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Ghost Games
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Release Date:
November 3, 2015

Need for Speed is one of the most iconic and revered names in all of video games, but even icons need to adapt and innovate from time to time. After skipping 2014, developer Ghost Games has worked to bring the legendary racing series into a new generation, one that revolves around multiplayer-dominated online play. The reboot that launched just this week requires an online connection to play (which has its drawbacks and I’ll get to those in a minute) and features a somewhat barebones and largely clichéd storyline. But the technical achievement is nothing to sneeze at, the multiplayer is great for racing fanatics, and the accessibility is a big bonus.

This city is just brimming with sharp visuals and fantastic driving effects, so you needn’t worry about a lackluster presentation. You really start to feel as if you’re zipping through a movie set, with excellent lighting and shading and effects that would satisfy even the most demanding action movie director. The streets shine with the remnants of a recent rainstorm, the cars are meticulously designed and detailed, and when flying along at breakneck speed, the visuals don’t skip a beat. There are a few minor instances of lowered frame rate but it’s nothing to get in a twist about. Above all, this really looks like a next-gen NFS experience, from the large and vibrant world to the TLC given to each and every vehicle.

The sound is great, too. I’ve always thought Burnout was top dog in the racing audio category, but the latest Need for Speed is chock full of gut-wrenching crunches, anxiety-causing scrapes, and throaty engine growls. When you combine the effective – and somewhat realistic – exhaust sounds from your favorite ride with the rest of your environment, which crackles with ceaseless energy, you’ve got audio that’ll make your headphones happy. I’m not the biggest fan of the soundtrack, though, and the voice performances range from mediocre to merely decent. Still, if we’re being optimistic, it’s clear that Ghost Games spent a fair amount of time in building this racer paradise, but perhaps they should’ve spent a bit more time fleshing out the gameplay…

Need for Speed has undergone a variety of transformations over the years. This time, the franchise has gone the underground street racing route, perfect for “Fast and Furious” fans and those who love the illicit danger, the idea of flaunting convention and thumbing one’s nose at authority. In order to capture this atmosphere, the team opted for a series of live-action cut-scenes featuring real-life drivers and a cast of decidedly rambunctious characters. When I first heard about this approach, I thought it was a good plan but one riddled with potential holes: Could we really get a compelling narrative within a racing game? Does such a feature really add to the experience? Will such scenes feel like they “fit,” or will they feel tacked-on and somewhat unnecessary? I hesitated to hope.