by Joseph Saulnier
Need for Speed starts with you, the player, coming into Ventura Bay to join a small group of unknown racers. Each race you complete successfully brings you, and your crew, one step closer to being recognized throughout the racing community. The races/missions you complete are offered by each member of your crew, with rewards/perks being based on their specific area of expertise. There are a total of five different ways to earn Reputation, which is NFS equivalent to XP. Speed, Style, Build, Crew and Outlaw are all contributing factors. As you complete the missions based on these factors, you’ll move closer to challenging a Driving Icon in the NFS world. Defeating a Driving Icon will not only earn you their respect, but also infamy.
Once I started cruising around the streets of Ventura Bay, I was blown away out the realistic visuals. The streets were reflective as they had the right amount of moisture from passing rain. And judging by the amount seen so far, this appears to be fictional city set in America’s Pacific Northwest region. The streets are filled with wet asphalt, but luckily the puddles found in races and just roaming around seem to be mostly for aesthetic purposes as my already poor driving ability wasn’t affected by them. Street lights, fluorescent signs, and headlights of oncoming vehicles all had a surreal look to it.
The NFS series has always offered a more arcade feel to vehicle handling with slight simulation mechanics, and this latest installment from Ghost Games is no different. The game has a nice variety of race styles to complete, although there was a heavy focus on drifting. Too much focus on it. There are only two or three race styles that focus on speed and precision driving, but there are roughly five different race types dealing with drifting. So if you prefer your car to have a lot of grip, you’re going to have to learn how to drift eventually.
After seeing how realistic this world looked, I completely understood why Ghost Games went with Full Motion video for the cutscenes. The FMV scenes helped in keeping the realistic illusion of the Bay’s streets. I found there to be a fair amount of production in the FMV scenes, which gave a very ‘Fast & Furious’ vibe to the game, although there were certain things that took me out of the experience. Any time I’m with a group of people, I found them all looking at me at the same time, regardless of who was talking on screen (which was never you). The attention in normal conversations tends to shift from person to person, and I felt like I had something on my face which no one wanted to tell me about. It also didn’t help that the acting was on par with B-movie standards of exaggerated caricatures.
The FMV scenes and the drift-focused racing weren’t the only things that took me out of the experience. You’re the new guy in town, but for some reason you are awfully popular with the bombardment of phone calls (including many conference calls) from you crew. No matter what you are doing, these calls came in. Even from the crew member whose event you were taking part in.
While I understand the culture that is being represented in NFS more than most, I was surprised to find there was so much drinking going on prior to races. I was invited to meet up at a bar, at a friend’s house for a party, and in both cases the obvious implication was seemed to be that everyone was drinking. This may be the future parent in me coming out, but I didn’t like the idea of my crew pounding down the drinks and then jumping behind the wheel.
The vehicles also left something to be desired. Though they were pretty much par for the course when it comes to NFS standards, they just aren’t as visually pleasing as you surroundings. This is made even more apparent when the CGI vehicle is injected into an FMV scene. It was similar to the visual style of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, which is one of my favorite movies, so I am a bit torn. Also, the selection of vehicles leaves a lot to be desired, but that could be the Volkswagen lover in me griping that the only VW selection is MKI Rabbit.
For taking a year off to work on this entry in the Need for Speed franchise, I was sure hoping Ghost Games would have given its reboot a more noteworthy return. While Ventura Bay is beautiful and there are plenty of missions to play, the constant distractions and lack of freedom of driving style I felt while playing it kept me away from enjoying it as much as I have previous iterations. If you’re a long-time fan of the series, you’ll definitely find something to enjoy about the game, but if it’s your first time behind the wheel of a NFS vehicle, you may want to check out some of the previous entries and sit this one out.
3 stars out of 5.