The Need for Speed series has evolved over the years. As car culture changes, so too does Need for Speed, adapting to the times and ensuring what they have on offer fits the needs and wants of the audience. While not everything works, when the team behind Need for Speed are on point, it is normally a game I will play all year. Something about the driving model and level of “pick up and play” fun hits a sweet spot that few rival titles can compare to. This year, Ghost Games are stepping it up, taking things from car culture and the bombastic concepts seen in movies like The Fast and the Furious and combining them in a way that works better than you would think.

Need for Speed: Payback Preview - Living a Quarter Mile at a Time 1
Need For Speed: Payback – gameplay image credit: EA

First and foremost, Need for Speed: Payback is an arcade racer. There have been titles in the franchise such as Need for Speed: Shift that changed the formula, but those are outliers. The core series has always been about letting the player jump into some of the most powerful, most stunning cars in the world and simply enjoy driving them. In reality, many of the cars on offer in the game would be beasts to control, giving you far more power than any normal person would need, yet Need for Speed: Payback makes everything accessible. It is a game that takes that power and presents it in a way that anyone can pick up and enjoy.

I am happy to say this year’s installment is no different.

After picking up the controller and jumping right into one of the story missions it was obvious that the team put a lot of care into ensuring the driving model worked as you would want. Understanding how to control even the most powerful car was easy, even if it was hard to master. The driving model worked as expected, making for a fun—if simplistic—experience. The real showcase on display with this latest build of the game was the story players will experience when they pick up Need for Speed: Payback.  This is a story clearly inspired by The Fast and the Furious film series. You will need to work with your crew to take on missions that range from taking down a truck with precious cargo to escaping with one of the most powerful cars in the world—it is a game filled with Hollywood Blockbuster moments.

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Need For Speed: Payback – image credit: EA

As you take on a mission, you will hear the typical chatter between yourself and your crew with a few cutscenes thrown in for good measure. The dialogue is ridiculous, the story is ludicrous, and it all works perfectly. From the section I played, Ghost Games has somehow managed to capture the secret sauce that makes driving and action work in Hollywood—the only difference here is that you are part of the action. From cars bursting into flames as you drive past to taking down cops as you make a getaway, it is all present and all fun.

Now, if you are a purist that wants to play a realistic driving game for the thrill of the car, this is not the game for you. While all the cars present are real world offerings, with models from companies like BMW, Nissan, Mercedes, Porsche, etc., they will not have real world driving models. At its core Payback is an arcade racing experience and it wears this fact on its sleeve.

As you drive around the landscape of Fortune Valley you will witness canyons, cities, deserts, and mountains, all realistically rendered in a way that draws you into the world of Need for Speed: Payback. This is a game that draws you in, and while you may only be able to experience the landscape from the driver’s seat as you zip past, the attention to detail goes a long way in building a living, breathing world

The Frostbyte engine shines in all its glory with Need for Speed: Payback. The weather effects, car detail, and overall look of the game is nothing short of stunning. The realistic portrayal of the world and cars cannot be overstated. The team at Ghost Games has taken real care to build something that stands as the pinnacle of driving games. It is a game that will work well to show off your new 4K screen, or even to your friends when they ask to see the power of a PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One X.

Need for Speed: Payback Preview - Living a Quarter Mile at a Time
Need For Speed: Payback – image credit: EA

It is hard to say it Ghost Games can manage to keep the action, fun, and interest that has been on display so far from Need for Speed: Payback, but if they do, it will be a real winner this Fall. The Need for Speed franchise may have fallen on hard times in past years, but if what I have seen of Payback is any indication, those years are behind them.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil Brown’s interview with Paul Waugh and Aaron Paul about the Need For Speed movie, or why Brendan Frye thinks you need to play Need For Speed! 

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