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November 20 2015
Need for Speed - PS4 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
5/11/2015EA GamesEA GamesGhost Games1TBC
Version HDD Install Resolution Touchpad PS4 Exclusive OFLC Rating

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Need for Speed takes place at night.
Need For Speed isn't a franchise that needs much in the way of introduction having been around for over twenty years now. In-house EA developer Ghost Games, who took over development duties for the entertaining Need For Speed Rivals on current and last-gen consoles, have returned for this latest title, which is essentially a franchise reboot (hence the simple name). Have they put that experience to good use and crafted the ultimate Need For Speed title, or is there still room for improvement? Read on...

In this edition of Need For Speed there is a definite focus on a more story-driven campaign. The game kicks off with a short cut-scene of two street racers putting their pedal to the metal, drifting around corners at insane speeds before the police begin pursuit. After losing them and parking in an alley it turns out the player is driving one of the two cars. A young guy named Spike runs up to the window, introduces himself, and invites you down to the club to meet his crew.

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This is indeed an in-game screen, impressive isn't it!
Down at the club you meet Spike's crew – Manu, Robyn, Travis and Amy. Story sections such as these play out in live action cut-scenes, and while the personalities take a little bit of getting used to, the cut-scenes themselves grew on me as the game progressed. With real people on the screen it's easier to care for, or dislike certain characters, thus giving that little extra motivation to beat them or help them out when the opportunity arises.

The five members of the crew are all avid street racers, and they're all out to impress real-life street racing icons who just happen to be in Ventura Bay at the moment. I admit my working knowledge of street racing icons is very limited, but for those of you in the know Need For Speed features Magnus Walker, Ken Block, Nakai-san, Shinichi Morohoshi and the Risky Devil crew.

After the introductory cut-scene you're treated as one of the crew and you'll participate in a wide variety of events to earn cash and reputation. Reputation unlocks new items in the garage for you to customise your car, which of course requires cash to purchase. Most events are either all about speed (e.g. races and time trials) or style (e.g. drift contests and Gymkhana). Initially there are only a few events open to you, but as you progress you'll receive phone calls from your crew inviting you to more of them.

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Porsche are one of the biggest manufacturers in Need for Speed (2015).
Daily challenges can be selected from the main menu, with most of these revolving around initiating and escaping pursuit from the police. Challenges like “smash through x roadblocks in pursuit”, “escape a $x fine” and “start x pursuits by speeding” are common. There are three daily challenges and completing them all unlocks an item in the garage. Unfortunately the items aren't unique or especially high quality, which might impact how interested you are in completing them.

One thing Ghost Games has gotten nearly perfect is the progression system. At the start of the game most events can be won with your stock standard car. However as soon as the money starts to roll in and you unlock a few new items in the Garage via your Reputation level, the competition steps up and you need to make improvements to your car via the garage.

Need For Speed makes customising your car just about as simple as it can be. In almost all cases a more expensive car part is better than a cheaper one, but in case you're not sure there is a breakdown of important stats on the right of screen when browsing items. If the stats show you're going to improve your 0-60mph time, your max speed and/or the horsepower, you can buy that item with confidence.

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Jumping over a rising bridge!
It's not always a matter of simply equipping the best items though, as some are more suited to drifting, while others are all about the superior handling you'll need for speed races. You're given the option to fine tune all of this on your own via item specific sliders, or by adjusting an overall slider towards either speed or drift. Basically this is as idiot-proof a customisation set-up as you'll find in a game. And it also works. Some drift event targets felt impossible with whatever set up I had at the time, but with a little tweaking they became much easier.

I say the progression system is “nearly” perfect because it works all the way up to the end of the game, when the difficulty spikes noticeably, while money and Reputation become that much harder to earn once the story ends. The difficulty spike is felt most keenly in the speed events, where time limits become very strict at the same time as car handling becomes very twitchy. It makes sense that if you're driving your car at upwards of 200mph it's going to be hard to steer, but the combination of seemingly unavoidable crashes and tough time limits do become a major hurdle to progression late in the game.

There are some other issues with the game, highlighted by the "always online" requirement. Because of it, you can't pause the action, your connection can be adversely affected by other users (causing significant slowdown or stutter), or EA's servers themselves, you're subject to "griefers" and you can literally run into a group of racers heading the opposite direction mid-race. Unfortunately, there are currently nowhere near enough positives to justify its inclusion but it's impossible to even play solo without being connected.

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The game is set in Ventura Bay.
The campaign is a lot of fun, but it's over far too quickly. It will probably take fifteen or so hours to complete, and while that's not especially short there's very little to do once it's over other than repeat the same races for reduced cash and Reputation earnings.

Other issues include the high number of speed races that finish straight after sharp turns (cars designed for speed do not handle these turns well!), the absence of a cockpit view and manual transmission, as well as the fact the police have been relegated to the background. In all my time with the game I haven't been busted by the police once, and it seems they give up pursuit any time you hit a highway. It's a shame because the police are a potential X-factor that have always livened up proceedings in previous Need For Speed titles.

Visually, Need For Speed excels – Ventura Bay is as close to photo-realistic as we've seen in a racing game to date. Not only that, but outside of a few incidents of slowdown and stutter the game runs smoothly throughout. Cars look fantastic as you would expect, and they take damage as you trash your way around Ventura Bay. Damage is purely cosmetic – it doesn't affect performance – but it's good to see it included in the game.

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Need for Speed is visually stunning.
The live action cut-scenes also work really well which is something I didn't expect when I first saw them. In fact I'm converted and I hope it's something they stick with in future releases. One other thing we should note is the game only ever takes place at night or dusk – there's no day time racing in the game. It makes sense in the context of street racers breaking the law not wanting to stand out, but it's not going to appeal to everyone.

The music is suitably high-tempo, and while I didn't recognize many of the bands outside of Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, most of it fits in well. The sound effects are well done, but it's hard to go wrong with engine noises, screeching brakes and crashes.

Need For Speed is a fun but flawed game. On the fun side of things there's the excellent progression system, simple and effective customization, and enjoyable live action cut-scenes that make you care more about the protagonists. On the flawed side we have the "always online" requirement and its many shortcomings, as well as the short campaign and lack of a legitimate police presence. For me, fun won out. Just.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSThis is as close to photo realistic as we've seen in a game, and it runs smoothly for the most part.
SOUNDHigh-tempo soundtrack fits the game, and the sound effects are solid across the board.
GAMEPLAYGreat handling for the most part, but the game would be better without the “always online” requirement and a stronger police presence.
VALUEThe campaign is about fifteen hours long but after that there isn't much to do.
OVERALLNeed For Speed shows a whole lot of promise and delivers on a lot of it, but a few significant flaws bring it back to the pack.

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