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Review: Need for Speed Payback (PS4 Pro)

Racing
6.5

Fair

For over two decades the Need for Speed franchise has dazzled many arcade racing fans with over-the-top action. What started off as a game of fast supercars turned into cop chases and later street racing and car modding – they’ve always kept with trends of the time. Two years have passed since the last outing and this time the developers are trying to please everyone.

Living life a quarter mile at a time

Have you seen any of the Fast and the Furious movies? That’s what the campaign in Need for Speed Payback has on offer. As with the movies you’ll take control of a crew who is out to bring down a cartel that controls Fortune Valley, the House. Jess is your typical tough chick that will kick your ass, Mac is the cliché black character with a mouth and Tyler is the lead white guy with huge dreams and ambitions. Think of it as Letty, Roman Pearce and Brian O’Conner. It’s really as cliché as it gets. The story itself is also quite forgettable, but it’s definitely not where your interest should lie if you plan to buy a Need for Speed game.

There are even Hollywood-like set scenes to bring that Fast and the Furious theme into play and that’s the problem with Need for Speed Payback. It’s trying to be too much.

The series returns to its arcade roots and to do that the developers made a decision to try and please all the various Need for Speed fans over the past 20 years. Are you more into modding? You’ll be doing lots of that (whether you like it or not). How about a good ol’ hot pursuit challenge of cops being complete idiots? Yes, most definitely! Off-road? Tick. Drag Racing? Tick. How about traditional racing? Yes, it’s all there. There are even Hollywood-like set scenes to bring that Fast and the Furious theme into play and that’s the problem with Need for Speed Payback. It’s trying to be too much.

Depending on your tastes you’re going to absolutely love some disciplines and loathe others. It’s compulsory to complete all events if you plan to finish the game. It feels like a plate of food where you start with the food you dislike the most and leave the best for last as you make your way through each event. All you want to do is play the best bits that appeal to you, but you need to complete what you dislike as well. Each character has been designated to a particular discipline. Mac is your drifting and off-road specialist, Jess takes care of runner jobs and Tyler takes part in all race and drag events.

The street racing feels fantastic. Powersliding your car around corners is as satisfying as you’re going to get.

The street racing feels fantastic. Powersliding your car around corners is as satisfying as you’re going to get. The runner events are also very entertaining and hosts most of the chaotic cop chases. It gets hectic and the cops are overly aggressive. When I wasn’t swearing at them I was laughing at their stupidity at being so hellbent on destroying me that they’d bend themselves around a tree or drive off a cliff. Unfortunately, the off-road racing feels like a chore and lacks the punch and speed fans are after. It just completely breaks any momentum in the game. Unless big air is your thing it’s not going to impress. Drag racing comes down to personal choice, just make sure you have the right car for the job and that you can manually shift gears in record speed. There is much to do in Payback and it’ll remind you very much of a particular Xbox One exclusive racing game.

2 Fast 2 Horizon

Need for Speed Payback is a Forza Horizon 3 clone in its presentation. It’s a big open-world asking you to explore each and every nook and cranny in Fortune Valley to find all the hidden chips, jumps, speed traps, drifting zones and billboards to smash through. You’ll also be on the lookout for Derelicts – scrapyard cars that can be built up and restored to race again (like Barn finds in Forza Horizon 3). Throughout the network of roads you’ll find petrol stations that, once you pass through it, will repair your vehicle of any visual damage and acts as a fast travel location on your map. You’ll also find new garages to unlock and tune-up-shops. Get used to these tune-up-shops as you’re going to spend a lot of your time there. Before entering any event you’re provided with a recommended experience level for your vehicle. To level your vehicle up you need to install speed card upgrades to your ECU, head, exhaust, block, turbo and gearbox. Levelling up isn’t straight-forward either. When installing a new part it has a particular brand and perk attached to it. Install three of the same brands and you get and you receive perk enhancements. This is just the beginning.

To buy speed cards you can use credits you earned via events in the game, or you can use three part tokens to spin and win a random Speed Card. Part tokens are acquired when trading in speed cards that you don’t need anymore or via shipments. Shipments come your way via increasing your own driver reputation level (by driving on the wrong side of the road, catching air and other risky driving techniques) and inside each shipment, you’ll find a random vanity item, credits and that required part token. It’s basically the loot system. Run out and you either grind it out or use real-world money to buy another shipment. Should you want the improved premium shipment you have no other choice but to buy it. Thanks to the loot system, earning credits or part tokens (to upgrade your vehicles) is a long grind. Expect to re-enter many events to earn enough credits or sell enough unwanted part tokens to progress. The ecosystem is a bit of a mess and, as I’m sure this paragraph might sound, very confusing. It took close to 15 hours for me to completely grasp everything and how it all works and ties in with each other, though the game will last you well over 30 hours if you plan to finish it without using real-world money. There are other problems that money just can’t fix at this time.

There are very obvious draw distance issues.

Pay back the money

All racing games aim for a locked 60FPS and in Need for Speed Payback it’s not the case as you’re dealing with 30FPS. It’s something that most players will get over, but there is a much bigger sin at play here. There are very obvious draw distance issues. As you drive you’ll see trees and other background details popping up and it’ll catch your eye constantly. At times if was so bad that the painted lines on the road would struggle loading in time. Cars are also nowhere near as detailed as something you would have seen in Forza Motorsport 7, Project Cars 2 or GT Sport and looks dated on a 4K television, but a lot of attention was given to the visual damage model. There is no physical damage to your car, so your steering won’t ever give way, but the visual damage is impressive. There were times I finished an event with my beautiful Porsche 911 GT3 RS crumpled up like a piece of paper.

Visual customisation is once again playing a big part in setting up your dream ride. Each and every part on your car can be visually upgraded with more stylish parts. The hood, bumper, mirrors, tyres, rims, side skirts, rear and front fenders, head and tail lights, spoiler, bumper and more can be customised to something with your taste in mind. Painting and applying decals to your sexy Nissan GT-R Premium and other cars is also lots of fun. You can really personalise everything about each car. Players can upload their design online for all to see, as well as photos via photo mode. When heading online you challenge the times of friends in the well-established Autolog leaderboards as before. Multiplayer is still only an online option, but at least you do get rewarded with those much needed upgrade speed cards after each race if you finish in the top three.

Need for Speed Payback tries very hard to please everyone. There are some brilliant moments where the racing will have your heart trying to escape your chest and other times it’s exceptionally frustrating thanks to the upgrading structure being a right pain. If you can deal with the missteps there is a game to fall in love with, just don’t expect it to be a racing experience that will pay you back in full.

Good

  • At least 30 hours of content
  • The car engines sound amazing in this game
  • The powersliding feels so, so good
  • You'll genuinely adore the disciplines that stand out for you...

Bad

  • ...but other disciplines fall flat
  • Serious draw distance issues
  • An upgrading system that nearly destroys the experience
  • No steering wheel support at all
  • The soundtrack is abysmal

Summary

If arcade racing is what you're after Need for Speed Payback will deliver in loads, but don't expect to fall in love with each and every discipline in the game that's obscured by a frustrating upgrading system.
6.5

Fair

Married to a gamer and she kicks my ass at most shooters. If the game is enjoyable I'll play it, no matter the format.

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