Need for Speed Preview - E3 2015
We get behind the wheel of the latest entry in the long running racing franchise
I am not a fan of re-using the same name for a different experience. Nintendo narrowly avoided a disaster by naming the next Wii a Wii U, but the trend continues to relapse in the games industry, with the likes of Doom, Tomb Raider, and now Need for Speed using the names of the original game to market a sequel. It's supposed to indicate a complete reboot of the iconic franchises, but to me, it seems unnecessary and confusing, not to mention kind of taking a shot at the great original classic that actually owns the name. But with such petty criticism aside, I went into the Need for Speed demo with high hopes following its debut at the EA E3 Press conference.
This is the first time in a while that the developers behind the latest NFS entry, Ghost Games, have taken the time to craft something new and didn't release a game last year. The racing franchise has been on an annual release schedule for a while now, and this break has hopefully allowed the devs to create something special. I got a chance to sit on a presentation for the game hosted by the lead designer, and play the title.
We kicked off with the explanation of why the Need for Speed name is being used, without a number or secondary title. The idea is that the franchise is going back to its roots, hoping to learn and take the best elements of all games that came before it, to create a new experience for a new console generation. We watched the E3 gameplay trailer one more time, before diving into the details. As you've likely heard, there are five ways to play - Speed, Style, Crew, Outlaw, and Build. Essentially, this represents five different experience paths that players can utilize as they progress through the game. They are fairly self explanatory - players that focus on racing will earn a lot of experience in the Speed tree; Style is earned for driving with stunts; players who race with and against others will earn Crew XP. Outlaw is gained by engaging and escaping the cops, and those who spend a lot of time and money tweaking their cars will earn Build XP.
Having a quick glance through the main menu of the game, the focus on social interaction is apparent, with sections such as "Players you may know". There's also a snapshot gallery, where players can actually earn currency tips from others for specifically awesome screenshots. But we were there to race, so we jumped into the car editor that was shown during the E3 trailer. It was indeed real, and functioned just as you see in the video.
If you want to quickly get a unique look for your ride, there are body kits that totally change the car. But most players will likely dive into the details, and change every aspect of their ride - from rims color, style, size all the way to spoilers (even double spoilers), exhaust, break disks, and tons of other little visual details. But the customization doesn't end there - for the first time, players can fine tune the handling model, and choose to play in a more arcadey and drift-focused style, or the grip-focused sim style. The list of options was long, including aspects such as tire pressure and break sensitivity.
Following the demo, we got the opportunity to jump into an 8 player Rep Attack mode, where the goal was to earn as much experience as possible via any of the five ways to play. We got two and a half minutes to customize one of five cars, and confirm that the options are indeed rather exhaustive. Once in the game, the NFS developers say that the world is more dense and feels more alive than in the past games, though with the game taking place at night, it may be difficult to gauge. Driving through the streets, it didn't look particularly involving or alive. Everyone started off with a simple race, but after that players could drive off and do their own thing while the clock on the Rep Attack was still running.
Entering new events is as easy as driving up to them and pressing a button. While other players were off destroying property and hoping to win by random Style and Outlaw points, I decided to jump into a drift trial. This one of hundreds of events promised to be in the final game. Despite picking a grip-focused handling model, I was able to participate in the event, though the developers say it was more difficult for me than for players who had a drifting-focused car. The drifting event utilized a lot of the alleys, parking lots, and side streets, in contrast to the large open highways that we've seen so far in the trailers.
The game also attempts to inject some personality, as demonstrated in the trailers, and there are random text and Twitter messages that appeared during the game. If I had a clean lap, someone said "Driver's Ed is finally paying off", or I got a message saying "Nice speed" when I hit a particularly straight stretch of road. These messages will appear and encourage players to remain competitive, even if they are far behind the leader.
After the presentation and hands-on time with the new Need for Speed, it's clear that Ghost Games have taken their time to craft a solid entry in the long running racing franchise. It undoubtedly helps that they had an extended development cycle, and based on what I've seen and played, this may very well be a worthwhile continuation of the franchise on the new consoles. I'll never be pleased with using the same name, but I was sold on the gameplay experience. Look for Need for Speed to race into stores on November 3rd, 2015 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.