After a year off, Need for Speed has the series coasting back over familiar turf, resurrecting the spirit of 2003 and 2004’s successful Underground games. It is, at least, a more clearly distinct game than the last few NFS instalments were from one another. It looks incredible, sounds fantastic, and while the handling is still standard arcade fare developer Ghost Games has added a welcome dose of nuance by letting us tune our cars for either grip or drift. However, the single-player component is over too soon, the multiplayer underdelivers, the cut-scene dialogue often had me wincing, and the game is stung by the side-effects of being online-only.
One of the first things you’ll notice when tackling the front of your car is the ability to modify your stance. Whether you are changing the ride height by slamming it to the ground, raising it up, or anything in between, you choose your perfect ride height. Throw in options for rake and both front and rear track width, and you’re on your way to creating something truly unique. Suspension tuning is finished up with your camber. With the angle on both the front and rear wheels being set independently you’ve got the ability to create some truly out of this world looking cars. The PC version has new features, including unlocked framerate with 4K resolution, manual transmission, and steering wheel support for a selection of steering wheels.
It is immediately extremely pretty, though. There are dark and gritty instances where it feels a little like the whole thing has been shot on Michael Mann’s iPhone, but racing at speed through the soaked streets here (particularly in bumper cam) is really something else. The cars glisten with beaded water droplets and the streets gleam, a shiny tapestry of mirror-like asphalt reflecting artificial light from all angles. Need for Speed also sounds nearly as good as it looks; the throaty burble of performance-tuned engines is well-realised and the crackle of exhaust overrun and the ker-chunk of slamming gears is similarly respectable. However, the sudden, jarring transitions from the dead of night, to pre-dawn, and then back to night again are horribly ill-conceived. These transitions seem to be baked into parts of the environment so they can actually happen multiple times over the course of a single race.