Tag Archive: Ghost Games

The Need for Speed franchise was once one of the great racing series in video games. Its regular releases and fast-paced, arcade action helped set the standard that many other racing franchises would mimic. As the series has precipitously fallen out of favor in recent years, though, Need for Speed now lags behind, watching as other series basically lap them in areas the series once excelled in, particularly narrative. It is no longer on an annual release schedule, taking its time in trying to regain the winning formula it has lost. And it appears that the series’ newest upcoming entry, Need for Speed Payback, is still having something of an identity crisis.

Borrowing inspiration it seems from the most prolific racing movie franchise ever, Fast and Furious, Payback follows a trio of drivers who must put their unique skills—Tyler is all about speed, Mac is all about stunts, and Jess is all about control—to the test against The House, an evil cartel that controls their home of Fortune Valley.

The demo we played feels exactly like a heist cooked up by Vin Diesel. Tyler must drive Jess to a tractor-trailer transporting a supercar. Jess, via cutscene, will then jump onto the roof of the trailer, escape with the car out the back where our perspective shifts, and must then evade the police on the way to claiming the car for our triumvirate of protagonists.

The perspective shift was an interesting aspect of the demo, although I personally would love a choice where you can follow either Tyler or Jess and add some real nuance to the narrative, which is a clear focus for Payback. The racing also felt solid, with the cars performing in a way you’d expect from any modern arcade racer. It’s when the demo got overly cinematic, though—taking control away from me and the other players who tried the demo at EA Play—that everything really fell apart for me.

Mid-level cutscenes are nothing new in games, but in racing games, the flow of the race is as important as finishing first (or escaping in this case). It was particularly jarring whenever you faced off against guard vehicles from The House. Marked with spades and lifebars above their cars on the HUD, you need to ram so many House cronies off the road before Jess make her death-defying leap onto the tractor-trailer. Every time you took out one of these cars, the camera would jerk away from your car and focus on the slow-motion crash of your enemy. Every. Single. Time.

Not only did this break the immersion of the moment, but the camera swinging around at uncomfortable speeds and settling into an unfamiliar angle for a few moments made it difficult to settle back into the mission at hand when control was finally returned to my thumbsticks. It looked cool, and would play great in a movie. In a video game, it felt unnecessary and destroyed the moment.

When your franchise is floundering, it’s understandable that you would want to try different things. It also makes sense to look at similar things to your genre for inspiration in improving your own product. But not being able to recognize what people do or not enjoy about your game and borrowing the wrong elements could spell doom. And as long as Need for Speed Payback cares more about looking like a movie than a video game, then it looks like it’ll do something that is universal to both film and games. It’ll crash and burn.


Rivalry renewed

While at New York Comic Con 2013, I had a chance to go hands-on with both the PC and PS4 version of Need for Speed: Rivals. Before getting into the details of what I actually played, I do want to say how gorgeous the PS4 version looked. I don’t have specs for the PC the game was running on in order to make a true comparison, but the PS4 version looked just as good, if not better. No matter what opinions you may have going into the next generation, we should all be able to agree on how pretty it’s going to be.

OK, so now that that’s out of the way, this demo focused on a couple of thingsone of them being what it means to be the law in Need for Speed. After going through the basic tutorial for both racers and police, I got thrown behind the wheel of a patrolman’s car and sent after illegal street racers, trying to ram them into submission. Much like the racers, though, there were speed points that tested our average speed and set records that, in the final version of the game, would be uploaded to Autolog.

The demo was fun, but the small slice of gameplay felt more like a demolition derby than something you’d normally expect from Need for Speed. The cars handled well and looked great, but I’d be lying if I didn’t have some concern over the variety of gameplay—or lack thereof—you might see as a police officer. All I did was race and knock other cars off the road. This could also change depending on the class type you choose when you play as the 5-0. Of course, it’s not easy to show off how a game will truly feel and play over the 20 minutes of hands-on time I got, either, so I’ll just say that I’m reserving judgment at this point.

The other major feature of the demo showcased the interplay between Rivals and Need for Speed Network. Using an iPad, I watched a map overview of several developers and testers who were part of the Network profile’s friend list. From there, I could choose to either help them through a few taps on the iPadgranting them nitrous boosts or other buffsor grief them by adding helicopters to their respective chases that would make it harder from them to lose the police on their tail.

Network also keeps track of your game progress and how well you do compared to your friends in certain areas—not to mention the head-to-head numbers, adding another nuance to why this game’s called Rivals. There’s nothing like seeing concrete numbers displaying who’s better than who to stir up a little friendly trash-talking among friends.

The NYCC demo may not have given me as fleshed out a view as I’d have liked, but at the very least, I can say that my curiosity is piqued. Technically, Rivals seems to be as tight as you’d expect from a game labeled Need for Speed. Now, it’s just a matter of seeing whether new developer Ghost Games can deliver enough quality content to live up to the brand.