Need for Speed Payback Xbox One Review

November 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Xbox One, Reviews & Features, Xbox

Publisher: EA  Developer: Ghost Games  Genre: Racing  Players: 1-8  Age Rating: 12+  

Other console/handheld formats: PS4

Something that is sorely lacking in the gaming industry today are arcade racers. Despite the focus on these games being more of a fun drive in comparison to the racing simulation, there just aren’t enough of them, which is a real shame. Luckily, Need for Speed Payback is such an arcade racer, and it’s one that handles really well, even if certain things in the game have proved to be rather questionable and have already forced a rethought on the part of EA.

Need for Speed Payback does away with the live action cut-scenes of 2015’s Need for Speed game in the single player, although that in no way means that they have done away with the story also. This time around the narrative follows racers Tyler Morgan, Jessica Miller, and Sean ‘Mac’ McAlister, whom are a racing crew looking for revenge after being double crossed during an attempted heist. The story is actually pretty decent for what it is in my book, and will bring to mind the Fast and the Furious films to many.

Need for Speed Payback takes place in Fortune City, and its environment has you racing through the city as well as miles and miles of its surrounding countryside. It’s a well designed open-world that is always fun to drive around, with jumps, speed cameras, drift zones, speed zones, as well as hidden pick-ups to be found, and billboards to be smashed up. The game even takes a page out of Forza Horizon’s book in the way that you can come across car wreckages, which can then be restored, although the difference here is that you must find the body first and then parts in order to do, which can take quite a lot of time and searching about. Of course, what would a Need for Speed game be without some racing? With that said, there are also plenty of events to be found out in the open-world.

This time around, the game takes place at both day and night. Despite the soggy streets of the previous game, it never rains in Payback.

The game has various racing events to its name, which helps keep the repetition at bay, and the handling model is also very intuitive, but might not sit well with those who would like a little more weightiness to their vehicles. Events are split into race, drag, offroad, drift, and runner categories, and they are all different enough to set each one apart from the last. In a nice touch, different members of the crew have their own specialties, which means that Tyler is the one that takes part in race and drag events, drifting and off road racing meanwhile falls to Mac, and finally Jessica is a getaway driver as well as a courier, which means that her events are often more action based than the others. You’ll be taking part in all of these events by going head to head with the various crews of Fortune City, facing their members, and then taking on the leaders themselves. Besides the aforementioned events, there are also action-based moments, which often have you controlling all the crew members at different points, and these sections are often nothing short of exhilarating.

Another pleasing little touch are the Sidebets, an optional feature that comes before each and every event in the game. The game allows you to bet on whether you think you’ll be able to accomplish certain things such as hitting a specific speed before winning a race, driving cleanly for 30 seconds, racking up a requisite number of near misses, and so on. It’s a delightful feature which allows you to earn a little bit of extra virtual money if you manage to achieve a task while also giving you something extra to focus on besides just winning each and every event.

Less delightful is Payback’s rather unpredictable AI, which have way too much of a reliance on rubber banding their way past you. This does mean that much of the time races are kept close and exciting, although it does make vehicle upgrades seem all the less important as even if your car is upgraded significantly past the recommended level for an event, the AI still puts up a fight, with at least one or two opponents following closely behind you when you are head of the pack.

As for the police in Payback, they are present, although they can no longer chase you out in the open-world, with their presence always being at scripted moments during events. They are at their best in number when they box you in and can also be rather aggressive, although I found it nearly impossible to get arrested, and I actually thought it was impossible until I tested the possibility. Police chases are exciting, and seeing a police car flying through the air in slow motion after being taken down is always a satisfying moment to behold, but the police are definitely missed when just driving around in the open-world.

As for the earlier mentioned vehicle upgrades, these happen through newly introduced Speed Cards this time around, which are a huge departure from a typical upgrade system in a racing game, bringing to mind Ubisoft’s The Crew. You’ll be upgrading six different components of your car, which includes exhaust, gearbox, turbo, ECU, block, and head.  To upgrade you have to equip Speed Cards, which have positive and, sometimes, detrimental effects on 10 stats for your car, and some of the cards also have additional perks, which means that it is possible for an exhaust card to improve the brake power and brake response of a vehicle for example. Speed Cards are won in events (drawing one card out of three face down cards) as well as purchased from Tune up Shops, but the cards are always random, which means it is pot luck as to how helpful a card will be to you, and when it comes to the tune up shops there’s also a wait time before card stock is refreshed. If you do get a card that you do not want to use at that point in time, you can either sell it for cash, send it to your garage for later use or you can turn it into a part token. The part tokens are useful in the way that you are able to trade three of them in order to roll for better cards, allowing you to choose which part that you are aiming to improve.

Payback doesn’t have quite the style that the previous game did, although it’s still a real looker.

If you are thinking that Payback can be a bit of a grind at times, then you’d be right, and some are calling for the return of a more traditional upgrade system. Even though it’s possible to purchase new vehicles, I found that sticking with my initial fleet was the best way to go for the bulk of the game, as it meant that progress was quicker if I just focussed on upgrading my original cars as opposed to buying new ones and also having to upgrade them as well. Later on you do find that you have to purchase some new cars in order to stay competitive though, as earlier vehicles can only be upgraded so far. Luckily, EA have had a bit of a rethought about the progression system though, and have made the game less of a grind with faster rewards coming from races, and quicker replenishing of stock in the tune up shops. It all makes for a better game than it was initially, and means that it no longer feels as if paying out extra money to get things done more quickly via premium shipments doesn’t feel as blatantly forced on you any longer, with the virtual cash and rewards now coming to you easier, but it doesn’t alter the way that upgrading is done, and this won’t sit well with those who have taken a dislike to it.

Unlike other recent games in the series, Payback segregates its single player and multiplayer modes. In spite of this though, things like your vehicles and cash are shared between the two modes. Multiplayer has you taking part in the same races from the single player mode, and it’s certainly fun to take part in these events against human opponents. The free roaming aspect will most likely be missed by many though, and those same people will be questioning as to why EA decided to split up the two modes as opposed to keeping them singular.

Despite still having a number of issues spoiling the fun, Need for Speed Payback is definitely a better game now than it originally was, and developer Ghost Games are promising to continually improve it, but still the changes may very well be too little, too late for those who quickly abandoned the game. It’s certainly what could be called a fine arcade racer that takes place in a likeable and attractive open-world though, complete with satisfyingly simplistic handling, lots of events and tasks, and a rather throwaway story that is still fun enough for what it is.