Review of Need for Speed Payback

I picked up Need For Speed Payback, the latest game in the Need For Speed  franchise, some time after it first came out. I enjoyed the story and most of the gameplay, but there were a few issues and personal gripes I had with the game.

Need For Speed Payback (abbreviated to NFS Payback), unlike its predecessor  Need For Speed 2015 ( abbreviated to NFS 2015), is less about street racing and more along the lines of an action-adventure video game. Whereas in NFS 2015 the focus was on gaining popularity among other racers, NFS Payback is about getting revenge on a mafia called “The House”. Set in an area called Fortune Valley, NFS Payback is lush with the concept of high-stakes gambling. The story is simple: Tyler Morgan, Jessica “Jess” Miller, and Sean “Mac” Macallister, all street racers, were double crossed by Lina Navarro in a heist gone wrong. They then proceed to get revenge on Lina, who works for The House. Their only shot at revenge is a race called “The Outlaw’s Rush” where the best racers across the country race for fame and fortune. The story, while fairly standard and cliche, nonetheless makes for an exciting plot, especially later in the game. I found the story to be rather short, perhaps because I was having fun going through all the missions. Of all the characters, I found Mac to be the most likable, unlike Tyler, who seems one dimensional in his single minded quest for righteousness. Jess was a middle ground between the two, and she was equally as fun as Mac to play as. If Tyler had as much personality as Jess and Mac, the events where I played as him would be more fun.

The gameplay of NFS payback is rooted in the racing genre. From a narrow selection of cars, there are five kinds of car classes: Race, Offroad, Drift, Drag, and Runner (armored cars). Each class has its own specific events, and those events are complete with specific characters: Tyler does Race and Drag (and Offroad during the Outlaw’s Rush) Mac does drift and Offroad, and Jess does Runner. Each kind of event is also similarly different; Race events are standard races, Offroad events are like races except Offroad. Drift events involve drifting the car through a course for points, and drag events were for the most part proper drag races with burnouts and manual shifting. There were two sprint races in the Drag events, which I found to be a challenge to do. There were also Missions, which had all three characters doing something, these always used Race, Offroad, and Runner cars. For each class, the handling model was slightly different. Also interesting to note is that the Offroad and Runner cars available are mostly different than the Race, Drag, and Drift cars. There are five cars called  “Dirlects” that are available for every class.

I hated the handling model of NFS Payback, but it was thankfully not as awful as NFS 2015. In NFS 2015, the handling of every car was always twitchy and prone to random crashing and spinning out. Every car above felt very unstable and it was frustrating to do events. This model was stabilized in NFS Payback, and while it did not feel as twitchy as before, if I did not try to drift every turn, I felt like the car was going to snap and crash. The “Base” handling is the Race class of cars, but it felt indistinguishable from the Drift cars. The Offroad cars felt like they had the NFS 2015 handling, but in a way that was good, as the races were more intense and frustrating, but therefore rewarding when I won. The Drag cars also handled beautifully, They were very grippy and refused to turn at speed, which made the sprint races with them all the more a test of car control. The Runner cars also handled well, they were harder to turn on account of their heavy weight. I would have preferred a handling style more like the Runner cars for the Race cars, as I am more used to simulation-like handling from playing games like Gran Turismo and Forza Horizon. I despised the controlability of the cars, as they all felt the same and handled the same. I hope the next NFS game has handling models based on much earlier games (For example Need For Speed ProStreet, which was one of my favorite games to play). NFS Payback is good as an arcade game, but the kind of people who really enjoy racing games will feel a little bit insulted by how easy it is for every car to drift and get up to speed. For the casual player it is a great introduction to the racing game genre.

I also enjoyed the upgrade system. The way it works is as such: every car has the same upgradable performance areas, based on actual parts from a car. There are 6 parts: Head (the intake/valves), Block, ECU(Engine Control Unit), Turbo, Exhaust, and Gearbox. These six areas can be upgraded with what are known as “Speed Cards”, which also have different perks. There can be anywhere from none to three perks on the card, and these are assigned randomly. The perks are: 

  • Speed: an increase in top speed
  • Acceleration: An increase in 0-60 time (this is the common way performance is measured in cars)
  • Nitrous- This increases the nitrous capacity and power (Drag cars have full capacity of nitrous, so this just increases the power on Drag cars)
  • Air- If the car launches into the air, this determines how easy it is to control in the air, how long it will fly in the air and also how hard it will land
  • Braking- how fast the car will stop

Additionally there are brands that have bonuses, as well as generic versions, of the parts, making the process of upgrading the car a game in and of itself. I found that the Air perk and the Braking perk were useless, considering that there is very little hard braking required for racing. The Air perk is really only useful for stunts, but those play an insignificant role in the game. Overall, I enjoyed the upgrade system, it was not the most innovative, but it is certainly fun to maximize a car for a specific perk.Each card also has a level, from 1 to 18; higher level cars have higher level cards stock. The higher level cards that are equipped, the higher level the car's performance will be. Some cars were restricted up to a certain level, but this is no longer the case. Thanks to updates, cars are also balanced and can easily be upgraded with “Catch-Up Packs” that uniformly upgrade a car with the generic parts. 

The main way to earn money is by completing events. Before the first game update, the money given was around 10,000 credits, which made getting moderately expensive cars a hassle. After the update, this value was doubled, making it easier to get money for cars, to the point where there is a surplus of credits. I found this annoying, as there was no sense of reward for having the patience to save up money. It was not even particularly hard to get money either; optional side goals granted the ability to sometimes double the race payout. By playing the game, I was able to get almost a million credits two-thirds of the way into the story.

My next gripe about NFS Payback is how there is little to be done online. There used to be only online racing, but these were often just dominated by rammers or overpowered cars. Then after the online freeroam update came out, there was almost nothing to do, as no one played the online racing anymore. As a result, the game got stale quickly after the story finished. There were two updates that helped to make me interested again: Weekly appearances of cars that had not been added into the game previously as well as the Speedcross DLC which acted as a combination of Drift and Offroad events.

All in all, I mostly enjoyed playing Need For Speed Payback, there were many improvements in the game handling but not much else besides that. Now that there are many more updates the game has gotten better as well. It's a good buy for people getting into racing games.