Racing Into The Night In 'Need For Speed'

After the release of Need for Speed Carbon in 2006, the popular racing series went through a few changes. There's the entry into professional street racing in Need for Speed ProStreet, the race tracks of Need for Speed Shift, and even a modern interpretation of some of the series' classic titles like Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted (the original Most Wanted is still my favorite game). The latest installation, then, isn't another modernized version of a previous title, nor is it a new endeavor. Instead, Need for Speed is the reset button for the entire series, an attempt to return the franchise back to its glory days.


The entire journey is based in a city called Ventura Bay, a city very similar to Los Angeles in terms of its downtown scenery. However, the developers took some creative freedom and added its own network of highways and mountain roads to make up the rest of the map. The game itself follows a very loose outline of a story. You meet a character named Spike, who introduces you to his close posse. This group of characters provide access to the many races and upgrades needed to become a better driver. Cutscenes feature live-action shots with the game's characters and sometimes include your digital car in a real-world garage.

As you race around the world of Ventura Bay, these characters will interact with you only via phone, keeping you abreast of specific events throughout the city. Take on enough of each character-specific mission, and you'll eventually reach one of the game's top five racing personalities. Other than that, there really isn't anything in terms of story to keep you hooked on any one character.

Race For Days

In terms of the big picture, those five characters represent the game's mantra of the "Five Ways To Play:" Speed (traditional racing), Style (drifts and jumps), Build (visual and performance upgrades), Crew (racing in a pack or drifting as a group), and Outlaw (baiting police and escaping custody).

Although the game emphasizes the different approaches to racing, it's actually difficult to stick to one discipline. More often than not you'll actually incorporate all of these traits during races, as everything from reaching your top speed, destroying road signs, or drifting through turns gives you points. All of this goes into your overall REP level, which provides access to more visual and performance upgrades for your car.

As you continue driving around the city, you'll find more than enough things to do. Aside from the story quest races, there are various ways to earn money and beat the opposition, from sprint races and time trials to drift sessions or multiple laps around a certain part of the area. There are more than enough of these alternative races, meaning you can easily stack up the money needed for future upgrades. However, you can just as easily play only the character-centric races and still have enough in your bank to get better upgrades.

Aside from racing against the computer, you can also compare your times and scores against friends. In fact, every time you boot up the game, you enter a session with other players populating the world. However, an online connection is needed to play the game, even if you don't interact with the other players. The emphasis on connecting with others through the "NFS Network" is completely unnecessary, as the series has always stayed with single-player gameplay. Having other racers invade the world or race around is fine, but it's forced upon you instead of being just an optional feature.

The Car Of Your Dreams

Of course, the other part of any Need for Speed game is customization. It's a feature that's been somewhat lacking in past games, but it's made a return of sorts. Various parts for your car such as turbochargers, the engine control, and good ol' nitrous units can be purchased to convert your car from stock into a full-fledged racing machine. You can further enhance performance by tuning your car with its various parts or make one easy, overall change to give your car drift or grip tendencies.

Visual upgrades are also included. There are the usual suspects of various vinyl and decal patterns to make your car unique, but you can also add custom parts like a new bumper, spoiler, or even a full body kit. Further inspection reveals that you can also tweak other characteristics of the car, such as its ride height, for better performance.

This balance of arcade and simulation customization is strange for the series, but it's not the first time it's been implemented; it's seen some exposure in past titles. What it provides is a suitable option for players. You can make the basic customization options by upgrading parts and determining whether your car is suitable for drift or grip racing, or you can spend a few more minutes making small tweaks to get the most out of your car.

Something More

Even with all of the multiple race events and a return to a more in-depth customization experience, this reboot is lacking substance, mainly in its story. The reason why 2005’s Need for Speed Most Wanted was so appealing to me was that it provided some form of motivation to keep playing the game. Back then. It was beating the rival racers of the Blacklist in an effort to get back your coveted BMW M3 GTR after losing it in a fixed race. With this reboot, I don't feel compelled to really do anything to advance the story. I'll just take part in a few races, upgrade, and then go out into the world again.

That isn't to say that Need for Speed isn't fun. It's been a while since I was thoroughly entertained by the series, and I'm glad development team Ghost Games is recognizing the fans' need for a return to nighttime racing and a detailed form of customization. There's clearly more work to be done, but this reboot is a step in the right direction.


Rexly Peñaflorida II is a Contributor at Tom’s Hardware. He writes news on tech and hardware, but mostly focuses on gaming news. As a Chicagoan, he believes that deep dish pizza is real pizza and ketchup should never be on hot dogs. Ever. Also, Portillo’s is amazing.

Follow Rexly Peñaflorida II @Heirdeux. Follow us on Facebook, Google+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

  • ahmyday
    Why did they make it always online? It's annoying AF.
  • alexandergc
    Why did they make it always online? It's annoying AF.
    Because of DRM, that's why.
  • mamasan2000
    Another 10 hour game with annoying hipster dialogue and physics coded by 5 year olds. Always night time. A rip-off.

    Yes pls (sarcasm)

    "own the cars of your dreams"?
    Really...I bet a Nissan Micra IRL is more exciting to drive than anything in NFS.
  • Chris Droste in the End this Is Need for Speed: Underground 3... or is that 4 now? kinda meh. LOVED Most Wanted though. I personally love the physics as the hardcore sim stuff in GT3/4/5 had me focusing too damn much on the instruments to make sure i was "going the right speed" to make turns, etc that i couldn't enjoy those. I like more open world stuff. but without a compelling core story or some robust group play I don't feel any compelling reason to pick this one up unless i want to say "i've played ALL the NFS series" but that desire left me largely by the time Prostreet kicked in and the reviews unanimously poo-poo'd it.
  • JacFlasche
    I will grudgingly confess that I have played NFS unleashed shift2 more than a few times.
    And more than a few times, in fact many many times, when I play it, I wish I had the person responsible for AI of the opponents cars tied up in my basement so I could slowly beat them to death with a chain.
    Like every time I waste a half hour in a race and another cars just crashes into me and I get a penalty for going of track, I could go down and smash them in the face a few times.
    That would be fair don't you think?

    Is there any racing AI that doesn't suck?

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  • Avus
    I like playing racing game, but this is one of the most disappointing title in 2015.
    You can save your $60 for this POS....
    - There is no manual transmission option!! Automatic only is completely insane. I just lost a race because the game was downshifting crazy late. You WILL stuck at 6th gear at low rpm and cannot do anything about it... (except brake and let AI pass you :angry: )

    -No in car view and this is a 2015 games with not many cars included.

    - There are numerous time trial events, which, for some reason totally unbeknownst to me, the game forces you to run with an AI partner sometimes. These partners have no reason to be there. You are not racing against them. And this AI is so damn stupid. They will actively try to run you off the road. Why in the actual fxxk am i being forced to run a time trial event with another car who is active trying to ruin my race?

    - it's weird only driving at night and twlight and then night again...

    - Raining is always in this game or after rain. This entire game is a wet sloppy mess...

    - Constant phone calls from storyline crew telling you to meet here, or there, or go to this race. It's like having your cusin Roman in GTA4 constantly asking you to go bowling.

    - When you open up the map screen, your car keeps moving. I have never in my 20+ years of racing games ever seen anything like that. When you open an entirely new new screen, they gameplay should damn well pause. WTF. This is has NO pause.

    - not that many car choices as well. No modern Nissan Z cars, only 1976 Fairlady, no EVO 8, no '10 STi hatch, no 22B Sti... but you get FRS, BRZ, GT86 which basically are the same cars... <_<

    - AI is bizarre. They will, at one point, be losing by a huge margin, only to come back out of nowhere to win. (aka rubber band AI)

    -Now, we come to the most insufferable, inexcusable, unforgivable part, The Inter thing. You MUST be connected to EA's servers at ALL times, or else the game will just shut down. Yes, that's mean if they are doing maintenance, you can't play. They just did that 2 days ago! I got kicked off my single player, offline game because some smart person at EA decided that 8:00pm was a good time to do server maintenance. This is absolutely mind-blowing to me. This isn't an MMORPG, this isn't an FPS shooter thing, it's a bloody racing game, and I am forced to connect to the INternet or I can't play it period. This is insulting. This is EA at its absolute worst.

    - The entire story is an advertisement for Monster Energy sodas. I counted 3 times you were handed a Monster drink in first person at a party. Ken Block is wearing Monster gear, people are wearing hats, people are constantly drinking Monster. It's so offensively blatant it's hard to tell if it was either a joke or a test. We are talking about at least 20-25minutes of HD footage of Monster advertisements. Who the fxxk will drink Monster drinks at the party?? :facepalm:
  • Achoo22
    Why did they make it always online? It's annoying AF.
    Because of DRM, that's why.
    It's deeper than that, though. It's really about a desperate need to control every aspect of the gameplay while collecting analytic data about its players.

    I can't speak for console gamers, but EA has made it terrifically easy to ignore all of their products these days. The buzz, even for their popular titles, is short lived and I do not run Origin.
  • Achoo22
    17027481 said:
    I like playing racing game, but this is one of the most disappointing title in 2015...
    I very much enjoyed this mini-review. You covered many of the points that matter to me. Thanks.
  • Anathemata
    Two things killed it for me: the cut-scenes, and the lack of controlled gameplay.

    The cut-scenes were just awful. Yes, as stated above, they were blatant promotions for Monster. In addition, they were written, directed, and acted terribly. I am SO glad the trophy for the outlaw reveal was named "Were you surprised? Yeah, me neither." because it was obvious from the start.

    The gameplay kills me, too. Yes, I know I don't play NFS to run a perfect line in every race. I know the physics is BS, and I know that this is not a realistic racing simulation. That doesn't mean you can both completely ignore car damage and make it difficult to stay on the road. You also can't program the AI to run into you in every race. Rivals was pretty good in this regard. The physics was a pure fantasy, but there were still ground rules to the driving that you could follow that allowed you to run without incident and be rewarded for it. In this game, I crash three times in the final outlaw mission on my first try and still come in first place.

    I will still push for the platinum trophy, but only because I am a sucker for this franchise and I want to be able to say I completed the entire game. For their next title I am going to wait for the reviews before I spend my money.