Need for Speed Payback Xbox One Review

Get ready to explore Fortune Valley as Need for Speed returns in an all new action driving experience where your goal is revenge at any cost.  Does the new Need for Speed tick the boxes that makes this the definitive Need For Speed title, or does it if fall short a gear or two?

Gameplay

For those that don’t know, Need for Speed Payback is a racing game that is set in an open world environment called Fortune Valley.  The Need for Speed series has always been based on the car scene focusing on exotics, imports and daily drivers. Need for Speed allows you to turn any car into a super-fast machine, covered with lights and stickers if that’s your thing.  Your goal has generally involved climbing the ladder so to speak in the street racing world, avoiding the cops along the way and taking out those that stand in your way.  The series has done a lot over the years and has certainly built quite a following of loyal fans and hopefully Need for Speed Payback can continue that tradition of great titles.

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The plot here in Need for Speed Payback is simple.  You play as any one of three new playable characters, they are Tyler “The Racer”, Mac “The Showman” and Jess “The Wheelman” and your job is to take down “The House”.  The House controls all of the casinos, cops and competition in the city of Silver Rock, and the House always wins; that is until you step in.  As I began my play through the initial cut scenes seemed entertaining, but bore quickly after that.  I was expected a full Hollywood type presentation and yes those bits and pieces are there, you just don’t control any of it essentially which was a little disappointing.

It’s hard to not try and compare every motor racing game to another and I promise I won’t do that here beyond the following statement; Need for Speed Payback looks like Forza Horizon 3, but plays far differently than you would expect it to.  I do like Need for Speed Payback’s map which clearly shows all your waypoints, collectables and events plus garages and speed shops.  Getting around is never difficult, just set your way point and follow the GPS, it’s as simple as that.   There are a host of speed cameras and speed traps for you to try and beat as well which has been done before in other racing titles.  To Need for Speed Payback ‘s credit, this is the largest open world than any previous Need for Speed title.  Here there is the glamour paradise called Silver Rock, kind of like Las Vegas.  Then just outside the city there is the Drifters Paradise in the mountains.  To the east there are massive cliff drops and Canyons and in the middle of the map is the Desert area.  One of the greatest changes is the ability to also explore off road, so you’re not just limited to the tarmac which is great.

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Aside from the main story mode which will see you progress through series of events, there are other modes to check out including Race, Off-road, Drift, Drag and Runner.  You can of course pick up the appropriate car for each of these events at your local dealership, with more vehicles becoming available to you as you progress and win those events.  Speaking of cars, aside from those that you earn via racing, there are some you can find in the wild. No these are not barn finds, there called Derelicts and they are scattered amongst the map area, well-hidden for you to find.  These vehicles are the most versatile cars you can find in Need for Speed Payback.  Also worth mentioning is the overall level of car customisation.  For me, I don’t particularly like the system on offer here which involves the use of Speed Cards. These speed cards are essentially how you upgrade your car and they are awarded to you after completing a race or mission.  These cards are random and essentially can be equipped, sold or traded.  These speed cards give you higher levels for things such as engine performance, turbo, brakes, gearbox etc.  It’s quite a simplistic system that’s easy to use for the masses, but car tuners will find it horrible.  Gone is the in depth choices from previous versions, your upgrades are now replaced with speed cards.

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If there is one mode Need for Speed fans would love its Drifting.  Need for Speed Payback does offer the drifting modes however I feel the handling is just not right here, especially for an arcade racer.  Drifts and crazy turns should go hand in hand with an arcade racer, however here the handling feels off somewhat.  The slight press of the brake will send you sideways, but holding that slide is never easy.  At times I’ve relied on the old e-brake, however this brings you to a grinding halt, faster than using your actual brakes, its way to overpowered.  Time and time again I would find myself missing corners or slamming into walls as I tried to make sense of the handling and braking system.  It doesn’t end there either, the car handling dynamics just feel so inconsistent that a base model car can outrun you in a supercar, it makes no sense.  Front wheel drive cars handle the same as those with All Wheel drive which is also confusing and makes buying a car with those characteristics pointless.  I’ve never seen a Subaru WRX STI smoke up the rear tyres only?  I can appreciate that this is an arcade title, but some thought could have been put into this performance area of each of the cards, even if it was at a high level.

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Scattered around the map are also billboards that can be smashed and tokens which are also well hidden can too be collected for those who are hell bent on finding everything on the map.  Also of interest were Bait Crates which are essentially traps that are set by the cops that are meant to tempt you into an epic cop chase.  Some of these missions were fun, but once again the police had super powered Crown cars that had the ability to outrun high performance exotics which again made no sense whatsoever.  Also gone is the ability to park your car in a quiet area and wait for the police to give up searching for you.  You are now essentially on a linear path and must race or flee between various checkpoints.  I managed to side swipe the police cars into the wall aka Burnout style which was fun.

Graphics and Sound

Visually Need for Speed Payback is quite pretty and runs at an impressive 4K resolution and 30fps on the Xbox One X which is the version I played for review.  The lighting and HDR effects were amazing and the detail in the forest and city environments was nice, but nothing ground breaking.  I think more could have been done here with the environments as outside the city, most of the scenery was quite bland.

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Overall

What made Need for Speed games successful in the past was the assortment of cars, the modifications and customisation options and of course the story.  Unfortunately Need for Speed Payback falls short on all three of these areas which is a shame.  At some points during the experience you feel Need for Speed Payback take a step forward, but most of the time its taking two steps back.  The story leaves a lot to be desired, the upgrade system is terrible and the cars in terms of performance are vastly inconsistent.  My advice, stay out of Fortune Valley.

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Thank you to EA for providing a copy of Need for Speed Payback for review.

Written by

Paul Barbara

I'm 40, been an avid gamer since I was 5 (1981) and owned almost all systems possible in that time. I love podcasting, having produced over 230 episodes over the last 6 years and I get a real buzz out of discussing all this gaming news with other gamers. So tune in!

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