While I’m definitely not a petrol head, I’m certainly more up-to-speed with Need for Speed (that was unintentional and I’m so, so sorry) than I am with wrestling. I like my arcade racers, and I’ve got a bit of history with this particular series. The Need for Speed and Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit were great fun, when I was younger. Need for Speed: Underground offered some excellent new bits and pieces. Hot Pursuit was… well, everyone but me liked that. Etc.
Basically, I’ve actually played this series, and while I normally try to avoid covering racing games because terminology like “oversteer” and “torque” and “Scandinavian Flick” makes my eyes glaze over, I think this is a vehicle I can handle.
Need for Speed is surprisingly svelte, cruising up to the starting line at a mere 13GB. But is my i7-3820 with 16GB RAM and a GeForce GTX 970 enough to make it purr like a tiger, or do I need a bit more under the hood? A bit of both, actually.
First up, let’s have a look at the options.
Not bad. Not as hugely in-depth as I’d like, but better than I expected. Need for Speed apparently also has support for higher resolutions if you’ve got a monitor that supports them, and if you’ve got the hardware grunt for it, you’ve also got an uncapped framerate, steering wheel support for a variety of Logitech/Thrustmaster/Fanatec peripherals, and, uh, manual transmission. Which apparently wasn’t in the console versions, but will be making its way there eventually.
It auto-defaulted to the bits you can see in the top screenshot, which had Texture Quality on Low while everything else was actually reasonably high. I adjusted this immediately, because if there’s one thing I like, it’s a nice texture quality (and if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s motion blur).
Right now, I’m running on a mix of High and Ultra with Motion Blur off, Ambient Occlusion set to HBAO, and Anti-Aliasing set to TAA. This is giving me a wildly varying framerate (which is probably to be expected, with a framerate that isn’t capped at 60) but one that isn’t too problematic.
On quieter stretches of road, everything was flying along at around about 80-90 FPS. In a full-on race scenario with a bunch of other cars around, it would usually hang around the 55-60 FPS range. In a full-on race scenario on one of the longer highway sections that give a much wider view of the city, things would occasionally dip to about 40 FPS.
That’s a pretty wide variance, but it’s not one that bothers me – even on the occasions when it drops to 40 FPS (which, honestly, isn’t very common and never lasts for long) the controls still feel as responsive as needed, and it’s not a particularly noticeable dip. Not to me, anyway; if you can feel the difference between 55 and 60 FPS, then I’m sure you’d notice. If it did bother me, there are enough tweakables that I could probably bump up the framerate to at least a steady 60.
Nonetheless, that should probably indicate that Need for Speed is pretty system-intensive. I don’t have the shiniest video card on the market, but even without bumping things up to Ultra, I can’t maintain a constant 60 FPS.
For what it’s worth, I can’t find a way to add a custom soundtrack to the game, which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. I’m not really a fan of most of the tracks in here, and while they’re generally quiet background music rather than something pulsing over the top of your engine roar, custom soundtracks on PC should be a staple for any arcade racer.
Control-wise, this is yet another game which doesn’t appear to understand that the mouse is actually a thing, which is really irritating. It’s not hugely important most of the time – the menu is laid out in a big grid, so it’s pretty easy to navigate with the keyboard – but you’ll be referring to the game’s map regularly, and scrolling around and zooming in and out would be a lot easier with a mouse. And yes, this means that if you want to use the mouse to control the camera and get rakish shots of your car, you’re out of luck.
The default keyboard controls are, also, shit. Specifically: W and S to accelerate and brake, with Left Arrow and Right Arrow for steering; while A, D, and the remaining two arrow keys control the camera. Or to put it another way: what.
After changing those to the far more palatable WASD for vehicle control and arrow keys for camera control, though, I found that Need for Speed was entirely playable on keyboard. As I lack an Xbox 360 pad at this point, I had a hell of a time getting my DualShock 4 or my Steam Controller to work properly in Origin. I eventually managed (tip: using DS4Windows, turn on the Hide DS4 Controller setting) and, y’know, it controlled fine.
Nonetheless, I’ve since been using the keyboard. Not having analogue controls is somewhat problematic, but I’ve gotten pretty good at tapping the keys to maintain control and I can now handle drifting an awful lot better on keyboard than I could on gamepad. So, hey, that’s pretty good.
Before we get to talking about the game, I should note that Need for Speed appears to be online only. When you start up the game, it connects to the EA servers. When you load into your saved game, you’re placed into an instanced world with a bunch of other players. At this point, you can opt to play “solo” in your own little instance, but right now, it looks like you have to be online to actually start up the game. With Origin set to Offline mode, Need for Speed simply told me that I should try again with Origin set to Online.
This hasn’t caused me any problems pre-release, and the instances I’ve been in have been fully populated (although I can’t say whether it’s with press, developers, or people messing around with that Need for Speed trial), but this might well cause some sort of nightmare come launch. I can’t say for sure, but if experience has taught me anything…
Barring seeing other people driving around I’ve only had one multiplayer “experience”, which considering the time of night was probably with someone on the other side of the planet, but it was playable. Their car was teleporting around the road at times, certainly, but as we were doing a drift challenge that wasn’t a big hassle. Nonetheless, don’t take that as a blanket “the netcode is fine” statement: it’ll be launch before we know that.
So, Need for Speed. I actually really rather like it, although that might not be immediately apparent.
First, we have to address the live-action FMV cutscenes, because they are so staggeringly cheesy they could well be a dairy farm, and I love this. Barring the fact that the first person you meet is a twat in a cap who unironically says things like “bae” and “cray cray”, these cutscenes are goddamn brilliant. I haven’t played enough to encounter any of the Big Names like Ken Block, but there are a group of regular characters who will either phone you up or who you’ll meet in cutscenes.
Each of these represents one of the ways you can earn reputation, which tend to be things like raw speed, drifting, destruction, car build quality, etc. And they’re brilliant. Terrible, but brilliant. I cannot overstate how much I love this campy FMV.
But you’re probably more interested in the driving, which is definitely on the more arcade-y side of things, as evidenced by the fact that I can be not-terrible at it using the keyboard. There are a few concessions to gearheads – your cars are fully customisable, and although most parts provide a flat increase to particular statistics, you can also make specific manual adjustments to things like front and rear tyre pressure or brake strength to decide whether your car is going to be more grippy or drifty – but it’s simple enough that I can actually follow it and make manual adjustments to suit myself, which probably means that anyone who prefers realistic racing games isn’t really going to get any minutiae-modifying kicks out of this.
I can’t decide whether I like how it looks or not, though. It doesn’t look bad, but it feels like everything has been run through a grimy filter of some sort, with different regions of the map having different filters. It’s not a particularly pleasant look, which is a shame, because in terms of pure graphical fidelity it largely seems pretty sharp. The only exception to that are on less-noticeable textures or on decals.
Need for Speed is set in an open world, although thankfully, you can instantly teleport to the start of any race or location you choose, so there’s no driving across half of the map to get to your chosen mission unless you actually want to. You may well want to do this – you can challenge AI racers or other players on the fly, or get into police chases, or find hidden parts and collectibles – but you don’t have to.
The open world is a complete ghost town with very few civilian cars around, but that’s probably for the best as it lets you really open up and drive as fast as you please without having to worry too much about a car coming around the bend. It does happen, but the stupendously low traffic density makes it a rare occasion.
This neatly moves onto the thing I do really like: the sense of speed. This, generally, is the most important thing for me in any arcade racing game. If I’m driving at 150MPH, I want to feel like the world is flying past, and that I’m barely in control of the juddering metal monster propelling me at that velocity. Need for Speed appears to completely nail this, and some neat audio work highlights it further; driving at high speed through a tunnel made my desk shake with the rumble coming out of the subwoofer.
This isn’t a review (that’ll likely be coming later) but a few hours in, I’m really rather pleased with Need for Speed. It’s absolutely, positively not for everyone – the traffic sparsity, the FMV, and the handling are each going to be instant turn-offs for some people – but for me, it seems to be sitting in the sweet spot of a fast-paced racer that still requires a decent amount of skill and first-hand knowledge of whatever you’re driving to really make the most of it, while giving you the sense that you’re travelling at ludicrous speeds. But whether or not it has enough variety to stay entertaining after a dozen hours is something I can’t yet say.
The port itself is more mixed. I suppose the most important bits are that it runs fine on my system and contains a lot of lovely PC gubbins like 4K support and an uncapped framerate… but the online-only demand may well cause issues at launch, the lack of mouse support is borderline ridiculous, and I have no idea how well the game would run on a lower-spec system. So yeah, the important bits are all there, but there are a whole bunch of niggling little issues that make me want to add a “but” to every positive thing I can say.