Need for Speed: Payback Review
Need for Speed: Payback Cover Art
System: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Dev: Ghost Games
Pub: Electronic Arts
Release: November 10, 2017
Players: 1-8 Player
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Violence, Language

Need for Speed: Payback is, at its heart, a joyous arcade racer; it’s miles away from the hardcore racing sim side of the spectrum. It’s not overtly technical and doesn’t punish you unfairly. This is how it should be and, in this regard, Need for Speed: Payback mostly stays in its lane. But then there’s its upgrade system which, while simple, impedes a sense of progression and, in effect, drains motivation; it would have been better to omit the frustrating drudgery and, instead, tie progression to obtaining newer, better cars.

Racing itself feels as it should. The sense of speed is serviceable and the cars handle extremely well. Drifting and offroading will be a highlight for some. Others will find that the street racing is more to their liking. For me, I love running from the cops. Playing as the three main characters helps alleviate stagnation. At first, I just wanted to run from cops, but if I were to do that all the time, I would grow tired of it. Being forced to off-road or street race or navigate the open world keeps each form of play fresh. It doesn’t hurt that, as you drive around, regardless of the mode, the scenery and machinery look hella beautiful.

Need for Speed: Payback Screenshot

Spectacle has a special spot in Need for Speed: Payback. It is such a focus, in fact, that wrecking a car will prompt the game’s camera to lock onto it so you can gaze, in slow motion,upon its glorious destruction; you know, admire your handywork. To assist in this, the game will also control your car because, while you are watching your enemy go up in flames, you are not watching the road. It’s only a small assist and, for the most part, only makes minor corrections to your path. There were some occasion where I was destined to crash, happened to wreck another car, and was steered back on course by the game’s AI. It’s not always ideal but I welcome the trade-off.

Most navigation is handled automatically. Checkpoints (large, blue loops that arc over your path) tell you exactly where to go. This way, the action stays in front of you and you don't have to devote a whole lot of mental real estate to navigation. It works, except when it doesn't. Rubbing paint with cop cars and ruthlessly wrecking them, arguably a fan-favorite activity, has a satisfying, visceral feel, but the actual act of escaping lacks creativity; a singular escape route doesn’t leave much room for daring maneuvers. The confrontations with cops are really the only place where navigation becomes an issue and, even then, it lessens the gratification of escape by a relatively small degree; they are still fun.


In fact, the takeaway here isn’t that Need for Speed: Payback isn’t fun; it certainly has its moments. But those small moments of genuine excitement only exemplify the primary problem. Need for Speed: Payback is full of good ideas and, every time a new element is introduced, there is a stirring sense of promise. There’s a momentary thrill until the dawning realization that this promise will suffer the same fate as those that preceded it; they will let you down. In the end, Need for Speed: Payback is a middling hodgepodge of conflicting concepts that frustrate in the knowledge of what could have been. If Ghost Games can find a way to properly refine and execute their ideas, they’re on track to something great. Need for Speed: Payback, however, finishes in the middle of the pack, and that’s a damn shame.

Benjamin Maltbie
Contributing Writer
Date: 11/10/2017

Beautiful, shiny metals? Fiery explosions? An expansive view of the wide open road? What’s not to love?
The controls are tight and drifting feels excellent. Auto-assist AI that prioritizes spectacle can be overly forgiving.
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice over is, frankly, terrible. It has the quality of a low-budget film without any of the charm. There’s a decent selection of music and the roar of engines is exhilarating. On the PS4, chatter over the in-game police scanner plays through the low-fidelity speaker on the controller which is a nice touch.
Play Value
A repetitive grind with very little replay value. The multiplayer is lacking in options and some fan-favorite modes are missing. There is a lot going on in the game in terms of style and some of it is quite good but with so much going on, the game lacks focus and no particular part gets to shine.
Overall Rating - Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
Review Rating Legend
0.1 - 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 3.5 - 3.9 = Good 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair 4.0 - 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Scrap to Stock to Supercar: Endlessly fine-tune your performance through each of the five distinct car classes (Race, Drift, Off-Road, Drag, and Runner), to turn the tables on the competition in any race, mission, or challenge
  • Live out an action-driving fantasy: Play through an explosive adventure as three distinct playable characters united by a common goal: revenge at any cost.
  • High-stakes competition: Get on a roll and win big with risk-versus-reward gameplay. The return of intense cop chases means the stakes have never been higher.

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