Need For Speed Payback Is a Proper “Fast and the Furious” Game [E3 2017 Preview]

I could not help but think what a fitting subtitle Payback is for the latest Need For Speed. The series has felt a little off the past few iterations, with added features that caused unintentional roadblocks for players (I’m looking at you, always-online). To say the developers at Ghost Games have gone back to the drawing board with Payback would be both a cliche and a misnomer. Payback looks to borrow from just about every video game mechanic and pop culture zeitgeist of the last few years. Ironically enough, it may end up better for it.

As I spoke to the developers during my brief hands-on time with the game, they were quick to point out the “Hollywood” look they were emulating. Not that they needed to. Shortly after the announcement of Payback, the Internet was ablaze with Fast and The Furious references. Even I was surprised to see that Vin Diesel was, in fact, not producing Need For Speed‘s latest. The trailer promised the kind of elaborate heists that turned Paul Walker’s (RIP) B-movie Point Break into a Hollywood golden goose. Not that Need For Speed never had a flair for the dramatic; they’ve just decided to double down.

Hollywood is not the only place where Ghost Games are cribbing notes. Plenty of the game mechanics described to me are straight out of the AAA gaming playbook. While not shown, Need For Speed Payback’s Fortune Valley setting is designed to be their most expansive open racing world yet. While previous entries included interconnected roads and highways, they never quite let you go off-road. At least, not in the way they are promising here. Less Burnout Paradise, more Grand Theft Auto V. 

What is an open world without a reason to explore it? Payback has an answer for that, too. Sure, there will be plenty of racing and heist opportunities, but a game isn’t truly “open world” until collectibles come into play. Scattered throughout Fortune Valley are derelict vehicles that, once found, can be restored into racing behemoths. If racing games had legendary items, these would be the orange-colored ones (or is it purple?). Cars in-game are specifically designed for certain challenges, whether it is racing, drifting or off-roading. These special vehicles, however, can be whatever the lucky finder decides them to be.

Borrowing a little more from the Grand Theft Auto V playbook, Need For Speed Payback will also feature switching between multiple protagonists during the course of play. This was briefly seen in today’s press conference trailer, with the control shifting gears to the recently “acquired” vehicle bursting out the back of the truck. Whether this will be delegated to only cutscenes or an option players will have later in the game remains to be seen. Too bad Trevor was unable to make a cameo (I’m assuming. That would be cool.).

Of course, I’ve been ignoring the elephant in the room. Watching that trailer today instilled a sense of nostalgia for Burnout, that classic car-annihilation simulator of yore. The elaborate slow-motion, the intricate detail of destruction as an enemy vehicle is slammed off the road. So poignant in its chaos. If one cannot write Shakespeare, then the next best thing would be to sponsor his plays. As an avid Burnout fan, I was delighted to see Need For Speed get its hands a little dirty. The time for another Burnout is sadly long gone, but Payback is looking to take up the mantle. Or at least draw a very nice picture of it.

It would be unfair to criticize the liberal use of influences that Need For Speed Payback wears on its sleeve. Practically every game on store shelves is just a borrowed concept with nicer window dressing. Payback is looking to be just that; payback for all the crap thrown on the franchise over the last few entries. And it’s taking all the help it can get.

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