Need for Speed Payback: An Honest Review

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If you’re a petrol head like me, then there’s no doubt that you’ve been highly anticipating the newest addition to the Need for Speed canon, Need For Speed: Payback.

NFS Payback is the latest title in the series, a follow up to the 2015 reboot and a chance for a new start in the 23-year-old franchise. I had heard a lot of exciting things about the game’s “action driving” experience before playing this game and suffice it to say, I was itching to get started.

Perhaps it was all of the anticipation I’d built up for myself from various media outlets and EAs coverage of Need for Speed itself, but playing this game was a double-edged sword – for every positive, there seemed to be a negative. While this incarnation fixes some of the more blatant problems of the 2015 offering, it also does away with a lot of the gains that Ghost Games achieved in good measure the last time around.

Need for Speed 2015

The 2015 Need for Speed was special but flawed – it managed to evoke the fun, exciting spirit of the 2003 and 2004 Underground games, and brought back a sense of visual customisation. Sure, it had a few too many cheesy, live-action moments, but we couldn’t get enough of the opportunity to interact with real-world automotive icons. Overall though, it was impossible to ignore the fact that the game was too short and its world was bland and empty. You may also recall that you couldn’t pause the game when in single-player mode, and there were no opportunities for drag racing until late in the action. These problems had to go.

The team at Ghost Games listened to the critiques, and responded with NFS Payback — complete with full HDR/4K support for the Xbox One X to boot!

This is a game that works hard to remedy all of those complaints, starting with length. There is no question of increased play time – it took me more than 19 hours to complete the initial story alone. When you add in all of the extra events, optional activities and drag racing, there are a few solid days (or even weeks) worth of fun here (especially considering that you can now pause the game!).

No complaints at all about length this time around.

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Action Driving? Not Really

Now that we have gotten the issue of length out of the way, I have to address some of the less pleasant parts of the experience. Sure, the game’s duration is satisfactory, but there are a lot of other issues at play.

Let’s talk about the so-called “action driving” experience that Ghost Games was keen to hype up. The marketing buzz around the title claimed that NFS Payback had toned down the street racing focus in lieu of exciting self-driving action, so I was prepared for a lot of adrenaline and fun.

Sadly, the reality is not as exciting as the buzz made it out to seem.

The street racing is still the main focus and bulks out most of the playing time. So where is all of that action driving? It is kept to just a scant few sequences and Payback’s new police pursuit scheme. Sure, it looks exciting and cool – like something out of the Fast and Furious movie – but playing the game itself is not particularly difficult, interesting or demanding.

NFS Payback doesn’t actually let the player do any of the heavy lifting – the game takes over whenever the stakes get high and the action gets good, with pre-determined cutscenes leaving me, and in fact probably many other players, asking why couldn’t we have at least had some quick-time events here instead of this scripted nonsense?

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Highly Scripted with a Mediocre Story

What’s the result of all this?

Well, I just drove from attractive cutscene to attractive cutscene. Everything is frenetic, fast and exciting to look at, but it is scripted to the teeth, and as a result not very intriguing.

Honestly, I can’t imagine playing these sequences again – I have no drive to do so pardoning the pun. Even escaping the police is no longer a challenging adventure – it’s now done along a linear set path with a number of set checkpoints. I really missed being able to choose my own tactics and doing something wild to throw them off, like zipping down little side streets or parking on a dark corner.

I must admit that the story failed to do anything for me either – I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it started off pretty promising and then petered out without coming to any kind of a conclusion.

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It didn’t do anything for me and well just kind of fizzled out. Quantity over quality, it seems.

Game Modes

When you’re in the single-player mode, you have the choice to play one of three characters: Tyler, Mac or Jessica.

Tyler Morgan is the main character, a speed racer hellbent on revenge after a double-crossing backstory. Jessica and Mac are members of his crew, and they each have their own specialities. You automatically switch between them to race in the various street leagues throughout the city, and of course defeat bosses and win the challenges that cap off every chapter.

In the multiplayer mode, you can play online against strangers and friends from around the world.

This is a lot more rewarding than the single-player because at least you have the unpredictability of dealing with other people. While they are not a reason to rush out and buy this game, the multiplayer races are fun. If you have this game and are not stoked about the single-player modes, I encourage you to stick around, at least long enough to try out the multiplayer options.

Gameplay Mechanics

I did enjoy the handling model – it was fun to use and really reminded me of an old arcade game. Long drifts are possible, and I had quite a good time noodling around and getting used to the controls.

When it comes to building speed, you need to get familiar with the game’s Speed Cards. For each car you and your crew own, you get six Speed Card slots, representing aspects such as your gearbox or your turbo. You earn these when you finish a race, but these ones are pretty basic. To get the Speed Cards that you want, you need to trade these standard ones in for ‘part tokens.” Get 3 of these and then you can take a shot at the Speed Card slot machine, an ‘in-game’ game that often yields far better results. I honestly found this reminiscent of ‘free-to-play’ phone games.

I kept expecting an angry bird to turn up.

The linearity of the car races and the thin storyline really let me down, which is a real shame. The chatter online and Reddit from series fans seems to be the same – while some of the 2015 bugs and issues were fixed, new ones have been introduced this time around and weigh on some of the better moments from Payback.


My honest opinion? It’ll be great for younger siblings or casual/inexperienced gamers like our own James Speyer, but anyone who loves racing games, the thrill of customising cars and difficult course structure will be let down.

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Despite high hopes, Need for Speed Payback comes up short. It might be at home in a 1980s arcade, but we expect more from racing games these days and unfortunately, an extra year in deployment wasn’t enough to save this interaction from franchise fatigued.Need for Speed Payback: An Honest Review