Need For Speed Payback Hands On: Arcadey, fast and fun!

Need For Speed Payback (NFSP) is arcadey, fast and fun! It is racing game entertainment at a high level and you should definitely give it a hoon!
NFSP is the most recent in the Need for Speed (NFS) series which has been struggling as of late to make a mark in a somewhat oversaturated racing game market. The last iteration in the NFS series, quite clearly marketed as a reboot with the name of Need For Speed (points for originality on that one), didn’t do so well in the critics’ eyes. Payback has also not done particularly well where it counts (reviews, a major data point for investors and publishers) — which were very hard to ignore as I played through the game.


I went into my playthrough with low expectations, really low if you believe some of the harsher critics. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself having a great time! The handling is very forgiving (as you’d expect from an arcade racing experience), the races are for the most part relatively varied and there’s a story mode!
Need for Speed Payback

Story Mode

Ok, so disclaimer here: the story mode is pretty much good guys vs bad guys. Others have ragged on the story mode and I may lose all journalistic credibility here (it’s ok, I’m not really a journalist). But, I admit it, I liked it! It’s super lightweight and links well to why you’d actually be doing the races. It’s good fun! Don’t try and take it too seriously though, like I said: low expectations.

Race Types

Where Payback excels is in its variety of game modes. There are five car types and corresponding race types. These are: Race, Off-road, Drag, Drift and Runner. Drag was a bit of a drag and to be honest (sorry, low hanging fruit I know), boring! Too easy if you have any sense of timing at all so don’t spend too much time on this one. Race is just the on-road version of Off-road, both fun and good staples for the arcade racer. Runner is the chase mode: get away from the cops asap, pretty well done, but the cops are a bit stupid (in game, though I should clarify that). Drift is my standout mode! I loved it. Flinging your car around the corners, trying to link and get the best scores is extremely fun!
Need for Speed Payback

Mirror Image

It’s hard not to constantly compare and contrast Need For Speed Payback with the Forza Horizon series. It’s open world, you have things you can do and things you have to do, you earn money and do up your cars as you race, so that’s all good. You’d expect those things in a modern-day arcade racing game. Where I thought it was a bit on the nose, however, was when I found a car, in a barn, that I could keep. (Anyone who has played Forza Horizon knows what I’m talking about here; freaking barn finds!!!)
Now I’m old enough to have played NFS Underground (1 and 2) and I can’t really remember it too well. Even though I played hours and hours of it, all I can really remember is spending far too long customising cars and that bloody quiche song! (To the window! To the wall!) So, how much NFS Underground has inspired the Horizon series I’m not too sure. There might be some friendly copying going on there from both parties.

Bad Scores

From my earlier comments you are most likely waiting for the ‘but’ and here it is. It’s a great racing car game BUT it has a few issues. For one, it’s a bit easy. I’ve been playing it for a long time now and there’s still no real challenge. Am I secretly an arcade racing God? Pretty unlikely.
There’s no bloody cockpit view! What the hell is this? Laziness? Trying to get the game out faster? Genuinely not knowing your audience? We demand to know what that car looks and feels like actually being inside it. How dare you bastards deny us of this. (Oh wow. I didn’t realise this one irritated me quite this much…)
This one is fairly minor but also just irks me. Your character doesn’t do the action you’re currently performing (hand-brake, horn etc).
Finally, and most annoyingly, you can’t just buy the performance customisation you want to make to your car. UGH! You earn money by completing races, you upgrade your car by getting a random customisation each win and/or you can buy them from the Tune-Up-Shop. That all sounds fine except the Tune-Up-Shop has a randomly chosen selection for you to choose from which changes every 10 minutes.

Final Thoughts

Need For Speed Payback is great fun if you don’t focus on the negatives and you don’t take it too seriously. There are hours and hours of mindless entertainment waiting for you, just don’t expect too much from it.

Watch the trailer

Images: EA