Monday, 23 May 2016 17:35

I Feel the need… The Need For Speed

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Ghost Games, the developers behind the most recent Need For Speed (initially released on consoles November 2015), have announced that their latest SpeedList update will be their last free content update for the game. The game came to the PC this March, and up to now Ghost Games has been offering free additional updates including new game modes, cars, and patches. Ghost Games also announced that they are working on the next Need For Speed title to be released in 2017:

“We are now building upon the foundations that have been laid with Need for Speed and delivering our next game in 2017.”

I’ve been playing Need for Speed, and recently finished all of the game’s story missions, but this is the first NFS game I have played to completion in over a decade.

The game has made me think about the series and re-examine the series as a whole. I am a fan of particular time in the Need For Speed series.

Ghost Games’ announcement of the next Need For Speed building upon the “foundation” of the current reboot raises the question of exactly which aspects of Need for Speed they are going to build off from? It would be easy to define the Need for Speed series as just an arcade racing game, but look at its history, and it is evident that the series has undergone several changes in identity- from tone, gameplay, to playstyle. Need for Speed can mean something different to someone depending on when they experienced the series.  

Where I Started and Stopped

In my mind, I split the Need For Speed game series into eras, and depending on when you were introduced to the franchise makes you a different Need for Speed fan. The more I thought of how to define these eras in my head, the more I thought about the games, and how fun it actually sounds to group the titles together.

Pre-Underground Era: “High Stakes, and Hot Pursuit!” (1994-2002)

The pre-Underground era consisted of the games that came out near the late 90’s to early 2000’s, before the release of Need For Speed Underground in 2003. Games in this period of the franchise were High Stakes, Porsche Unleashed, and the Hot Pursuit games. My first experience with Need For Speed was Hot Pursuit 2 on the GameCube. The design of these games were straight forward; you chose from a variety of real-world cars that raced on set race tracks / courses. The Need for Speed series popularised Police Pursuits; events during races in which players would be challenged not only to win the race event, but do so while outrunning Police vehicles and choppers.

Underground Era: “Underground Most Wanted” (2003-2006)

This is the series I grew up with, and therefore represents the class of Need For Speed game  that I most pine for. As a fan of the games in this era, the Underground era games are the standard in which I hold all other Need For Speed games that have come after in comparison to.

Developed by the EA studio Black Box, Need For Speed Underground marked the beginning of a dramatic shift in tone for the franchise that rewrote the definition of the games from 2003-2006. Heavily inspired by and capitalizing on the increasingly popularity and appeal of the first three Fast and Furious movies, the series shifted from semi-realistic open track racing to urban, illegal street-racing fantasy that defined the movie franchise. Games of this period were Underground, Underground 2, Most Wanted, and Carbon. The games perfectly mirrored Fast and Furious’ portrayal of street racing. Racing fast cars for money, pinkslips, and women. The import car and tuning culture that was introduced is evident in game mechanics like car customization and performance upgrading and tuning. Even to this day, these games and other racing games are still perpetuating the misconceptions of Nitrous Oxide (NOS), which I defend as while not realistic, is a great game mechanic. The games even paid homage to the movie series with car designs and skins inspired by cars in Fast and Furious. The BMW M3 GTR featured in Most Wanted was painted to resemble Paul Walker’s Nissan Skyline GTR from 2 Fast 2 Furious.

From aftermarket body kits, spoilers, rims, decals, and vinyls to the ridiculously out-of-style neon lights and hydraulics, Underground 2 still beats out many of the games which came after it in terms of the sheer number of unique car customization options.

Carbon was released in 2006, the same year as Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. Carbon featured canyon drifting events, and players could customize the Nissan 350Z to nearly replicate the look of Takashi aka D.K’s (The Drift King) car, as well as Han’s RX-7.

The customization, upgrades, and over-the-top plot in the Underground games made the series seem more than just an arcadey racing game; it was a role-playing game with cars. These games featured a narrative told through the form of in-game cinematics, or in some games, campy FMV (Full-Motion Video).  Endearing to me is the fact that the narrative in each game during this era was loosely connected. Underground 2 picked up at least 6 months after the events of Underground and Carbon continued the story after Most Wanted.

In Need For Speed Underground you play a nameless, silent street racer who is new to the scene in Olympic City and is shown the ropes by your new friend Samantha who acts as a mentor for the player. The player spots the game’s main nemesis Eddie and his hot, blonde girlfriend Melissa however, he lacks the credibility to challenge Eddie to a race. The player is challenged by a list of street racers and wins each successive race until Eddie is no longer able to ignore the player’s prowess. In order to challenge Eddie, the player must win a race against all street racers. The player must even challenge Samantha. Samantha's Honda Civic gets wrecked and smashed up in the race with the player, and she becomes angry at him, feeling that the player had betrayed her comradery. In a later race, the player wins back Samantha’s car from a racer named, TJ who recovers it from the junkyard and restores it for himself. The player returns the car to Samantha to make amends before facing Eddie. After defeating Eddie, the player races against one final mystery opponent who after is revealed to be Eddie’s girlfriend, Melissa.

The plot of Need for Speed Underground 2 picks up right after the events with Eddie and Melissa. As the top ranked underground racer in Olympic City, the player races around the city in a Nissan Skyline GT-R. He receives an invitation from an ominous racer that offers the player a spot in his crew, and will not take no for an answer.

“We like what we see, there’s room on my posse for you and I ain't taking no for an answer. What’s it going to be?”

The player drives off, headed to a party to celebrate his recent wins when he is suddenly ambushed by a mysterious driver in a black Hummer R2. His Skyline is totalled in the resulting crash, much like how the character Han in Tokyo Drift crashes his orange Mazda RX-7 after it is T-boned by a Mercedes S-Class. If you have seen Fast and Furious 6 or Furious 7, you know the crash is not an accident.

6 months later, the player is on a flight to BayView, presumably to pursue a fresh start. Samantha refers the player to her friend Rachel Teller when he arrives. Rachael hooks the player up with the local race scene, and in particular encourages him to gain enough reputation to enter the exclusive Underground Racing League (URL). As the player wins race events, they begin  attracting the attention of investors interested in sponsoring racers in the Underground Racing League. The player will be offered to appear on magazine covers, and gain access to new cars and exclusive upgrades from sponsors after earning enough reputation. Rachael acts as the player’s agent and liaison between the player and the sponsors, and informs him of deals and races with other prolific racers. Eventually the player will run into a rival crew, “The Wraiths”, led by Caleb Reece- the game’s main antagonist. Caleb has been manipulating races and sponsorship deals, and Rachel needs the player’s help in order to prevent Caleb from taking control of the racing scene in BayView. Caleb is also revealed as the person driving the black Hummer H2 that ambushed the player back in Olympic City. Caleb begins sending racers, including members of his crew, at the player. The player defeats each member of The Wraiths, including their best driver, a female driver named Nikki Morris. Nikki later leaves The Wraiths, joins the player, and helps Rachel. This pushes Caleb over the edge. Caleb challenges the player to a winner takes all race, and the loser must leave BayView. The player defeats Caleb and becomes the Race King of BayView.

 

While it is established that Underground 1 and 2 narratively are in the same universe, Most Wanted and Carbon likely take place in a different universe. However, the games are similar in tone and gameplay that categorize them into the same era.

Need For Speed Most Wanted begins with the player arriving in Rockport in a BMW M3 GTR. The player is introduced to police officer Sergeant Cross. Before Cross can have a chance to apprehend the player, Cross and his partner are called into a police pursuit. Cross lets the player go this time but not before keying his car.

The player then meets the infamous Razor Callahan, currently the #15 driver on the “Blacklist”, a list of the most notorious drivers in Rockport. The player is helped by fellow street racer Mia Townsend, who is confident that the player can beat Razor. The player challenges Razor to race for pink slips and initially five grand. Razor response with this infamous line,

“First I’m going to take your ride, then I’m going to take your girl. Get Ready for that.”

The race starts out well until the BMW M3’s engine gives out, suddenly causing the player to lose the race and the M3 to Razor. Razor and his crew drive off as Cross and police cruisers arrive. The player is left on the side of the street unable to escape; he is arrested by Cross.

After some time passes, Mia picks up the player from the police station. The player is released due to a lack of evidence to convict him. She informs him that Razor had sabotaged the player’s car engine before the race, and now has become the #1 driver on the Blacklist because he is driving the player’s BMW M3. Mia sets up the player in a safe house and a new car, which allows him to race against the members of the Blacklist until he can face Razor again.

Eventually the player challenges Razor to a re-match and wins, becoming the #1 racer on the Blacklist. When Razor refuses to admit defeat and return the BMW, Mia physically subdues Razor and reveals herself as an undercover cop.  Cross and police units swarm in, arresting Blacklist drivers on the spot. The player nearly escapes again with the aid of Mia, giving him the keys to the BMW. Cross orders every officer of the Rockport Police Department to pursue the player. In the game’s finale, the player escapes the cops and leaves the city by jumping their car over a incomplete bridge.

The plot is then continued in Need for Speed Carbon. Some time after the events of Most Wanted, the player drives into Palmont City while being pursued by Sergeant Cross who slams into the player’s BMW M3 GTR. It has been some time since Rockport. Cross was fired from the Rockport Police Department for letting the player escape, and now is a bounty hunter that is after the player. While trying to outrun Cross, the player crashes into a truck hauling logs. But before Cross can arrest the player, Darius, an old acquaintance of the player, shows up in his Audi Le Mans quattro. Darius pays Cross off in exchange for the player. It is revealed in a flashback why the player was in Rockport in Most Wanted. Prior to Rockport, the player was racing in Palmont City. Nikki, the player’s ex-girlfriend, also arrives on the scene. She seems infuriated to see the player.

Nikki (Carbon) on the left and Nikki Morris (Underground 2) on the right

A little clarification for those reading this, but have never played the games. The “Nikki” in Carbon is played by actress Emmanuelle Vaugier while “Nikki Morris” from Underground 2 is portrayed by model Kelly Brook. There is no evidence that the two characters are related.

In my head canon, if Nikki Morris is meant to be the same Nikki in Carbon, it would easily be the link between Underground and Carbon. However, as there is no concrete evidence to support this, it is most likely not the case that these two characters are the same person.

In a flashback, Darius gives the player the keys to his BMW M3 to race against drivers Angie, Kenji, and Wolf. Nikki was holding a bag of the prize money to be given to the winner of the street race when the race is suddenly interrupted by the Palmont Police Department, now armed with EMP rifles. The officers fire on the drivers, disabling everyone’s cars except the player’s in a scene most likely based off a scene in 2 Fast 2 Furious in which Paul Walker’s Skyline GTR is disabled by an EMP harpoon launcher. Nikki throws the money bag into the player's car before getting arrested. The player realizes the money bag is a dud and drives away into Rockport. Nikki still holds a grudge against the player for bailing and taking the money for himself not knowing the bag did not contain the prize money. Nikki is now part of Darius’ crew, “Stacked Deck”.

The racing scene in Palmont has changed in the time the player was in Rockport. Several rival racing crews led by  Angie, Kenji, and Wolf (racers from that night) and Darius, are all now competing for control of the city. Each crew currently owns a particular district within Palmont. Darius instructs the player that in exchange for dealing with Cross, the player will need to remove the other crews from the city, and help him regain control. Darius orders Nikki to help the player set up his own crew with a racer named Neville. The player gains control of the districts from another crew by challenging and defeating their leader in a head to head Canyon race. As the player defeats smaller crews, the members of those crews, including Samson, Yumi, and Colin, will join the player and present their account of what happened on the night the player left Palmont. After claiming the districts from Angie, Kenji, and Wolf, the only remaining crews in control are Darius and the player.

Darius tells the player to meet him at the Palmont courthouse, a ploy by Darius to hand the player to Cross. Darius reveals he was using the player to gain territory for him and arranged a deal with Cross to arrest the player after he reclaimed most of the city. Darius leaves the player to Cross and drives off. Nikki arrives, and Cross then reveals he is releasing the player as part of an agreement with Nikki. Nikki has pieced together the truth of what happened that night. Darius was responsible for the incident. He had arranged for the cops to be present, and was the one who stole the actual bag of money and framed the player for it. After winning a race with Nikki, she joins the player’s crew.

Darius soon discovers that Nikki freed the player from Cross and has defected. Darius hires Kenji, Angie, and Wolf to his crew to take out the player. The player defeats Darius’ new crew and faces Darius in a race in which the loser leaves town. After the race a bitter Darius warns the player that there will always be another street racer out there that is faster that will come along to challenge him:

“Enjoy it while it lasts…there’s always someone out there that is a little faster than you are, and sooner or later they're going to catch up.”

The next major console releases of Need For Speed never followed up on the Underground or Most Wanted storyline, that is...until Need For Speed 2015.

Post Underground Era: “ProStreet, Undercover,  and Shift” (2007-2009)

After Tokyo Drift, it would not be for another three years (2009) until a new Fast and Furious (the 4th installment) was released. Having no more movies to base games on, the franchise began its departure from Underground. In 2007 ProStreet was released as a return to “realistic-racing” on closed professional race tracks much like the games of the pre-Underground era. The police chases, car customization, open world free roam, and FMV narrative sequences, features which became a staple of previous Need for Speed games, were dialed back, and some of these features were removed altogether in ProStreet.

The following year (2007) after the poor sales performance of ProStreet, Need for Speed Undercover brought back car tuning, customization, the free roaming open world, and a focus on police chases. The narrative had the player playing as a undercover cop and featured full live-action cutscenes starring Maggie Q as Inspector Chase Linh. Undercover, while containing many of the features that defined Need For Speed in the Underground era, is generally criticized by the online Need for Speed community for its poor A.I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story begins with the player in a Nissan 370Z invading police vehicles and choppers in Tri-City Bay. After evading the cops, the game cuts to a scene between Inspector Chase Linh and Lieutenant Jack M. Keller arguing over which department should get the case involving stolen cars. The player enters Chase’s office and is revealed to be an undercover cop. His job is to infiltrate the crews in the city and gather evidence and intel about a network of crime lords linked to the street racers in the Tri-City Bay. The player must earn the crime bosses’ trust by winning races and doing dirty work for the leaders of the crews: including stealing cars and taking out other racers (totaling their vehicles). The player soon meets crime boss Zack Maio and his brother Hector Maio. The player also befriends Carmen Mendez (played by Christina Milian).  Without blowing his cover, the player's actions eventually lead to the arrest of key members of the crew including Zack and Hector. The player expands his operations by infiltrating a crew led by Gregory MacDonald, also known as “GMac”. The investigation and connections eventually lead to dealings with crime boss, Chau Wu, affiliated with the Chinese Triad. GMac orders the player to hijack a BMW M6 from Chau. Carmen asks the player to return the car back to Wu. She believes the arrest of Zack, Hector, and now GMac were due to Wu. Chau Wu eventually discovers that the player was responsible for stealing his BMW M6, and kidnaps Inspector Chase revealing that Chau knows the player is a cop. When the player shows up for the exchange of the M6, Chase and Wu disclose they have been partners working together all along. Chase then shoots Chau with a silenced pistol and frames the player for Chau’s murder. She drives off in the M6. The player then must chase down Chase Linh whilst the entire Tri-City Bay Police Department pursues the player. Eventually, Lieutenant Keller discovers Chau’s true murderer, and arrests Chase with the help of the player. Carmen had testified in exchange for her and the player not being charged for Chau’s murder. A PDA found in the stolen M6 also happens to contain evidence of Chase Linh’s criminal activities, and involvement with the stolen cars. Keller praises the player for a successful undercover mission, and not forgetting that he is a cop.

“I know what it’s like going deep undercover… Too easy to lose sight of who we are… why we do this. ”

The story ends with the player meeting with Carmen asking for a ride to the university, because it turns out she is studying as a med student.

After Undercover (2008), ProStreet was rebranded as SHIFT, a spin-off series of the Need for Speed franchise which the focused on simulation racing. The game was not developed by Black Box, but by a separate developer, Slightly Mad Studios.

Black Box would go on to make and release Need for Speed World, an online MMO released in 2010, but which would be officially shut down in summer 2015.

The World Era: “World, The Run...Autolog” (2010-2011)

This was the start of where things began to take a fall.  At this point I had very much “checked out” of the Need for Speed series. Need For Speed World was a free to play game set in the the world of Most Wanted and Carbon. The map featured both Rockport and Palmont City. The game did not feature any narrative plot and was supported heavily by lots of microtransactions. “Boost” points could be used to unlock cars, customizations, and additional power ups. I spent a small amount of time with the game, but it was the free to play microtransactions and the lack of story which prevented me from enjoying and spending more of my time in World.

While Black Box focused on developing and supporting the MMO, other developers began to take up the mantle of developing the main annual Need For Speed games. This includes, Need for Speed: Nitro, SHIFT 2: Unleashed and notably, Hot Pursuit.  Developed by Criterion Games, the makers of the Burnout series, the game featured “Autolog”, an online competitive high score and progress tracking system that allowed players to compare their race score and times with their friends.  It also introduced concepts and mechanics from the Burnout series into Need for Speed. The game received generally positive reception, especially from the fans of the Burnout series.

Black Box’s last Need for Speed game was titled The Run. The game featured race events across key locations in the United States, with the conceit that players are taking part in a massive organized and illegal high stakes race across the country. While the game did not feature an open world, it focused on a heavy narrative with 3D-animated cutscenes and quick-time events. For the first time in Need For Speed History the main character exited the car and ran on foot!

The player assumes the role of a named, speaking character: Jackson "Jack" Rourke, a street racer / mechanic who is indebted to the mob for loaning him money to start his garage business.

After the mob kidnaps and almost kills him in a car crusher for not repaying them, Jack seeks his ex-girlfriend and business partner Sam Harper for a way to get the money to pay back the mob. Sam tells Jack to participate in “The Run”, a large 3000 mile (4828 km) race across America, starting from San Francisco and finishing in New York City, with the winner receiving 25 million dollars. Jack must race and beat 210 racers across the country on his way to New York. His biggest rival, and the game’s main antagonist, is the mob-connected racer Marcus Blackwell. He tries everything in his power to make sure that Jack never finishes the race. Eventually Jack is in 2nd place as he reaches New York, after being pursued by other racers, the mob, and police. Jack races Marcus in a final showdown in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Near the end of the finish line, Marcus’ car is flipped and is totaled in the issuing carnage. Jack wins the $25 million jackpot.  

Because of the game’s under performing sales the studio was eventually closed down by EA in 2013, ending the Black Box Dynasty.

Burnout Marriage

The “Criterion Era” (2012-2013)

After Black Box’s closure, responsibility of the Need for Speed franchise was given to Criterion Games, in turn developing Most Wanted (2012) and Rivals; both open world and always online, requiring players to be constantly connected to the internet even in single player. The gameplay was very much built on top of what Criterion had done with their release of Hot Pursuit. The Criterion games did not feature plot or narrative story, although Rivals allowed you to play what constituted as a “career mode” in the game, as either as a Racer or Cop. This “career mode” was only just a list of race challenges for each side.

In my mind, Criterion Games was trying to port the design and style of a Burnout game by applying it to Need for Speed. While police pursuits and street racing are checkbox items for a Need For Speed game, many of the features and design of the games were inspired by or seemingly lifted from Burnout Paradise. Features like the cutscene crash cam, handling of the cars, how players navigated the world with GPS mini-map, and online multiplayer hoppers are all features that feel like they pay homage to Burnout. Still quality games, the Criterion games did not feel like Need for Speed.

 

 

Rebooted

Need for Speed 2015 is a franchise reboot for Need for Speed, inspired by the games in the “Underground” series. Ghost Games itself is a rebranded studio comprised of developers that have worked on Need For Speed Rivals, as well as other titles like Forza Horizon. Need for Speed Rivals was developed in collaboration between Criterion and Ghost Games.

Ghost Games solely was responsible for the development of Need for Speed 2015. The development team retooled and rebuilt many of the systems in the game. From a design perspective, Need For Speed broke up with Burnout, but the relationship resulted in a child over which the two are fighting for custody of.  There are features that carry over from the Criterion games while re-introducing some returning features that originally came from Underground. Need For Speed 2015 is a mixture of the gameplay systems that Criterion Games left behind, and Ghost Games taking inspiration from the previous Underground Games developed by Black Box.  

The game was announced to feature an open world, deep customization, and to present “authentic urban car culture” in an immersive story. The look and feel of the game was developed in collaboration with EA’s own car culture community called Speedhunters, who provided research about the present and emerging trends surrounding car culture.

The culmination of all of the past Need for Speed titles yet, the studio’s desire to depict a more authentic portrayal of real-world urban car culture results in a product that closely resembles Need for Speed Underground, but with a tone that is completely different than the inspiration.

 

Need For Speed (2015)

The game features the standard modes one would expect from a Need For Speed title: circuit racing, time trial, and sprint races, both drag and drift races, and pursuit events. Gameplay aspects from the modes are combined to form other modes like Drift Trial, Touge, Drift Train,Time Attack and Gymkhana events.

The game presents you with 5 different gameplay types: Speed, Style, Build, Crew, and Outlaw.

“5-Ways to Play”. The gameplay types are meant to highlight certain game modes and facilitate player choice and playstyle. Each playstyle has an in-game character that is part of the player’s crew who represents that archetype. There are as well five “icons”, people whom are real-world motorsport and street racing figures. Performing actions corresponding with each play style will earn you reputation points and levels.

Throughout the story of Need for Speed the player hangs out with Travis’ crew, with each member working towards getting noticed by their idols, one of the real life icons.

Spike is the first character the player meets; a caffeine-fueled, energetic, young and inexperienced driver who is often made fun of by the gang. He is determined to impress his idol Magnus Walker, who in real-life is a well known Porsche collector and tuner. Missions with Spike focus on speed to match his energetic personality.  

Amy is the mechanic of the crew and is often seen working in Travis’ garage on her car, in which she hopes will catch the attention of Japanese car mechanic, Akira Nakai (referred to in the game as Nakai-san). Amy will often encourage the player to tune and customize his “build”. Completing her missions will unlock new car upgrades. Her missions will also require the player’s ride to sometimes meet certain specifications in to order initiate them.

Robyn is the socialite of the crew, and takes on a tomboyish personality. She enjoys being with and racing as a group either when it is with Travis’ crew, or when she is hanging out with the members of “Risky Devil”, a street drifting team based in Chicago. Robyn will introduce the player to them after completing several Crew-based drift events.

Emanuel or, “Manu”, as he is referred to as by the rest his crew members, is introduced as a rather large, brutish and eccentric racer with a both kind and charismatic facets to his personality. Manu idolizes professional rally and gymkhana-style driver Ken Block. Thus Manu’s story missions focus on style, drifting and performing gymkhana-style race events.

Lastly, the leader of the crew is Travis, who accepts the player into his crew. Throughout the story Travis acts as a mentor to his crew often bestowing advice, and encouraging them to pursue their icons. Travis seems more “connected” with the scene than anyone else in the crew. He is able to get in touch with many of the icons with his connections including Shinichi Morohoshi (referred to as Morohoshi-san), who in real-life is a Lamborghini tuner and known for his affiliation with the Yakuza. In the beginning of the story Travis will issue the player challenges to stir-up trouble with law enforcement anonymously. Afterwards he will finally reveal himself and challenge the player to impress Morohoshi.      

The live action cutscenes in the game do capture the cheesy, self-aware spirit of that of Underground and Most Wanted that I long pine for, unfortunately, the story’s poor structure and pacing make the story feel completely inconsequential. There seem to be no stakes. Ghost Games created a story which I can only best compare to as a cliched, anime-esque plot with a cast of hipster characters whose sole purpose in the story is to get their racing senpai to notice them. There’s no sense of rivalry, narrative justification, or motivation for why the player is there other than the joy of street racing. The whole story plays out like a dating-sim with each of your crew members. Time to hangout with the crew so they can say how well I drove in the last race event, and another monologue about how passionate and determined they are to want to impress their senpai.

 

I suspect that the desire to portray authentic car culture inline with the game’s marketing is the reason why unlike the other Need for Speed games, there is no gripping dramatic story and no consequence. While I do not expect the narrative and writing in any Need For Speed game to win any game awards, I had expected the story to at least concoct a cheesy villain. Instead, this installment of Need For Speed presents no antagonists, everyone just races for joy and to express their passion. Each of the 5 storylines follow a similar structure: the player wins race after race until the icon invites him to race with them and then they race for the enjoyment of it. It leaves the story stale and unmemorable. The cutscenes do not feel succinct. They just play out, the narrative turning points unfold abruptly, and then are wrapped up wistfully.

That is not to say that there was no attempt at presenting drama in the story, only that it is disappointing; written and executed poorly. For instance in Spike’s storyline, after the player has beaten several Speed missions, he receives a voicemail from Magnus Walker. He is invited to race exclusively with Magnus. When Spike finds out, he becomes wrought with jealousy and frustration towards the player. What could have been a turning point in Spike’s story and a chance at developing Spike’s character in the scene when he confronts the player, this possibility was quickly extinguished. The scene is quickly resolved with a rather dismissive approach. Travis steps in and ends the fight. It is clear from the last scene of Spike’s story that he still has resenting feelings towards the player even though ultimately he was able to meet his hero Magnus Walker.  At the very least I expected a faceoff between Spike and the player to finally resolve things but that did not come to fruition. The other storylines while also featuring Spike, do not touch upon the events of his story. All the storylines are self-contained and do not reference each other. Spike was angry at the player about Magnus, but when I started the cutscene for Robyn’s storyline, Spike suddenly was super chummy with the player. “Hey Dude what’s up?!” as they deliver a signature Need For Speed 2015 fist bump.

Other aspects of the story and cutscenes present the player as almost a third wheel. Spike is presented as having an obvious crush on Robyn, with Robyn having some feelings for Spike. The B-plot of Robyn’s story is that she’s conflicted with her love of drifting, however Spike is terrible at it, and thus dislikes the activity. Robyn is conflicted by having to choose between Speed racing and Drift racing. The player fulfills Robyn’s passion of drifting, which causes Spike to be jealous when Robyn turns down Spike’s offer to race with him, in favour of drifting with the player in a cutscene. The plot thread is resolved rather plainly after a couple of missions in which Robin convinces Spike to join her and the Risky Devils to do some drift trains. Just simply by inviting him to the race she pronounces Spike to be also a drifter now.

After meeting every icon in each of the storylines, the player is then invited to a “final” race in which all crew members and the icons compete in a large sprint race to conclude the story. The game’s story basically resolves itself by saying , “You did it player, you got all the senpai to notice you and now your reward is one single big race with everyone. Congratulations!”

Ghost Games did tie this new Need For Speed with Underground in the “Legends” update which added “Eddie’s Challenges”, referring to Eddie and Melissa from Need For Speed Underground. When Travis introduces the player to a new set of races by Eddie, Travis also implies that he and Eddie are old rivals and that Travis has slept with Melissa. Eddie’s challenges do not feature any live action or FMV cutscenes, but rather voice overs of Melissa from her messages to the player, introducing each event with some“commentary” from Eddie. Travis tells the player to race in these races in his stead. After completing all of Eddie’s challenges and defeating Eddie, the player wins his Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec (1999). This is the only direct reference that this Need for Speed is connected to the Underground series.

The customization and the ability to decorate your car is a welcomed returning feature to the series in this game. The wrap editor is slick-looking and relatively easy to use. However the amount of customization options for modifying the body and parts of your car is limited based on the type of car you own. Most of the body kits and car parts available for customization are modelled after real brands to harken back to the point authenticity. High-end super cars like the Lamborghini and the McLaren have limited customizability due to the lower number of available aftermarket parts. This is likely due to the limited number of real world modifications for those types of cars. As a result those cars receive the least amount of customizability in the game. Ghost Games have also design their own assets but they are also limited to the model and brand of the car.  

Story and game features aside, Need for Speed 2015 is a graphical spectacle, from its rendering of its cars to the environmental and weather effects. Visually, the game is currently one of the best-looking racing games available. However, there are some technical issues and bugs that sour my enjoyment of playing the game. The handling, strange physics, and all the other technical issues in the game can combine to make it feel frustrating to play at times.

Frequently I found myself falling through the map while driving at high speeds. The game also has egregiously poor difficulty balance, and heavy handed AI rubber-banding. AI racers cheat, and can score better at Time Attack than you, even when they are behind you at all times. They teleport to catch up, and overtake your car at any time regardless of the fact that you have a fully upgraded car and are maintaining high speeds. Collisions that cause the Crash Cam cutscene to play out allow the AI racers to instantly spawn in front of your current position in the race.

In addition to the racers, the AI traffic and “pedestrian” vehicles tend to spawn and pop-in directly a few meters in front of your car while travelling at high speeds. They will have a tendency to drive directly towards your vehicle in what seems to be a deliberate design to try to cause a collision with your car.

For a game released in 2015, and requiring a constant internet connection, the multiplayer and online features of the game seem half-baked and unpolished. One aspect in particular that frustrated me about the Crew Play system, is that if you want to play with one or more friends while in the game, you must exit the game re-launch it to create a dedicated lobby before entering the game world. The game will fill all the Crew slots in the current lobby with random players if you do not do this. In other words, there is no way to create a new lobby without completely exiting from the game. Furthermore, whilst you are trying to do this, the game has very long initial load times to make the experience even more frustrating.

 
 
 
 
The Future of Need For Speed

Ghost Games’ reboot of Need For Speed showed that Ghost Games understands that for the fans of the series, Need for Speed is more than a driving game; it is a driving role-playing game that is steeped in car culture.  The game misses the mark in some of its execution of their vision but, the game has taken the right step in that direction. My hope is that the developers continue to explore the urban theme, and to revamp the game systems and mechanics while improving the role playing aspects of Need For Speed including customization and story.   

Read 3021 times Last modified on Thursday, 18 August 2016 14:47