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When Ghost Games rebooted Need for Speed in 2015, the studio's heart was in the right place, but the final product was simply not up to snuff. It was a drift-heavy racer focused on aftermarket custom cars trapped perenially in the twilight hours. The concept was grand, a unique way to bring Need For Speed back to promience. The problem was the handling was rough as hell and night in the fictional Ventura Bay ended up being rather boring after a few races. Contrasted with the open-world magic of the Forza Horizon games, and Need for Speed simply couldn't keep up.
Need for Speed: Payback is trying to rectify the situation in a few ways. Primarily, it feels like Payback draws on past racing games for its core, alongside the obvious multimedia influences like the Fast and Furious films.
"What we want to talk about is Need for Speed through a Hollywood lens," says Need for Speed: Payback producer Jeremy Chubb. "We can bring action inspired by our favorite movies to cars. I think that's something really spectacular in a Need for Speed game."
But while everyone sees the Fast and Furious influences, there's more here. With Need for Speed: Payback, it feels like Ghost Games has actually looked at the franchise's past to understand what players are looking for.
With the Need for Speed reboot, I installed a game I didn't continue to play after a few hours around the twists and turns of Ventura Bay. In my E3 2017 demo, I was surprised to find myself rather hyped for the future of Need for Speed.
It is clear that Ghost Games has looked at action racing films for inspiration. The first mission in the game is heavily action-influenced, with story campaign protagonists Tyler and Jess looking to steal a Koenigsegg Regera from The House, a criminal organization that holds something over the primary cast. In Tyler's custom Ford Mustang, the pair have to chase down a truck carrying the Regera. Tyler and Jess are only two of the three main characters in the game.
"You can change characters in Free Drive at any time," says Chubb. "They all have specializations and sets of vehicles that are associated with them."
Those specializations include sport, drift, and off-road kits for many of the cars in the game. There's also the new Derelict Car system, where players can hunt down parts for older cars in order to get them in working order. Every finished Derelict Car has a standard, sport, drift, and off-road kit for players. Overall, Ghost Games hasn't left behind the insane customization and real-world aftermarket parts of Need for Speed 2015.
Need for Speed: Payback brings together multiple influences though. The general nature of the heist is definitely from the Fast and Furious films, with Tyler attempting to get close enough to the cargo truck that Jesse can jump onto the vehicle to steal the Regera. As you race to catch the truck though, other racers from The House try to stop your progress by running you off the road. Here, Need for Speed: Payback recalls Burnout.
Need for Speed: Payback is "not an entirely connected online game" like Need for Speed 2015. Part of this change means the game isn't trying to sync your experience up with another player all of the time. When you destroy another car, Payback zooms in and slows down so you can enjoy your handiwork. Like Burnout, crashing is half the fun.
When Criterion Games was subsumed into Ghost Games, some fans wondered if the former studio's magic would find its way into the new Need for Speed games. Until now, that hasn't really been the case. With Payback, Need for Speed allows the player to check vehicles, causing them to crash and burn, just like the old Burnout games. In fact, with the way the camera moves, the general feeling of speed, and the handling of Payback's drifting, the entire game feels like a callback to Burnout Revenge. There's something primal about being able to destroy the competition.
In between the story sessions, there's an entire world to race around in. Here, Payback feels like Need for Speed: Rivals, one of the earlier NFS titles on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The general handling of the cars and the open-world reminds me of Rivals' environment. Rivals was Ghost Games' first shot at the franchise and ended up being a game that I mostly enjoyed. Seeing that general composition in Payback is a win for me.
And unlike Need for Speed: the Run, the game isn't all about the story. The story missions will kick things up a notch, but there are still races and other challenges for players.
"[Need for Speed: Payback] is entirely an open-world," says Chubb. "It's a huge map with a dynamic day/night cycle. there's tons to do in and around the world. When you're in missions and races, you get set locations. Anything in-between, you get to drive."
Essentially, Need for Speed: Payback might just be bringing together Fast and Furious, Burnout, and an older Need for Speed to create a game that could bring the series back to its proper place in the world. I love Forza Horizon, but a little competition makes everyone better. Need for Speed: Payback is coming PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on November 10, 2017.