When a franchise is rebooted, the first installment should be considered a flagship entry in the series, proving to be superior to every predecessor in the franchise. There should be numerous improvements and steps forward across the board, ranging from visual graphics to actual gameplay to innovation and originality. Need for Speed, unfortunately, missed the mark on many of the prerequisites that a successful reboot calls for, and its only redeeming factor is the minimally overhauled customization made popular in the Underground series. The latest installment in the Need for Speed franchise is not an addition to the Underground series, despite popular belief, and thanks be to God for that, as I do not find it worthy whatsoever.
Need for Speed immediately reminded me of my days in high school, where a large percentage of students only cared about spending ridiculous amounts of money to make their rust-box of a Honda look like it was lining up for a Fast and Furious audition, only to be sent home with its dreams crushed and a pocket full of disappointment. As a matter of fact, it's what most teenagers around here do today, too. It's this weird, immature subculture that I will never really understand; the true automotive culture is something to be proud of and truly showcases diverse, unique skills and art styles from around the world. Need for Speed just really reminds me of those kids who can't be a part of that community and instead, just pretend that they're sponsored by Hoonigan or Rocket Bunny and hang out in Wendy's parking lots on Thursday nights, showing off their i-VTEC or negative camber. Like my mother always said, "With the amount of money they've spent to make that ugly thing look halfway decent, they could have just purchased a significantly nicer car."
I think it's the dialogue that does it, really. From the moment I started Need for Speed, I was waiting for someone to drop the word, 'hella' in serious conversation. It hasn't happened, surprisingly, or if it had, I missed it. The dialogue is absolutely cringe-worthy and I'm forced to undergo overwhelming sensations of embarrassment whenever I'm watching a cutscene with a friend or family member. I feel embarrassed for the characters speaking. However, the actors in these interesting, live-action cutscenes miraculously don't suck; they actually do a bang-up job of perfectly embodying their respective stereotypes. Despite the God-awful dialogue, there are some likable characters, like the gorgeous Amy who works in the garage and reminds me of a renegade hipster at Coachella that criticizes Starbucks, fights government oppression and never spits out her chewing gum. Emanuel, or 'Manu,' looks like The Weeknd and a Hawaiian yogi and personifies that leadership quality in some kind of weird, father-figure, fight the police way. Robyn is pretty cool, because she embodies a sort of sleeper agent; she's an attractive blonde that looks like she belongs working at Hollister or American Eagle, but can hold her own as she dominates a race. She hangs out primarily with men, but it is very obvious that Robyn is a "one of the guys" kind of girl, but still retains her feminine qualities. Spike is your traditional, spoiled, white privilege, trust-fund-rich-kid that walks around in a $2000 leather jacket, drives a gaudy BMW and tries way too hard to fit into a culture he doesn't belong in. Regardless of their irrelevant backstories, every character in the game seems like they belong there; their conversations are absolutely shameful, but somehow, it works.
Need for Speed features some kind of story that's a little all over the place. It makes sense for awhile, then you get lost for a few hours, and then it starts to make a little sense again. In a nutshell, your character and their hooligan friends are each trying to impress a different racing icon in Ventura Bay, California, in which each icon is a real person in the racing community: Akira Nakai, Magnus Walker, Risky Devil, Ken Block and Shinichi Morohoshi. Naturally, the game revolves around you earning street reputation in different areas of gameplay: Speed, Style, Build, Crew and Outlaw. Becoming an ultimate icon in all of these sectors is your ultimate goal and to be honest, the narrative isn't bad. It's definitely one of the best narratives ever created for a racing game, aside from the Forza Horizon series, and as goofy as it is, it works for the game.
Visually, Need for Speed is unimpressive. It is absolutely nothing worth shouting about and makes DriveClub and Forza look even more photorealistic by comparison. The graphics aren't inherently bad, that's for sure, but actual gameplay does not look anything like the screenshots or pre-alpha gameplay footage. It's quite the noticeable downgrade and it is highly disappointing. Ventura Bay is almost reminiscent of Alaska, because it is constantly dark and always raining; I'm not entirely sure which region of California does not have daylight or dry weather whatsoever, but remind me to never go there. It's a shame too, because with the game constantly taking place at night, it makes it incredibly difficult to actually enjoy the customization you put on your vehicle. Don't bother making your BRZ's rims a different colour, you'll hardly be able to see it, and be careful which colours you paint your car: my BRZ is 'Tiffany Blue' in the garage, but mint green on the street. Maybe it's poor lighting effects, or maybe it's just the fact that the game is always on night mode.
Customization has returned and while it is in-depth, I feel like there still just isn't enough variety. Some vehicles have significantly more options than others and without any way of knowing which is more "customizable," purchasing new vehicles may as well be a gamble. Fortunately, you can sell vehicles you've purchased, but due to depreciation, you won't get back exactly what you paid. At least you aren't ripped off, though. I purchased a Ford Mustang Foxbody for $15,000, if I recall correctly, and after deciding it wasn't really my cup of tea in terms of customization options, sold it immediately after for $9,000 or something like that. Your options can range from body-kits to front and rear bumpers, fenders, side skirts, rims, tires, overall stance, paint, decals, license plate and a few more options. I've been hesitant to venture away from my BMW M4 and Subaru BRZ primarily because of the unknown options available for other vehicles.
Vehicular handling, for lack of a better statement, needs Jesus. It has been noticeably improved since the closed beta, but still remains far too tedious for an arcade racing game. With tuning your vehicle's handling, you can fine-tune it to lean more toward the drift side or the grip side, but even if your setup is somewhere in between, your vehicle will still feel on-the-whole unstable, even when attempting to make subtle corrections at high speed. Leaning more toward grip will give you ultimately better traction, but will render drifting nearly impossible and will require a massive slowdown in order to take a decent turn. Leaning more toward drift will give you more control, but will simulate driving on never-ending black ice, which will almost always result in a crash. The handling doesn't render the game unplayable, but it is certainly on the difficult side when it comes to finding enjoyment; even when I was having the most fun with the game, it was cut short by frustration brought on by the poor handling mechanics. I still question the mindset of the development team behind it; exactly who is responsible for giving the green light on this game when the handling is entirely sporadic.
Need for Speed is yet another gaming experience that requires a mandatory, always-online setup. Without an Internet connection, you will not be able to play the game. I am not a fan of games like this whatsoever, because not only do I feel forced to interact with other players, but in the event of inclement weather and I lose my Internet connection, I am unable to play the game I paid for. Obviously, players will know this going into the game and ultimately purchasing the game is their own decision regardless, but the bottom line is that without an Internet connection, the game is unplayable. I find it pointless, given the fact that it was rare that I was ever playing with more than four or five other players at once and not once did I interact with any of them. Need for Speed doesn't particularly force you to play with other people, but the idea of the always-online experience may significantly turn away other gamers.
Overall, it certainly isn't the worst racing game I've played, but it definitely isn't the best. As a matter of fact, while Need for Speed is a step in the right direction, it is still several steps back in many other regards and inspires hope that with the next installment, they'll take their development a little more seriously and try to create something actually worth its asking price. I'm glad I decided to participate in the beta and wait until Need for Speed went on sale before purchasing it. At $20 for the deluxe edition, even though I don't love the game, I can't complain; but if I'd paid the full price of $70, I would have been terribly livid.