The follow-up to 2015’s Need For Speed reboot tries to copy the Fast & Furious formula, and will certainly get you very angry, very quickly. Games Inbox: Would you play a Witcher spin-off game? Need For Speed Payback is depressing. It’s depressing because of what it says about the current corporate culture of major video game publishers; it’s depressing because it will probably mean the death of the Need For Speed franchise, and very probably the developer that made it; and it’s depressing simply because it’s such an appallingly bland and repetitive video game. We put the blame for all this squarely on EA themselves, as more than anything else we’ve played recently this feels like a game that has been designed solely by marketing men and accountants. Developer Ghost Games made the perfectly good Need For Speed Rivals back in 2013, and many of their staff worked at Criterion – creators of the even better Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Most Wanted, and Burnout Paradise. You’d never guess that while playing Payback though, as you’re forced to endure its feeble attempts at a Fast & Furious style crime drama. The more recent heist-based sequels should be perfect for video game adaptation, and yet the action and storytelling in Payback is almost laughably inept – in large part thanks to a trio of main characters so lacking in charm and charisma they could run for public office.
Payback is set in a fictional U.S. county based on Las Vegas and its surrounding area, with the story involving you seeking vengeance against a double-crossing criminal organisation and its legions of street-racing lackeys. The dialogue is excruciatingly bad and sounds like a 60-year-old business exec’s idea of what young people talk like. But the worst part of the storytelling is how it constantly impinges on the gameplay. Payback is an arcade racer, and a purposefully simplistic one at that. That’s not a problem – we miss Ridge Racer as much as anyone – and the fact that you can play almost the whole game just by drifting, and never touching the brake, is one of its best features. But the overall handling is bland and unexciting, and like the 2015 game the sense of speed is inexplicably poor. And then on top of that you have the problem of how in the story campaign the game is constantly interrupting what you’re doing with cut scenes. Anything faintly exciting or out of the ordinary, from duelling with a helicopter to simply driving up a car ramp, is completely out of your control. What should be the most exciting parts of the game are shown merely as pre-fabricated cut scenes. Although given how ineptly the game tries to replicate Burnout style takedowns, where smashing a car off the road results in a few seconds of slow-motion destruction, it’s no wonder the game won’t trust itself with anything more elaborate. Need For Speed Payback (PS4) – slow-motion racing One of the few saving graces of Playback is the open world environment, which is impressively large and makes good use of DICE’s Frostbite graphics engine. But all that is wasted by a lack of memorable locations and interesting events. There’s plenty of variety in the point-to-point races, off-roading, drift competitions, drag racing and others, but there’s nothing remotely unique about their implementation. There aren’t even police cars patrolling the road, and so you only ever get to race them in specific events. After the complaints aimed at the reboot this keeps the story campaign and multiplayer completely separate, with the former being fully playable offline. But the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and the multiplayer options are now just an anaemic collection of casual and ranked races that provide no incentive to take them seriously. Oh, but we haven’t even got to the worst bit yet. Payback features more grinding than a ‘90s Japanese role-player, since each event has a recommended level you have to reach to beat it. Meanwhile, customisation is handled by a weird collectable card system, that increases your car’s stats like it’s a mage in a Final Fantasy game. If your car doesn’t meet requirements you’ve got no choice but to repeat events you’ve already completed until you’ve got enough new cards.
Your own driving skills can mitigate things to only a small degree, and it’s basically impossible to beat most events unless you’re at or close to the level recommendation. You can spend earnt in-game currency to get more cards, but since you also need that to buy new cars it’s really no solution. The only other option, and we bet you saw this coming, is to spend real money on loot boxes. It’s almost impressive just how much Payback manages to get wrong on every single level. If it was actually a decent racer it’d still be ruined by level grinding and repetitive events, and if the role-playing and loot boxes are removed before launch this would still be an incredibly tedious racer.
What’s infuriating is that EA themselves has published half a dozen games with a similar premise that are vastly better than this, and still perfectly playable today. Given that fact we strongly advise you to seek out the games we mentioned in the intro. But if you do make the mistake of buying Need For Speed Payback, or get it as an unwanted present, then just do what the name suggests and get a refund as quickly as possible.