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Need for Speed Review (Xbox One)

My+Great+Capture+Screenshot+2015-11-03+03-28-00A world of perpetual night and twilight. That’s what Need for Speed offers you. It’s a wise decision, but also an unnerving one. Having crafted a game that looks most beautiful at night, you never see the game world in the midday sun. Instead, the day/night cycle in Need for Speed goes Night – Night – Night – Sunrise – Twilight – Night- Nightiest Night – Blackest Night – None more Night.

And though you might think this weird incongruity would weaken the immersion of Need for Speed, it in fact does the opposite. Played in the wee hours of the morning, the stunning visuals combined with the diverse (but mostly nocturnal) soundtrack makes for a strangely soothing experience. Need for Speed’s campaign feels like “one crazy night” and the rain slicked streets, hazy neon cityscapes and metronomic streetlights that flash past often caused me to sink into a hypnotic, soporific state of flow. When Need for Speed is good, it’s an all encompassing experience. Driving from checkpoint to checkpoint, I was generally having the most fun when barely aware of my missions or the story. The handling may be a tad heavy, but generally it’s forgiving enough to make for a satisfying driving experience.

image_52.adaptive.930.highSadly, that’s where the compliments run out. Need for Speed is a buggy, sluggish mess of a game, suffering from technical and performance problems that would test anyone’s patience. Combine these overt flaws with uninspired and occasionally frustrating mission structure, bizarre design choices, a poorly thought out mulitplayer component and a general lack of ambition and you have a really disappointing end product, especially for a reboot of a beloved franchise.

The technical issues are the biggest villain here. Slowdown is frequent and often game-disrupting. It’s most common in races where several cars are on screen at once, and it causes not only the gameplay to stutter and pause, but the audio to drop out and the whole game to groan painfully. It’s not the subtle, graceful slowdown that some games manage where an almost imperceptible slowness afflicts the game world; rather it’s the sticky, hitchy kind of slowdown. The kind that makes naive, casual observers ask why the game is broken and whether you have to take it back to the shop for a new one. It’s painfully obvious and painful to endure when playing. Worst of all, it happened to me more often during crucial moments, like trying to overtake an opponent or in the middle of a tricky drift. Spinning out and losing a race because the game couldn’t handle, well, being a racing game, is unacceptable.

image_50.adaptive.930.highThen there’s the server issues. Despite there being no real benefit to the other players who share your game space, Need for Speed wants you to share your experience with other human players. It’s reminiscent of The Crew (and incidentally shares many of the same problems as that flawed title), but human players are more likely to disrupt your races or challenges than help you. In the middle of a drift you’ll often be wiped out by a random human player. And of course there’s no way to pause a game during play when you’re sharing the game world with others.

I also had semi-frequent server problems where I lost progress. Most frustratingly, I lost connection during the last lap of a long race. When you’re kicked back to the menu screen in such a fashion, the desire to quit and play something else is overwhelming.

I mentioned The Crew above, and Need for Speed is bizarrely similar. Despite the similarity of the challenges and structure, Need for Speed is a noticeably worse game in almost all ways. Arguably it looks better, but The Crew had a massive world to explore, while Need for Speed is staggeringly unambitious when it comes to map size. Going between the missions I was surprised by how often I was driving down the same roads, making the same turns and passing the same landmarks. For all The Crew’s faults, it was a massive technical achievement to offer so much world to explore.

image_49.adaptive.930.highPerhaps Ghost Games hope their FMV interludes hook you with an amusing cast of characters and an interesting story. I think that in evaluating these sections, I’m more charitable than anyone else could be, and I still struggled to endure them all. I love cheesy FMV and bad acting, but I still looked for a skip button during some of these scenes. And tellingly, I couldn’t find one. Clearly Ghost Games think they’ve developed a lovable cast of misfits, but the sub Fast and Furious caricatures are a chore to endure, and the patina of authenticity conferred by the real world racing figures felt tacked on and incongruous.

Still, the gross product placement is a far greater sin than the cringey (but at least earnest) acting. If you’re into energy drinks or Hot Wheels, you’re in luck. It must be really depressing for the amazingly talented visual designers, artists and graphics programmers to see their beautiful game world smeared with layers of this utter shit. By the time you see the twelfth Hot Wheels truck on the same road, you’ll want to clean your television screen to get the stains off.

Then there’s the overly picky game decisions. When you pull up to an event, you have to face the proper direction to start it. Why? You have to press a button to start anyway. Why do you have to face the right direction to trigger the mission? It reposition’s you at the start of the race anyway.

image_2.adaptive.930.highThe variety of missions and activities are limited too. Collecting photos of locations is a matter of driving to a remote place and pressing the right bumper. The results are amusingly lame as the locations are frequently ugly. Do you want this polaroid of your car outside a fish shop? No thanks, you’re alright.

The worst missions are the formation drifting. You have to drift AND stay close to your team mates AND battle the frame rate drops and slow down. And with little interest in your performance, your team mates will frequently ram you off the road, obviously oblivious to where you are.

Then there’s the tiny icons in the customisation menus. And the confusing menu structure. And the fact that your friends call you over and over on the in-game phone. And and and and. It’s just one niggle after another.

It’s a real shame, because Need for Speed’s driving isn’t bad, and it looks great. But with a litany of other problems, its virtues are hard to find. Like a rising sun that sets a few moments later, you get only a tiny glimpse of Need for Speed’s potential before the darkness closes in once more.

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