Posted June 11, 2017 by Adam Ghiggino in Feature

E3 2017 Hands-On: Need for Speed Payback – It’s Not Quite Burnout, But It Kinda Is

Over the years, Need for Speed has become such a diverse racing series, it has tried its hand at nearly every variation on the genre. We got circuit racing with the original races, simulation racing with the Shift series, underground racing in Underground, and weird narrative mash-up with The Run. They’ve done so many variations, all that’s left now is to borrow from other franchises, and that’s been one comment I’ve seen consistently from people about Need for Speed Payback. It’s a version of Burnout 3: Takedown, without that series’ name. After having played the same level shown during the EA Play Show, I’m here to tell you that’s not exactly accurate, although there are certainly worse franchises to crib notes from than Burnout.

Need for Speed Payback is another foray into narrative vehicular adventure, after The Run and Need for Speed (2015)‘s somewhat mixed reception. This time, the game follows a crew of chatty, quippy outlaws who run afoul of The House, a criminal syndicate no doubt named after the axiom “The house always wins.” In the demo mission, which apparently takes place at the end of the game’s second chapter, the two protagonists are racing after a truck delivering an extremely valuable car. However, shortly after catching up with the truck its clear they aren’t just transporting any old car, as they unleash flaming barrels out the back causing a massive traffic pile-up, while its escort tries to make short work of your car.

It’s true that yes, on the surface, there are a lot of elements similar to Burnout. For one, car combat is done entirely through slamming into your opponent, much like in Burnout 3: Takedown and Revenge, complete with the same beauty shots of the wrecked car falling apart in a shower of sparks as it flies off the road. Dodging enemy cars, wreckage on the road and oncoming traffic also feels reminiscent of the high-speed precision those games required, as does the constantly recharging nitrous gauge.

Where Payback differs is in its focus on being a narrative adventure experience, rather than a competitive racing one. It sounds like an obvious point to make, but it does make all the difference. While racing into oncoming traffic at high speed and taking out enemies in Burnout 3: Takedown were the only way to charge your nitrous and stay ahead of the pack, there are no such rewards in Payback. Nitrous charges automatically, although a little bit slower than you might like, especially when trying to keep pace with the truck in this particular mission.

It’s also noticeable in the shifting objectives in the mission, and the behaviour of AI. A couple of tines during the demo, you’re told to take out all of the escorts tailing the truck, but they don’t actually keep pace with you or the truck the way you might be expecting. A couple of times, I had to circle back to follow and track the escort cars, as they often fell behind me or went off track into the country. Of course, it makes sense, as in the context of the mission, you’re not in a race with them and they have every reason to try and keep you away from the truck, although I wonder if there wasn’t some demo buggery going on, as I was occasionally led into off-road areas which the game deemed outside of the mission, necessitating a restart.

Payback also tends to dip into cutscenes fairly frequently, highlighting certain cool action scenes, narrative bits and pieces, alongside all the takedown slow-mo cutaways. It’s a little reminiscent of what you might see in a Grand Theft Auto game actually, although only in the way it handles its narrative (at least, until we know more).

I was only able to play a small sampling of Need for Speed Payback, but it was enough to whet my interest in this new attempt at a cinematic car game. After all, Need for Speed did actually become a movie (remember that? With Jesse Pinkman?), so this need to get a blockbuster racing game right is understandable. I’m keen to see more from Ghost, and what huge Fast and Furious-style set-pieces they can dream up with Need for Speed Payback.

Adam Ghiggino

Owner, Executive Editor of Rocket Chainsaw. I also edit TV, films and make average pancakes.


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