hang around and rubberband itself to the player quite as noticeably.

The AI all but ruins the potential of the drift train events. Here, the designed effect is a group of cars in a line, drifting in perfect synchronization. In the game, you're not going to be able to tell AI how to drift with you, so it becomes a dumbed-down take on that, where you only get points at all if you're within a certain distance of one of the other cars. Also, this is designed as a co-op event, but the AI constantly jockeys for position and rams you out of a drift just to get in front of you... in an event that doesn't reward who finishes first. That's dumb!

Car, with city background.
Car, with city background.

You can opt to play alone, but the game dumps you into an online world every time you boot it up. Like the previous Need for Speed, there's little reason to be in the world with complete strangers. Their cars (and the AI engaged in an event with them) often skip and warp around the world, making them impossible to follow. Also, since they're in their events while you're taking on your events, you might run into cases where the two events collide, resulting in too many cars in too tight a space. It's kind of funny to train a bunch of cop cars or other races through the middle of some unsuspecting player's drift event... unless you're trying to win that drift event. Most of the time, though, the other racers are only there conceptually, off in some other part of the world that you're not currently in. Alone together. In the rare event that you find another player who isn't in the middle of something, you can get up behind them and challenge them to one of four spontaneous event types. I finally got another player to accept one of these, and immediately blew that racer away. Maybe he didn't realize what was happening? You can also challenge random AI racers in this fashion, so playing offline doesn't really rob you of anything.

Multiplayer has been a great part of Need for Speed games in the past, and the challenges the player must face to even put a multiplayer event together seem insurmountable when you're playing with strangers. The game really just needs some kind of standard hopper system that takes players from one event to the next. Instead, the game has a function that seems to let you invite members of your "crew" to a race, but beyond getting a group together in one multiplayer world and attempting to "invite crew" (which was fruitless), there's no easy way to just get a multiplayer race together. Who thought this was a good way to organize things? It's a mess.

It's also a technical mess. Playing on the Xbox One, the game seemed to run worse and worse as I got into faster and faster cars. The game seizes up frequently, mid-race, textures load in late, and the weather and time of day seem to pop in and out. Car purchases seem to ping an online server when you make them, leaving me in a situation where the game took my in-game currency away, but didn't actually give me the BMW I was trying to acquire, a problem that persisted until I dug into the settings menu and uncovered the "play alone" option.

Close-up of car.
Close-up of car.

One time I tried to leave the garage and the car just kind of never drove out of the garage, leaving me stuck, unsure if the game had saved recently, and afraid to just turn it off and back on. In the first race where I was supposed to face off against Magnus Walker, his car never appeared on the track, making it a surprisingly easy race to win! And, finally, I've had the screen simply go to black in the middle of the action. The HUD and minimap stay on screen, but the entire world just vanished. Fun. This would be a middling Need for Speed game if it worked perfectly, but these technical issues are frequent and egregious enough to knock it down even further. However, this is truly one of those "your mileage may vary" situations because Microsoft has two different sets of firmware out there in the wild. In our testing, consoles running the latest "official" firmware seemed to seize up a little less frequently than consoles enrolled in the Xbox One's Preview Program.

If the game gets patched up into a more functional state, there are things about this Need for Speed that make it a decent time, for a little while. The handling, specifically, is highly adjustable without bashing you over the head with a ton of fiddly little options. This means you can have big, arcade-style drifts and e-brake turns without having to think about it, if you want. The cars are fun to drive, and the open world, though it feels a little small, has the right amount of variety in its makeup to provide different types of races. Lastly, the FMV is occasionally hilarious due to its inept acting and tragic attempts to "use" "cool" "lingo." But the whole thing is far more bland and repetitive than a game about illegal street racing should be.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+

158 Comments

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MeAuntieNora

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Jodokus_K

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Jodokus_K • 

To me it's weird anybody expected anything more, but alas.

Even without the bugs and glitches it still seems like a boring game to me; the AC Unity of racing games.

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LiQuid3600

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Edited By LiQuid3600 • 

It's too bad this didn't turn out better. It seems like the kind of dumb that I really, REALLY want out of an illegal street racing game, but there still has to be a meaningful gameplay experience there.

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Atwa

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Atwa • 

Seems they needed more than a year off.

Shame.

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ThatOneDudeNick

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This game has the worst feeling cars of almost any racing game that I've played. Nothing else matters when actual driving part is the worst in the series. I thought something was wrong with my controller, like I was getting input lag or something. They completely missed the mark on this. I'll watch a mega cut of all the wonderfully cheesy FMV, but I never want to touch this thing again after the trial.

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BasketSnake

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Dussck

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Dussck • 

Thanks for the review Jeff, you just saved me sixty hard earned euro's : )

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Bobby_The_Great

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I don't know how they continually keep screwing this franchise up when Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted were amazing.

They've had some of the best games, I even loved SHIFT and SHIFT2, but c'mon, how do you get the driving/handling screwed up?

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anariel10

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Edited By anariel10 • 

I'm honestly kind of surprised it got rated this low. Jeff seemed at least somewhat into it in the Quick Look. I guess it was a pretty steep downhill curve from there.

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fargofallout

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Two stars? But there are so many fist bumps!

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Fink

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Fink • 

Fist bump

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hassun

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Edited By hassun • 

@bobby_the_great: At times like this I am reminded that Need for Speed killed Burnout on name recognition and car branding alone and that makes me so goddamn sad.

Great screenshot descriptions, @jeff. And thanks for making me read up on Shinichi Morohoshi.

Loading Video...
Loading Video...

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PrezAbeLincoln

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I cant even get past the main menu. Every time I hit play I get stuck in an endless loading screen... here's hoping PSN gives me my money back.

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s10129107

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s10129107 • 

What a shame. Why do I always have such high hopes for these things. Blame it on Nostalgia.

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EricFine

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EricFine • 

What a bummer, was looking forwards to this game... I'll pick it up in a year once it's in the bargain bin.

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bboymaestro

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Edited By bboymaestro • 

Damn this looked good from a distance.

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phx-sailin

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phx-sailin • 

The first Need for Speed Underground was my favorite. Most Wanted was also great. Sad that it looks like this franchise is following suit of Tony Hawk

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Peejay818

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Edited By Peejay818 • 

Why did it have to be always online? Goddamn it stop ruining your franchises with that garbage. Great review Jeff, maybe one day they'll return to the greatness that was NFSU1 and 2

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PrezAbeLincoln

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Edited By PrezAbeLincoln • 

The quick look got me so pumped for this... Im pissed I pre-ordered it... I should have known. I find it extremely frustrating that PSN support says "Well it is launch day so that my be the problem" Oh okay... so games shouldn't work on launch anymore... fuck this game world we live in now! Remember when games actually worked when you got them. Im not saying they were perfect... but you know.. they worked.

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JeanLuc

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JeanLuc • 

Sounds like I should just find a YouTube video of all the FMV and skip the actual game.

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paulmako

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paulmako • 

Maybe one of the most skipable big release of the year.

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Spitznock

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Spitznock • 

Unfortunate to hear about the technical problems. I haven't finished the game yet, but so far nothing anywhere near that janky has popped up. The worst I've seen is odd AI behavior here or there (such as in one of the first 1 on 1 races, my opponent ate it on like the third corner of the race into a wall and never managed to catch up).
I dunno. Won't argue with the score because I'm not Jeff, but I think it's a decent enough arcade racer.

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alwaysbebombing

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onelegend

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onelegend • 

NO! THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE ONE THAT PULLED ME BACK IN!

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PrezAbeLincoln

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@spitznock: Glad you're having a good time with it. I was really looking forward to a new Need for Speed. I wish I had similar luck!

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PrezAbeLincoln

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Benmo316

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Benmo316 • 

Need for Speed? More like Need for Better Game.

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mcmax3000

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mcmax3000 • 

I haven't really run into any major technical issues playing over the weekend via EA Access, but otherwise, I agree with everything here. I'm still enjoying it though, at least early on. I might feel differently by the end of my trial.

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EngineNo9

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EngineNo9 • 

It sucks that they basically dismantled the one decent racing studio they had (Criterion) only to form this new one (Ghost) that seems to fail just as much as their old studios did.

Maybe it's just as simple as they need to make something other than Need for Speed. That title has become the shackles on a series of mediocre games.

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Corvak

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Corvak • 

Two fistbumps out of five :<

The balance between sim racing and arcade racing seems to be very elusive.

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kreeztoff

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kreeztoff • 

What is it with EA and unnecessary forced persistent Internet? Have they not had enough backlash to get the hint? Not that this game doesn't have other problems, but this sticks out to me as such an awkward lack of self-awareness.

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awesomeclaw

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I'm continually surprised that racing games feel the need to include any real story elements. I'm a race driver - my story is that I want to win races and drive fast cars. That doesn't need to involve fist bumps or Monster.

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ripelivejam

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Reboot the reboot. Get rutfalo on the phone.

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oldsurly

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oldsurly • 

If anything many a fist bump gif's will be created. This is your legacy NFS.

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Katsini

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Katsini • 

To me it's weird anybody expected anything more, but alas.

Even without the bugs and glitches it still seems like a boring game to me; the AC Unity of racing games.

AKA The Crew

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Superfriend

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Regarding the technical stuff:

I've recently installed an external HDD for my Xbone. All of the sudden, games that used to freeze up don't do that anymore. Halo 5 loads a lot faster and doesn't hitch and pop up textures as much.

Perhaps this is an issue with the (shitty) standard drive in Xbones? Or maybe older Xbones?

I don't know.. the game seems okay though. I would get it on PC if Rivals hadn't been so freaking bad on there. That had bugs and issues up the... exhaust!

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oobs

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oobs • 

Give us a burnout already.

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gamerpigeon

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AMyggen

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AMyggen • 

@superfriend: Should a faster drive have any effect on technical issues like hitching?

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rapid

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rapid • 

Oh man the PC version got delayed all the way to spring 2016

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ObsideonDarman

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ClairvoyantVibrations

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Hopefully they clean up some of the technical issues by the time the PC version gets released. Gamespot's reviewer seemed pretty up on the game and I'm still interested in a Need For Speed game in the vein of Underground.

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ShadowSwordmaster

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Little_Shadow

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Such a shame! I was looking forward to this game :(

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WrathOfGod

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Edited By WrathOfGod • 

Burnout Paradise had amazing multiplayer, and I'm not even talking about the challenges. Just driving around bullying people or getting into glitched zones was so much fun (yo where my levitating van on the train tracks people at?!). Why don't they just copy Burnout? Why doesn't everyone just copy Burnout?

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eloj

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Edited By eloj • 

The GS guy gave it an 8 and did not report any technical issues beyond the occasional frame rate hitch (PS4 version). Quite different views there.

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awesomeclaw

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Edited By awesomeclaw • 

@eloj: I think Jeff has said on Twitter that the hitching might be due to differing X Box firmware versions.

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ripelivejam

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AjayRaz

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AjayRaz • 

This sounds very similar to why I didn't like Rivals :(

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Humanity

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Humanity  Online • 

I was thinking of getting this for some pretty looking next-gen arcade racing but it looks like I'm better off getting Rivals on a sale instead.