Is Payback the NFS We’ve Been Waiting For?

A video game review; this is something a little different for the blog but something that is surely relevant to many people, so I thought: why not?

It should be no surprise that a good percentage of my video game collection consists of racing-based (or otherwise car related) titles, so naturally I added the new Need For Speed: Payback to that. When the first teasers of Payback dropped this summer I immediately added it to my list of games to buy and downloaded it as soon as it came out. Admittedly I don’t purchase many games each year but there was no way I was passing this one over.

I still maintain that for my money, the best street racing game I have ever played is Need for Speed Underground 2. Something about the combination of the cars, the range of customization, the world, and other factors made it very replayable for me (I beat the campaign three separate times and logged many more hours just free-roaming and messing around) and however many years later it is now, I still hope for a new title to catch that magic again. Need for Speed 2015 (NFS 15) was a worthy attempt but had its shortcomings – some of which really left a sour taste for players – so naturally many have been wondering how good Payback would be as its follow-up.

The game was released earlier this week (for the Deluxe Edition owners) but I started playing last week with the EA Access early trial; it consisted of the first two chapters and most of the free-roam activities so I was able to get a good feel for Payback, but now that the full game is out I have played through further as well.

I won’t keep you waiting any longer; I’ll get to the point that I’m sure is on the top of nearly everyone’s list of curiosities/concerns, and that would be the physics. They’re better. They’re not Forza physics but they’re much, much improved over NFS 15. If you were fine with NFS 15’s physics, you’ll love these; and if you didn’t enjoy NFS 15’s physics, I’d still suggest giving this a shot. You should be impressed.

Also falling under the ‘driving experience’ category, Payback has the option for a manual transmission right from the start. I remember when NFS 15 launched the lack of a manual option was a big talking point; it was of course later added in, but happily we don’t have to wait for it here.

Other things revised over the last title, either from feedback or simply trying to one-up it, would be the inclusion of a day/night cycle and unlimited garage slots. The latter is something you have to ‘unlock’ through a bit of progression mind you, by purchasing the three additional garages located around the map; doing so also provides you with free fast-travel locations (you can also fast-travel to gas stations, dealerships, and part shops, but those cost a few hundred dollars each time). And speaking of fast travel, it will come in handy because the world is indeed quite large.

Along with its size the world also offers variety in terms of elevation and terrain, with the latter also greatly affecting your driving if you’re in an unsuitable car. Don’t take your Huracan off-road and expect it to work as well as a Raptor! To entice you to explore the full map, there are plenty of ‘activities’ hidden around (speed traps, speed zones, drift zones) as well as some billboards and coins (which pay you for smashing and finding, respectively). As you explore you’ll find that the world is not completely, 100 percent open like in Horizon 3, but it’s certainly open enough to have a ton of fun in; I don’t foresee the walls ever being an issue.

To explore said world, you’ll of course need cars and the selections in Payback are pretty good; both that of the cars and trucks, and that of the visual parts. It may have no effect on the progression of the game at all but the visual customization is something that I was looking forward to trying out, just because I find it so much fun to make the cars my own. I haven’t amassed a ton of vehicles yet but those that I do own (among others an M4 GTS, BRZ, S15, STI, and Focus RS) all show a good selection of parts and there’s also a sizable catalogue of decals to pick from for more personalization (including Nightrunner offerings again – congrats Reggie!).

Finally, we should get to the story seeing as how that’s of course at the center of all of this. Without giving too much away, it’s pretty enjoyable. I’d perhaps like to see more ‘main’ missions as part of the game (every race/event at the end of the day does tie in of course, but I’m talking about more of the Fast-and-Furious style events as shown in the trailers) but it’s something new for the franchise and with all of the Crew/F&F/Mission Impossible/etc jokes aside, it certainly works well as something to center the game around. They even have thrown in a few references and easter eggs to tie Payback in to some of the other titles from the franchise which is a nice touch.

Before I officially close this out though, I also made sure to consider what I thought could improve Payback or a future title, and below are the few points that came to mind for me:

-The performance modification system works well enough with its speed cards, but I’d very much like to see it revert back to that of the older games (Underground 2, original Most Wanted, etc) by having a shop selling individual parts just as would be the case in the real world. If you needed your car to be faster you’d rock up, purchase a turbo or intake or ECU, ‘install’ it, and have your faster car. It was simple, and more realistic.

-Somewhat related to that, I’d like for there to be shops for all aspects of customization again. In Payback the only parts you buy from shops are the performance parts; everything else can be done via your garages. Having performance shops reintroduced is an improvement over NFS 15 in my opinion, but I’d like to see individual locations once again for visual mods, paint, and so forth.

-And finally, transitioning again, how about modifications for the interior? Of course they’d be useless in terms of game progression but would add another layer of personalization and again, up the realism a bit. There wouldn’t need to be many options – even just seats, cages, and steering wheels for example – but would give players more to customize and would fix the imbalance you can get with a lairy, widebodied, brightly-coloured, powerful car having a totally standard interior.

All together, I consider Payback to definitely be one of the better NFS titles based on my play experience so far. It’s definitely closer to what I’d consider the ideal racing game (not simulator, but modifying-and-street-racing kind of game) and I DO recommend it. Will any title ever – for me at least – match Underground 2? Frankly I’m not sure, but Payback is definitely up there. There’s a large world to play in and plenty to explore/do outside of the main story, there’s a good selection of cars to choose from, purchase, and personalize to your own vision, and the story is interesting with some fun missions and crazy cut scenes. I have greatly enjoyed playing it so far and look forward to not just finishing the story – to see how it all ends – but also trying out some multiplayer and seeing what comes with future updates.

-Bill

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