Need for Speed Payback Review – Grinding for Speed and Power

The long lived Need for Speed franchise has added another game to its long list of titles, but is Need for Speed Payback worthy of your time and money?

Read on to find out

The Need for Speed franchise has been around a long time and dates back to 1994. It’s long been known as one of the best arcade racers around, with the Need for Speed Shift series even venturing into the simulation arena. Need for Speed Payback aims for the arcade style of racing, and nails it pretty darn well, just don’t expect much of a story to entertain you or to connect you to the multiple racing characters you’ll encounter and/or control.

Need for Speed Payback is set in a fictional city that looks a lot like Vegas, complete with casinos, fountains, and a villainous organization fittingly called “The House”. You control a three member team of drivers, with each driver having a specific set of skills. The main character is Tyler, who can race like the wind on asphalt, Jess, who can outrun anyone on her tail, and Mac, who can drift his way through the streets or go cross country in any off-road beast you can build. You’ll automatically switch between characters whenever you switch between the vehicles only they can operate, not that you’ll really care. There’s no real character development to connect you to any one of them, and their driving skills are fully developed already, so they are just along for the ride.

The storyline follows these three folks as they try to track down a pretty sweet Koenigsegg super car that someone stole. You’ll work towards figuring out where it went by taking down racing crews across the huge map of the open world once you get through the 45 minutes or so of the opening sequence. Each crew has a multi-race questline that culminates with you taking on the boss of the crew. Each crew has its own backstory, but nothing that adds to the story. The crews each have their own style of driving so only one of the three characters will take on any given crew.

The game uses licensed cars so you’ll find some recognizable car brands in the it like Chevy, Nissan, and Ford. There are Mustangs, Camaros, GT-Rs and even an F150 Raptor, with each of these being able to be made into the type of vehicle of your choice, depending on the dealership you visit. There are also junk cars, called derelicts, to be found lying around the open world. Once you find the main body, you’ll need to find the missing parts to assemble it. These are the easiest to get built up to max power so finding them will help you in the long run.

The vehicles in the game can be upgraded and visually customized with a bunch of different parts. Some areas of a vehicle may require certain tasks to be completed in the open world to unlock the customizations, but most tasks are pretty simple to complete. As for upgrades, a trading card type of system is employed with numbered rankings where as the higher the number, the more power it will give your car. Each speed card earned is specific to the vehicle you earned it with and can’t be shared with other cars and keep in mind that not all cars can reach the maximum power level of 399. We didn’t realize this until we were driving our 350z around and couldn’t get any new speed cards higher than a level 12.

Max speed cards go all the way up to 18 so we figured something was up. Pay attention to the  label directly under the make and model of the vehicle and you’ll see a line showing you what the max power can be. In the end, we just built a derelict car in each of the racing categories and that way we knew each vehicle could hit 399. Drifting in an old Chevy Bel Air or running offroad in an old school VW Bug can be a lot of fun anyway. There’s also an old Skyline that makes for a great racer and a pick-up truck so these derelicts are pretty diverse and make for some sweet rides. Be prepared to do some grinding to get them maxed out, though as those speed cards climb up the ladder slowly.

As you earn XP in-game, and you’ll earn it for doing just about everything from driving the wrong way to close calls, you slowly raise your Racer rank. With each new rank you’ll be awarded a basic shipment that gives you more XP, in-game cash, vanity parts, and tokens for the speed card one-arm-bandit found in the tun-up shops around the city. You can also purchase Premium Shipments with real money if you want to speed up the process of upgrading and reaching a higher racing rank, but we found that to be unnecessary if you have the time to actually play the game.

Developer Ghost Games isn’t new to the Need for Speed franchise, and the actual driving reflects that. This is a true arcade racer and is in no way a simulation. Drifting is pretty simple, and when coupled with a blast of NoS can be pretty impressive and rack up drift points in a hurry. The graphics for the game are top notch, with well detailed cars and locations. The open world map is pretty big, with things like speed traps, drift zones, jumps, speed zones, and billboards to smash spread out to keep you busy for a while.

The only thing missing in the open world is the law, which is a missed opportunity. You would think that hitting a speedtrap at 200+ MPH should trigger some sort of police chase, but it seems that the police force had some cutbacks as none can be found unless you are in an event that calls for them. This isn’t just an open world game, but also a lawless open world game, which really takes away from the Need for Speed series. Give me some open world cops to out run, damnit. Daddy needs a high speed car chase at random times.

Need for Speed Payback could’ve been a Fast and Furious game of epic proportions, but instead comes across as an OK Need for Speed game that left us underwhelmed. It’s still a fun game with plenty to do, and what it does it does well, but it could have been so much more.


Need for Speed Payback review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring, please read: What our review scores really mean.