Over the past 25 years, EA has published dozens of titles within the branding of Need for Speed, with a primary focus on arcade-style competitive racing and escaping police pursuits in real-world vehicles. Throughout its lifespan, the road has been a bumpy one, as for every positively-received entry, there’s been releases with questionable design choices that step away from what made the series so successful in the first place. More recently, this eighth generation of consoles kicked off with the promising Need for Speed: Rivals, which our own review called “raw, visceral and intense”, and was one of the series’ more prominent entries particularly considering it launched alongside the PS4 and Xbox One. Since then, the franchise has faltered, as the 2015 reboot and 2017’s Need for Speed: Payback both fell flat against heavy competition from Forza and Gran Turismo. Now, as EA prepares for what may be the final Need for Speed to exclusively launch on this generation of consoles, there are several key fundamentals that can help drive the latest entry to new heights.
When racing fans look back on their favorite entries and gameplay moments, the plot or story beats rarely come up in those conversations. And yet Ghost Games has made this a key focus of the past two entries, even going so far as to adding full motion video cutscenes in the 2015 entry. Having a plot in a racing game is a great way to shuffle players between various locations and vehicles, but forcing the racing action to take significant breaks due to lengthy story beats can bring any excitement to a screeching halt. The Forza Horizon franchise is a great example of how to include a low-key story in a racing game, as the expansion of the racing festival as the player grows their garage of vehicles is well-implemented and subtle, rarely distracting from the fine-tuned driving while still encouraging exploration and variety.
Varied Open World Environments
Without a compelling set of roads, hills, mountains and ramps to drive on, the joy of driving around can only go so far for all but the most dedicated of racing fans. This applies for both the scripted races and the freedom of the open world, as both elements are crucial to providing a Need for Speed experience that represents the best of the franchise. Having the track design complement the free roam and vice versa can go a long way towards encouraging a player to return in the weeks and months to follow, particularly when the world is varied with rural, urban and natural locations. Burnout Paradise is a notable standout among open world racing games, as Paradise City and its surrounding habitats house plenty of secrets and shortcuts, while also featuring dozens of well-crafted races.
Ever since 1998’s Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, the eternal battle between racer and cop has played a noteworthy role in the franchise, with certain entries even allowing players to hunt down street racers during their illegal activities. While both of the previous entries have included elements of police chases, both of them made strange design choices that reduced their impact on the core racing gameplay. The 2015 reboot allowed players to simply pay a fee to avoid the time-consuming nature of escaping the law, reducing the adrenaline-inducing thrills to an easily-skippable transaction. Meanwhile, Need for Speed: Payback removed police pursuits from free roam entirely, instead only including them during story missions or as scripted time trials at pre-set locations. Arguably more than any other design choice, bringing back free roaming police pursuits in all their glory is an essential element if this year’s Need for Speed hopes to become another memorable title in this acclaimed franchise.