Need for Speed: Payback launched on 10th November 2017. After seeing the E3 trailer, many anticipated the return of the prodigal son. On face value, the game seemed to bring an action-packed story, filled with car culture and lots of speedy fun. However, what we got seemed to miss that concept by a country mile, but what went wrong?
Payback set to give players an open world game that would be travelled by the protagonist who set out for revenge. However, that wasn’t at all what made the game interesting. The parts they got right revolved around the driving experience and sense of speed. The game offered different classes that made one car feel different throughout each class. You had the race, off-road, drag, drift, and runner specs. Each had their own positives, along with their accompanying drawbacks. Instead of making one car traverse all terrain in one specific class, you build the car to accommodate the scenario. The cars in themselves were made well, both in looks and in how they felt to drive. For an arcade racer, Payback translated the cars well onto the terrain.
Even with the horrible grinding system, the cars, once upgraded, felt good to drive, each with its respective personality. You would expect the BMW M5 to drift corners in an almost poetic notion, and it does. The engine noises from the game are also spectacularly done. They're not too realistic to take away from the arcade racing immersion, but not synthesized to the point where players can’t differentiate between their favourite cars.
Payback sat as a game which had a wonderful concept and horrible execution. Playing the game for the first few hours, it is easy to fall in love with the aforementioned great aspects of the game, but when you sink at least ten hours into the game, you realize that all that glitters is not gold. The game is lumbered down by a tedious grinding aspect that makes your sense of fun dwindle. The story in itself requires you to grind up those numbers, which wouldn’t be bad at all if it weren’t such a repetitive process.
Added to the tedious grind, there is the upgrading system. The entire mechanic is based on luck. You use a card-based system that will give you parts in accordance with a level system. The cards could give you statistical buffs based on how much of the same brand you pair with your car. You can spend a lot of wasted time on trying to get the right parts for your car, which eventually, leads to imminent frustration of the game.
In turn, this makes the game’s mediocre story feel even worse than it is. The package as a whole becomes very cumbersome. What started off as an exciting arcade racer, ends off as a dreary open world car-based bore.
It would be all but surprising that EA has littered the game with micro-transactions, all in the name of skipping the grind. The micro-transactions come in the form of shipments, which allows the user to get more in-game currency and part tokens. I felt as if this was the ultimate nail in the coffin. It added something to the Need for Speed franchise that should have never existed to begin with. A car game of any kind could do without micro-transactions, period. This causes the player to think that the entire game is built around these shipments. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 had eyes on it for the very same reason, but Payback seemed to get away with less backlash.
The game just seemed to have lost interest. Many fans of the series gave it a chance and walked away once they had reached their limit, myself included. Need for Speed as a franchise held a lot of popular car culture in it. It wasn’t just about the cars, there was a sense of the game that would appeal to those who didn’t even like cars. From the iconic stories, to the way the game offered you the freedom to drive as crazily as you wanted in Underground 2. Need for Speed built a fandom around that recipe, and yet, they haven’t made a game that came close to capturing that formula in a very long time.
What It Could Have Been
In the past few days, a concept image was posted on Reddit. The image featured a caption that said: “Need for Speed Hashtag.” Many believed it to be a screenshot for a new up and coming Need for Speed, but it was later revealed to be an image of Payback that was shown in 2016. The image was proven to be for Payback, as it is found in the game files.
The picture showcased the expansive city, along with a plethora of exotic and tuned cars. The picture indicated a car meet up, with various crowds coming to see and show off their cars. It speaks heavily about car culture and the Mazda RX-7 showcased the customisable freedom one should expect from the game. A deeper look shows no form of off-road vehicles, which indicated that the game could have been a heavily track-focused Need for Speed. More importantly, it was all about the cars, and the people who loved them.
This is a very plausible theory because it follows directly after Need for Speed (2015), which focused a lot on night-time car culture. The daytime element in the concept picture shows that they may have been looking into a day and night cycle of sorts. A lot can be taken from this picture. That being said, it is a lot of speculation. What adds validity to it all revolves around Craig Sullivan, who was the Creative Director for Need for Speed (2015). According to Reddit user Max_Lazy_10, Sullivan left Ghost around the time this picture was made. This could have meant that Ghost intended to make Payback more like the concept art, but William [censored] stepped in and turned it into Payback. The reasoning being that [censored] preferred a more action based, off-road style racer.
A lot of the fans who commented on the picture preferred the direction the game initially seemed to take. It isn’t hard to see why, as the image shows the personality the cars share in the gameplay we got in Payback. It would have been nice to see that translated throughout the whole game. Instead, they chose to focus on the gambling theme that the city is based on.
There was ample room for Need for Speed Payback to execute its concept beautifully, but it was let down by micro-transactions and a lacklustre grinding system. This made replaying the game an almost unthinkable endeavour.
Months into the game’s life cycle, there is really nothing interesting to keep players coming back for more. Once you complete the story, it is very hard to start the game and play through a race. What could have been a fruitful return, ending up drawing its fans further away.
I would have loved to have seen what type of game they would have made, if they followed along with the concept art. Granted, it may have still been littered with micro-transactions, but the core game could have been better overall.
Looking back on where Payback went wrong, I hope future Need for Speed games don’t make the same mistakes. It isn’t always easy to make something fresh and exciting, but that doesn’t mean that the game couldn’t be made to appeal to the fans. With fierce competition such as the Forza Horizon series, Need for Speed would have to implement something that truly brings the fans together once more.
What would you have liked to have seen in Payback to make it better? Do you think that the concept art was the right direction to follow for the game? Let us know in the comment section down below.
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