Friday, 21 April 2017

My Usual Spiel - Need for Speed 2015, The always-online-car-culture series reboot

Release date: November 5, 2015 (PS4 & Xbox One)
March 17, 2016 (PC)
Genre: Racing/Arcade, Open World
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost Games, Criterion Games
Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One
Players: 1 and Online

It’s been a while since I’ve played a new Need for Speed game, with Carbon being the last I have certainly skipped a few and just kept playing Carbon at least three times. No less than eight Need for Speed titles have passed before I decided to get back on the horse and try one out again. As I detailed in my previous review of NFS Carbon my new super and classic car simulator was Test Drive Unlimited and now Test Drive Unlimited 2, well it was, I have previously finished it 3 times already and in my latest playthrough I managed to accidentally delete my save which was disappointing but I guess that’s that, I ain’t doing it all over again especially with Forza Horizon 3 on the er horizon, well actually I can’t even make that joke cause it’s out now. I was sad that I stuffed up my last dwell into Test Drive Unlimited but I am getting excited about Forza though it will be the first Forza Motorsport game I have played so I have no idea what to expect.

Racing my Lambo, looks good but It wasn't me best driving, just trying to stay in control of the damn thing.

But anyway this review isn’t about NFS Carbon or Test Drive Unlimited or Forza Horizon it’s about Need for Speed that’s right “Need for Speed” as I lamented once before they are going down the “Alien vs Predator” naming convention though this is actually supposed to be a “reboot” of the series, not a sequel. The meaning to that was partly that the previous Need for Speed Underground games Need for Speed: Most Wanted  and Need for Speed: Carbon were both part of a loosely connected plot where you ‘the player’ were involved, the series actually culminated with NFS Carbon so basically you’re now a new “player” in the game and possibly the next games will continue the story. So in this review I will be referring to the game as “Need for Speed 2015” as that’s the easiest way to remember it. I knew before I bought that game that the reviews weren’t exactly that good, people were canning the “always online” feature which in case you didn’t know the game cannot be played offline and it also cannot be played with just you, there are always other players zooming around and probably crashing into you. Other issues included having only dusk to dawn racing, rubber-banding AI, lacking an in-car view, performance issues due to the always-online requirement on all platforms, the inability to pause the game, having no manual transmission, and lacking drag races (the latter two being added in an update). Another thing that was panned was the too-short story which featured cringeworthy live-action FMV scenes and constant annoying GTA4-esque phone calls.

My first or probably second drag race, I still didn't have much of an idea how to do it, sort of like the duels in Red Dead Redemption.

The game merits were in the graphics, as when I first saw the game I remember thinking “wow” that is pretty damn good but that was basically all that I was impressed about, the funny thing was I actually wanted to see all of the FMV videos as they looked pretty damn funny based on the trailer. So I decided to get the game and doing so I decided to finally try out getting it via a “CD” keys site as I had heard this was much cheaper than buying online, especially from Origin. I used the site and must say I was impressed by the service. I purchased the code and it was sent to me quickly I was able to enter it with little to no fuss, there are other sites but I have only ever used that one and it has been fine for my purposes. I had to complete one last round of Need for Speed: Carbon before playing this and as I had back in 2015 it was right to go, though do expect a few comparisons between the two in this review as always with sequels hah. 

Wrong way down a one-way street.
So, the story, well basically you start off the same way you always have (almost) in the fictional city of Ventura Bay, a rainy seaside city that you unfortunately don’t get to see in the daylight. It’s a controllable intro as in previous games and you are pushed right into the action racing with some random until you come to a stop under a highway and meet Spike (via an FMV cutscene) the first of the major characters who is impressed by your driving and tells you to go meet Travis at his garage which is a short trip away, I immediately had problems with the controls as is seems my Logitech PS3 style gamepad didn’t officially register as an actual controller it registered as a steering wheel for some weird reason so I tried to use that but it just didn’t work right as different buttons were used for acceleration  and hanging up the phone etc and then two buttons were meshed into one and it was goddamn annoying. I saw that the control display screens were an xbox controller so I just thought screw it and went out and purchased a cheap $20.00 wired xbox 360 controller for the PC and yes I said xbox 360 not xbox one they were too expensive and were similar anyway and once I plugged that in it worked much better.

Revving it up in the intro, the ui is quite minimal at this point.
Once you drive to the garage the next FMV cutscene starts and here is where you meet the rest of the crew and get a sneak peek at the fairly high profile world car-scene celebrity driving icons that the game features including Magnus Walker: a Porsche collector and modifier, Ken Block: a professional hoon, Akira Nakai: the founder of Rauh Welt Begriff a Japanese tuning shop, Shinichi Morohoshi: a Lamborghini tuner with ties to the Yakuza and the Risky Devil street drifting team. So basically you meet the rest of the crew including Travis, Robyn, Amy and Manu with each one idolizing one of the icons. You do all of this walking around as basically a camera as it is all done through your eyes in first person occasionally seeing your hand and arms as you fist bump or cheers others. Now I know that the game does this to immerse you as if you were playing as yourself which works with other games such as Skyrim for example where everyone is relatively formal and in awe of you it doesn’t really matter that they don’t refer to you by name they just refer to you as the ‘Dragonborn’ or whatnot which works as you’re in a medieval fantasy world and everyone acts accordingly and you can see yourself and respond, without a voice of course but it’s at least something. But here where it’s set in modern times it’s a kind of depressing experience where everyone talks to you but you can’t talk to them, you can’t express yourself in any way apart from your hands, I spent half the time wishing I could get with one of the girls or a random girl or at least have a girlfriend though that’s going into VR porn territory I suppose.

Thankfully someone has put together all of the cutscenes in the game for your viewing pleasure, I got many a laugh from these with all the bad acting and product placement. Thanks to Cakechievables for the video since once you finish the story mode you can't start again unless you want to delete all of your previous progress.

So basically you then undertake a series of Missions with each mission set part of a Driving icon’s style of choice including speed, style, guild, crew and outlaw so for example Manu is interested in the ‘style’ type of racing and idolizes Ken Block so all of the missions he gives you are in the gymkhana (or motokhana) style of racing with the series culminating with meeting Ken Block himself and beating him in a race. This goes on with intervals of FMV scenes of you meeting various crew members at different places for short amounts of time before you go off and drive again. There isn’t really any goal in the game except to just get to the end of all the styles and meet every driving icon which makes the game kind of short as people were complaining about, most of the time I was debating about when I would buy a new car and how I would upgrade it but I’ll go into that later.

The "My NFS" section in the main menu featuring my career progress.

Oh yeh I'm a speed demon, in order the icons are Speed, Style, Outlaw, Build and drift

So after all of the intro you find yourself choosing your first car and I decided on the 1990 Ford Mustang Foxbody as it looked cool compared to whatever the others were and I got started on customizing it. I was very interested to see how the visual customization works as it is one of my favourite parts of the Need for Speed series. There are a fair few customization options, the same if not more than Need for Speed Carbon, almost every part of the car can be customized though it depends on which type of car you have for example you can modify all the usual things like custom bumpers, side skirts, hoods, wheels and spoilers, some cars could be modified with more complicated things like Diffusers, Bumper Canards and enlarged Fendersall of which I’ll admit I didn’t know what they were until I saw them. It’s a fairly minimal experience when customizing as the part options come up as dots and the camera swings around the car as you search through them and edit the parts you want, as before most parts are locked but you can quickly unlock them by doing the story mode.

You can see the dots on nearby parts of the car.
I had another controller issue where I could not access certain options when customizing my car for example I was unable to put decals on cause I lacked the option to “confirm” also the control options that came up around the screen were incorrect as what was supposed to happen was the controls displayed differently if you started using a keyboard or controller (similar to GTA5) but they did not, almost as if something was triggering the controller. Then after consulting the EA forums I realized by troubleshooting that it was my other controllers that were causing the issue so I unplugged them then I was finally all good to go. I added some random body mods including a protruding engine from the bonnet and a spoiler, with the painting and decals I dressed my first car up pretty ridiculously, I loved the look of the chrome style paint as it looked amazing with the graphics all shiny etc so I added that in a lime green colour and added some random stripe decals then I decided to do it up like some sort of Bogan Aussie car. So I added an Australian flag decal on the back window, added my initials on the side and sold bronze/gold chrome wheels. The end result looked pretty ridiculous but I was happy with it as it was only the first car, I didn’t bother with any more decals including brand names as this was just my first car.

Bogan Aussie car lookin good heh
The next part was where it got a bit complicated with the Performance Parts as there are 21 different kinds of parts most of which I didn’t know what the hell they are or what they do including things like a Differential and Intake Manifold though they have some very informative text there explaining this, not that it makes any difference it’s just interesting to know. There are also 7 stages of each part Sport, Sport+, Performance, Performance+, Race, Race+ and Elite, though not all parts have all of these stages for example the Engine Block has all of them, the Exhaust Manifold only has the 4 main ones and the Handbrake only has two. In previous NFS games I had about 3-4 cars per playthrough and I made sure that each one had a certain level of upgades to match where I was in the game, so with all these different upgrades and no “upgrade all” button I was pretty lost on what to do. I tried out getting all of one type of upgrade for each car but because there were so many thing to upgrade and not all of them had all of the different stages of each part. So I think for next time I’m just going to make it simpler by just upgrading everything to whatever max I have available, that’s what I did in NFS Carbon anyway. Speaking of changing my car the other issue was that all cars were unlocked right from the start, your only limitation was the amount of funds you have. So when choosing a new car I had to do a bunch of writing and maths to work out which cars I could afford to buy and also upgrade without breaking the bank, well at least I’m a money-conscious street racer.

Performance upgrades screen
Most of the unlocks to the performance parts are from your Reputation level though these are not the only thing "Rep" unlocks. You earn reputation as you perform driving maneuvers, stunts, feats, and destruction, the feats in themselves are all part of the 4 styles with driving in the oncoming lane giving you rep with Morohoshi and the outlaws for example. The more rep you gain the more performance parts and also race events you unlock.  Interestingly you also have a cameo appearance from Eddie who you may remember from Need for Speed: Underground he is back with his Eastsiders gang in Ventura bay as part of the Legends Update which features Eddie challenge series, a series of events leading up to racing Eddie himself again .

I did well for rep on that race.
And then you got to the Tuning menu where you could tweak various things about your car, though to be honest most of them are about putting the car in ‘Drift’ or ‘Race’ mode for example adjusting everything so that the car is more twitchy and slides around throwing the back out easily or making it hug the ground allowing you to carve smooth straight lines when racing, and of course if you wanted to go either way it created an issue. One thing about this game is that there are a fair few drifting events in it as both the ‘Style’ and “Crew’ storylines were pretty much all about drifting and showing off for points  but the ‘Speed’ storyline was all about racing mostly long straight tracks as fast as possible in a time trial or race. The problem here is that say I want to do a bunch of races all in a row, each of which have different types of racing am I going to go back to the garage and change around my car for each one? Hell no, even if you decide to do a bunch of speed races then a bunch of style races the ‘Build’ and ‘Outlaw’ races are a mixed bag so it’s really not gonna work. I ended up having to make my car as balanced as possible leaving almost everything toward the middle of the dial, even having to leave on the stock tyres after realizing that the upgraded ones were either for grip or drift. I swear sometimes it’s hard for casual car fans like me.

The tuning menu
The game’s open world acts similarly to previous NFS games you drive out your garage and are immediately able to drive to most areas in Ventura bay, the map itself is pretty big, laid out with multiple freeways across a large bay leading to different parts of the city with some hilly areas with less interconnected roads similar to the topmost area in Underground 2’s Bayview city which allows for lots of drifting action and of course is where most of the drifting takes place. There are many collectibles sprewn about the city including spots where you are encouraged to perform a donut and it’s pretty cool when you perform ones and it shifts to another camera angle so you don’t get dizzy, there is also free car parts which you can find and add to your collection to modify your cars. There are photo opportunities where you can take pictures of your car next to street art or picturesque locations which are kind of ruined by the rain and darkness but anyway.

Wooo donuts and photo ops, I need practice donuting :(

Playing through the game wasn’t too hard the controls were pretty much the same as before, I had trouble doing a perfect start on the Drag races as I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing and at the start it didn’t really explain properly so I really gotta read up on that before my next playthrough. I had a bit of trouble balancing the car between race and drift, drifting although similar to other Need for Speed games still took a bit of practice to master  I finished every storyline off eventually meeting all of the driving icons after a bunch of awkward calls and FMV sequences and it was pretty cool, actually I didn’t see all of them as I didn’t do the outlaw missions mainly because I hate dicking around with the police it’s just dangerous and tiring and can hurt your wallet and is just not worth it, just like doing it in real life hah.

It's Nakai-san! Will you just give him a blowjob already Amy? Damn the way these people crap on about their icons I swear I wish this game had more profanity and smut.
Modifying my cars got better as I went on I chose for my next car a Honda NSX Type-R and decked it out with a cool looking bodykit and painted it a dark purples chrome paint with sort of beetroot coloured decals. I also decided on the format of where my manufacturer name text decals would go, as per my Underground 2 designs there would be one on each sides of the doors or side skirts (or both) one each on the er spot above the back wheels, one on the back window and also one on the front window this time as I thought it looked pretty cool if you got it right. My next two cars were an Porsche 911 GTS RS and the Lamborghini Murcielago LP 640-V SV which I was very much looking forward too. I was very happy with the designs for both of them as I think I got it just right with the minimal contrasting colours with the Porsche and the blending ice-theme of the Lambo, I also chose not to have bodykits on both of them as they both already looked great. Lastly I created this ridiculous looking golden painted Volvo 242 DL which was pimped out to the max, in fact I constantly got reputation for having the "Most tuned car" in a race.

I like this shot of my pimped out Volvo hah
Probably the most celebrated and praised thing about this version of Need for Speed was the visuals, the game looked absolutely fantastic even though I did ridicule the way that it always seemed to be either raining or damp in Ventura bay specifically so the game could show of its water shine and reflection details but yes it did look pretty damn amazing. The game was most definitely the best looking NFS game I had seen and the best looking cars I had seen, even without the neon, come to think of it neon hasn’t been in since Need for Speed Underground 2, sound systems as well, apparently there is supposed to be a sound system available in this game but I never had a car which you could put one in. Anyway back to the graphics, I must admit as cheesy as the acting in the FMV sequences were they were done well and looked the part I liked the fact that your own cars were superimposed into the scene and the characters were able to walk in front of it etc, which was pretty cool. The game sounded fine with the engines and the tyres screeching and everything else though I really enjoyed the music the most with a bangin techno, alternative, RnB and hiphop soundtrack and even got some tunes for my compilations from it.

This is a short clip but the sunset in the mountains is beautiful

As the game was "always online" I did literally run into a few other players, as the annoying thing is unlike other open world racing games like Test Drive where you can encounter other players around the world but not in races unless you invite them. In Need for Speed when you start a race you're still in the game world and you can see other human players and they can see you and can "invade" your race by crashing into you or your computer +opponents. Sometimes it was hard to determine who was an actual player and who was computer controlled though you can see actual players because of their Origin account picture but there were actually other computer controlled street racers out there. As well as that, looking at the map of the area you can see other players doing an actual race event as you can see their own group computer controlled players racing along with them.

If you look closely here, you can see the player "jir01" doing a race with computer opponents.
I once did a Drift train event around a small dock area with other computer controlled cars while at the same time another player was doing the same thing with his group of racers while going in the opposite direction I would have been annoyed if I wasn't having so much fun. Could you imagine a full server of people doing this? though I guess it's limited to a certain amount of people at one time. I also tried out the "Speedlists" or whatever the hell it was but I didn't get many players to race with so just gave up, I was a bit late to the party with this game unfortunately though there were still a few people around in the game world, one of the best features was that you could invite anyone into the current race you were starting as part of the story mode which was cool to race with others but sometimes counter-productive as they could be laggy or crashy hampering your race but it's all good fun and you have the option to go on your own anyway.

Drift Trial with other racers, I had a bit of trouble keeping up heh

This game was probably the most car culture focused with all of the car culture celebs and the real-life brands and even EA’s real-life car enthusiast group Speedhunters and it shows from the very street-racer centered story. Overall the game was a good play for me but as always the first run through is most often the worst and the real fun comes in the second, third or even fourth run through, it’s been given a bad rap for being always online and too short but I reckon it was ok. I’m very interested in playing it again properly after I have worked everything out, this was especially true with carbon and will be for this game as well.


Need for speed PC Reveal Trailer

Can I not be a jack of all trades?

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