Racing around an illuminated roundabout, neons shining off the tarmack below, Skindred’s Nobody blasting out of a pretend subwoofer, a shiny 206 with a garish color scheme and body kit. These are the things that give me fond memories of the Need for Speed series – bombastic songs that bring you back to a specific time and place, screeching tires that make you feel alive. Underground 2 was my first NFS, and since then I’ve adored games like Most Wanted and err… The more recent Most Wanted. No-one ever said they were imaginative with titling these games.
That lack of title imagination continues here, with Need for Speed. No subtitle on this one, that’s it, it’s just Need for Speed. You’d think that because they’ve chosen to go with such a plain title this game would be back to basics, hardcore racing that Need for Speed is all about. Well, that’s partially true, at least, but in some respects it feels like a step back.
One of the key things that makes Need for Speed stand out from the crowd is that atmosphere of true street racing – if the cops see you speeding around the city it’ll start a chase (unless you pay a fine), and the way they’ve made this feel more real than ever is by giving you live-action cutscenes featuring an entirely cringe-worthy cast.
Spike and the gang are “real” people, in that they’re acting – not motion capped 3D characters, full-on actors. There are sets, extras, background characters – the amount of effort that has gone into making these people feel legitimate is astounding, which makes it all the worse that they didn’t quite nail it. Unfortunately, everyone just suddenly wants to be your friend and hang out with you, they vie for your attention, all of which only highlights how incredibly fake and hollow they are. It’s also strange how they talk and interact with the camera – which is you. But what’s possibly most hilarious and absurd is how they try and make the camera feel like a person – you get handed a drink, and at one point someone lifts it to the camera, like you’re taking a sip. It was laughable, honestly, and there is nothing else I could say about it.
Onto the actual racing, I’m happy to report that Need for Speed is a very competent, if not outstanding racer. By default nonsense such as brake and drift assist are turned on, which you can (and should) flick off for a better, deeper experience. I can’t complain about how the cars handle and feel – it’s an absolutely acceptable racing experience, with neither any major pros or cons. Perhaps one thing I could complain about, if I’m really searching for something to complain about, is the lack of control you can feel at high speeds, especially when equipped with drifting tires. Of course, this is much less of a concern with grip oriented tires, but still – high speeds can feel unusual.
The race types are quite typical and don’t offer much variety, unfortunately; Drift races, Sprints, Time Trials and of course Circuits are all here, but rarely feel unique at all, with only the Drift race feeling any kind of distinct – but even then, you could easily win a drift race simply by drifting round the corners like you should in a racing game anyway.
Car customization is extensive, with the usual selection of decals, colors, tires, hoods, body kits and more. Performance can be tweaked with a variety of car parts – though for the most part, it’s a situation of the higher level you are, the better the parts you can unlock, with no benefits to choosing a less powerful piece of equipment. The higher level gear is better, so by the end of the game the insides of your car will likely be identical to any other player.
Onto the PC performance, I can’t complain with it in any respect. After all, Ghost Games did take lots of time to ensure that this version would get the care needed; I put all settings to the max on 1080P and enjoyed an incredibly solid 60FPS experience, but with my 980Ti I could have certainly run the game at even faster frame rates if only I had the display to do that. The Frostbite is in great shape here, too.
The roads are slick and wet everywhere, which has obviously been done so lights and reflections can shine off them, giving the game a very beautiful look. Lights whizz past at high speed, other cars do the same. The cars themselves look amazingly detailed in motion, and with such a great variety you really can’t complain. Though a note for Nvidia users – the controversial recent Nvidia drivers were working fine for me until I used NFS, which caused issues in the game and then in other games as well. Because of this I did have to roll back to the most recent stable drivers – something worth keeping in mind for the time being.
By far the most annoying part of the experience for me though (aside from those live-action cutscenes…) has to be the fact other online racers show up in your world. It’s somewhat frustrating when you’re racing and an AI racer not involved in your race comes barrelling down the road towards you head-on, but when REAL PEOPLE can involved in your offline races, things get crappy. A real player can happily decide to shunt you during your entire drift race should they choose to, meaning that you’re likely better off playing offline.
With completely acceptable racing, cringe-inducing cutscenes and a questionable online mode, Need for Speed for PC is a worthwhile racer, if not the best one available! You won’t regret your purchase, but you’re not likely to be recommending it to all of your friends either. Maybe wait for a sale, but rest assured that this is a well optimized port of a decent, if not amazing racer.