For a game that prides itself on the thrill of the open road and larger-than-life set pieces, Need for Speed Payback still manages to be disappointingly lacklustre. From its generic narrative to its one-dimensional characters, the game’s shallow attempt at telling a nitrous-powered revenge story is only marginally saved by the game’s easily enjoyable style of accessible arcade racing.
This racing style perfectly complements Payback’s popcorn blockbuster motif but due to its lack of nuance, the gameplay eventually falls victim to the game’s imposed grind of repeating races in order to unlock and upgrade parts required to remain competitive against AI. What’s easily most impressive about Payback is the scope of its open world. Set in the fictional US locale of Fortune Valley, the game’s vast and expansive landscape is a pleasure to traverse. From red laden dust bowls perfect for off-road racing to long sprawling urban streets that double as makeshift quarter miles for drag racing, the diverse scenery facilitates a world to race in that feels organic and varied. Unfortunately, the characters that inhabit this world lack the same kind of depth.
Payback has three playable protagonists that you rotate between in order to complete races and missions that specialise in their particular racing disciplines. Despite their differences behind the wheel, one thing they all have in common is wanting to get revenge on an associate of theirs who betrayed them during a heist. They quickly learn that their double-crossing partner works for ‘The House’ – a criminal group that controls everything in town (including the cops) and now their corruption is slowly spreading to street racing. As the name of the game suggests, the protagonists want payback and to disprove the notion that the “house always wins”. However, in order to do so, the crew must first earn its stripes around town by defeating a myriad of racing factions that call the streets of Fortune Valley home.Each faction represents a certain style of racing – with races ranging from your standard race, to off-road, to drag and finally drifting. There are also runner missions which generally consist of courier jobs or picking up a client that needs to lose the cops ASAP. Interspersed around the map with these races are also small challenges that can be completed for cash and rewards – these range from barrelling through billboards around the map to drift challenges. I didn’t find any of these side activities that entertaining and primarily stuck to the main mission races. The multitude of race types keep the gameplay loop of taking down factions fresh but they’re not without their shortcomings. The difference between regular and off-road races are negligible and drag racing literally consists of holding down accelerate while shifting gears whenever the speedometer says so. Some missions throw corrupt cops into the mix to try and take you out but the threat they pose is minimal. They’re rarely successful in their attempts to knock you off the road and will usually fly right by you or into a wall when trying to pin you to objects in the environment.