NFS Payback Has Brought Back My Need For Speed

When I was younger, I didn’t care much for coffee or tomatoes, but I absolutely loved racing games. I think my love began with Crash Team Racing, a fantastic kart racer due a remake. My brother and I particularly bonded through racing. We played so much Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 on our PS2 we burnt sections of the UI into the display of our TV.

But gaming preferences come and go. I’ve developed a taste for coffee and tomatoes, but nowadays I find myself more tempted to play an action-adventure than a racing game. I can’t really explain why that is – the quality of racing games have arguably improved a great deal – but for whatever reason, they’re just not on my radar.

That was until I played Need for Speed: Payback, the third in the franchise developed by Ghost Games and the second since a series reboot in 2015. I got the opportunity to play the first couple of hours at a recent press event and rediscovered my love for illicit street racing.This was spurred largely by the quality of the game. According to Ghost Games, it’s the largest Need for Speed game ever made. As I mentioned to one of the game’s producers, Jeremy Chubb, repeatedly, it’s very reminiscent of Burnout Paradise – one of my favourite racing games – down to the inclusion of vehicular playgrounds and smashable billboards.

But moreso, I began vibing with Payback because of the elements it adapts from narrative-driven, action-adventure games, the type I find myself gravitating towards these days. I queried the decision to include a story within Payback at a time when there seems to be a pushback against more singleplayer-focussed gameplay. According to Jeremy it’s what Need for Speed fans wanted.

Of course, it’s not the first in the franchise to incorporate a story; they help to guide the player and introduce gameplay elements. But Payback’s borrows from story-oriented games moreso than before. There seems to be reason to care about the characters, as well as the cars. I became invested in Payback’s world far more than I have been before. Winning each race was another step towards another high-octane set piece progressing the story.The collectible Derelicts, Payback’s best, ultra-upgradeable cars, also contribute greatly. Through completing the story you learn the locations of these prized vehicles. They’re just rusted scrap to begin with, but finding all its parts scattered about the world will return them to supercar status.

Finding each piece is a puzzle in itself. You’re only given a clue to its general location, and when you find it, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to reach it easily. It might require a precise jump or some careful navigation of the terrain. It’s a neat gameplay beat familiar to open-world RPG players, but less so racers.

The game’s not without its faults – which we’ll save to discuss in the review – but it made me really enjoy being behind the wheel again. It’s been too long. Playing Payback transported me back to the days my brother and I would pass the controller back and forth trying to run the perfect race and beat the boss.

It was sort of a nostalgia trip I guess, facilitated by a game that seemingly accumulates all the best things about Need for Speed into one neat package. I’m looking forward to more.

Press Start travelled to London as a guest of EA for the Need For Speed: Payback Producer Tour. Need For Speed: Payback releases on PS4, Xbox One and PC on November 10th.