It’s crazy to think that the Need for Speed series has been around for 23 years. The first game debuted on the 3DO back in 1994, 22 instalments later and we have Need for Speed Payback, Ghost Games are back at the helm again for a third time as they seek to deliver the next step in a franchise that has seen its fair share of ups and downs.

Tyler, Mac and Jess make up a group of petrol-heads that serve as the game’s main protagonists, it’s paramount that players feel a connection with the characters and aside from cheeky banter and quips there isn’t a whole lot to cling onto. Many of the performances come across as contrived, this makes it too hard to become invested.

The group find themselves going up against The House, a cartel that have a firm grip over Fortune Valley. They control the casinos, cops, criminals and they even rig races, but the goal is to put all that to an end. It’s the underdogs versus the machine sort of scenario which I dig very much, you always want the bad people in power to get what’s coming to them and I feel the same about The House. On another level I want to see the villain characters get their comeuppance.

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What I feel is executed superbly is the gameplay and for a racing game it sure as hell should be. The best moments and the most fun I have, are during the actual races and missions. I do have a need with games of this genre, and that’s speed. You can feel the high octane action as you manoeuvre between the other cars on the track. Small things like the camera shaking as you rev your vehicle or switch gears are appreciated because they build immersion. There are a few set-piece moments that you’ll come across that feel very much like Fast and Furious and work out great in bringing some memorable moments.

There is one issue with the in-mission gameplay, and that’s the interruptions that occur when taking on police or enforcer vehicles. Encounter these vehicles and boom, slowdown clip showing the enemy coming in and when you destroy one of them, again you get a slowdown shot of the car being totalled. These cut the momentum and happen far too often.

Roaming the open-world is lacklustre, there are some challenges you can go do such as speed-traps, speed-runs and collectible style things like driving through billboards, but in terms of interesting things to do, there aren’t any. You can go on a treasure hunt to find derelict vehicles to then upgrade but that literally feels like a wild goose chase, you don’t really feel like you accomplished anything by just finding these chassis’ and parts. The only time I spent in the open world was travelling to the next mission, hitting the upgrade shop or finding the few derelict vehicles I bothered to get.

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There is a surprising balance between the pros and cons for this title, one pro which I think is the most prominent from the get go, are the stunning visuals. A beautifully designed open-world that has many awe-inspiring views, locations and buildings. Whilst travelling to a mission I literally stopped and spent a few minutes marvelling at the Kishar Resort & Casino building, I wanted to get out of my car and explore, but of course that isn’t what Need for Speed is. The world I could see being right at home in a massive sandbox style game, so kudos to the design team on that.

Another home-run I feel is the sound design, from the soundtrack to the sound effects this sounds exactly how a racing game should, the rumble of the engine, screeching of the tyres and crashes when metal meets metal is satisfying. The radio music is catchy, very racer-esque, lots of beats and high tempo, it instils this go-fast mentality.

If you want any chance of placing high in the multiplayer games, then you better not play multiplayer until you’ve put in plenty of hours into the single-player to upgrade your vehicle enough to even have a shot of performing well online. Once your vehicle has a decent rating the online matches are fun, competing against others in events that are comprised of five matches are addictive, trying to knock each other off the top spot throughout.

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Ups and downs, highs and lows, for every positive there is a negative which impact greatly on the overall product. It’s stunning visually, sounds awesome and the gameplay is fun, unfortunately there is an unofficial level/rating requirement to have a chance in online, the gameplay is constantly interrupted, and the open-world is boring. The story is interesting but the characters just aren’t, due to not so good voice acting. Not a bad game but I don’t feel it could constitute as a good one either.

OVERALL: 6.5/10 – AVERAGE

Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.

(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Need for Speed Payback, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)

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