The Need for Speed franchise has returned after a two year break. How does Need for Speed Payback fit into the rest of the series?

We can all agree that Need for Speed: Underground 2 was one of the best racing games ever made, at least of its console generation. The NFS franchise is one known for fast cars and deep customisation, and to some may seem similar in tone at least to the Fast and Furious films starring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. It seems that devs Ghost Games have taken that to heart, and decided to craft the series reboot’s latest instalment to be even closer to an FF game adaptation – at least of the Rock’s film era.

The Payback at Need for Speed Payback‘s centre revolves around a group of three individuals bent on getting revenge on an ex-member of their crew. You’ll play as one of three protagonists; Tyler – The Racer, Mac – The Showman, and Jess – The Wheelman. Each has their own driving strengths and areas of expertise that you’ll need to use to your advantage in order to progress through Fortune Valley’s story. You’ll need all the skills at your disposal to take down The House; they’re a rival gang that control all the casinos (and the cops) in the city, and they’re widely-known race fixers. Everything comes down to The Outlaw’s Rush – the Valley’s ultimate race.

Your introduction to the crew also serves as your introduction to racing. The game eases you into how to race, drift, and all the nooks and crannies of the gameplay as you come in contact with the  main players. As one-dimensional as they may be, they’re a fun group nonetheless, though the enemies aren’t quite as lovable. In saying that, you can’t really expect The Witcher 3-level storytelling from a game about street racing. It’s all about getting the band back together to take down The House at any cost.

Playing as the different characters that make up the crew, you get used to their driving styles, but never really care about what happens to them or their cars. You’ll pick a favourite, of course, but even then only marginally, and still be hanging for the next chance you get to customise your latest car find. Most of your challenges throughout the campaign will be races, and each of these have optional side-quest type things that you can choose to partake in for an extra bit of rep. The handling is easy to grasp and welcoming for newcomers – no Project CARS 2 level stuff here.

Payback promises you’ll get the chance to live out all your action driving fantasies, which is for the most part true. The unfortunate endgame is that most of the best parts of these ‘fantasies’ play out in cutscenes where you actually have no control. It’s nice to watch, but would’ve been better if it was more involved. These eventuate into ‘Blockbuster Missions’, which are as close as you’ll get to a boss battle in a racing sim. Most of them end up playing out similarly to the finale of a Fast and Furious movie, again reiterating what the devs were gunning for in the latest NFS.

It wouldn’t be a Need for Speed game without heavy car customisation. In Payback, there are five car classes: Race, Drag, Offroad, Drift and Runner. Cars you pick up will be able to be fine-tuned to one of these specs, allowing you to really create the kind of car you’d love to drive. NFS games have always been about creating your own car, and they have fulfilled that expectation here, although you’ll now be using Speed Cards instead of, you know, normal car parts. This does, unfortunately, turn it into a bit of a grind, which isn’t necessarily something you’d expect (or want) from an arcade racer. You can slam your rides to within an inch of their lives now, though, which is a welcome addition.

The fictional Fortune Valley is your playground. Need for Speed Payback has the largest open world of any of the previous Need for Speed games, and you can cruise around to your heart’s content, though how much you’d want to do so is up to you. Sure, Payback is big, but it’s not exactly beautiful. There are plenty of different landscapes to look at, don’t get me wrong, but there was just something about the city nightlife of the 2015 game that was more appealing than this desert/city/mountain combo. Your main reason to traverse the open world is to find the ‘Derelict’ parts scattered around the map. Derelicts are a new option in NFS; find car parts around the map for each of five different chassis and build your dream car from scratch, that can be customised to any of the five car disciplines. We’ll put the available builds here in white text if you wanna know what you can score: the Chevrolet Bel Air 1955, Ford Mustang 1965, Nissan Fairlady ZG 1971, Chevrolet C10 Stepside Pickup 1965 and the Volkswagen Beetle 1963.

Of course, there’s dynamic day/night, so it’s worth returning to some of your favourite lookouts to watch the sun go down. One of the best benefits of this open world are the Roaming Racers. Spot a few people going past you a little fast? Drive up next to them and chances are you’ll be able to partake in an impromptu street race. It’s a fun little addition that’ll keep you busy when you’re just roaming the streets. One downside of Payback, however, is the new police system. You can no longer simply dodge the cops by outrunning or outmanoeuvring them; you’ve now got to follow a set line and reach the end before your time limit is done, which has made one of the most adrenaline-inducing parts of the game merely a chore. The minimap in the bottom corner could also do with a bit of tweaking to be more useful.

Need for Speed Payback‘s cliched story and wannabe-trendy cast can mean the game is at times a bit of a drag, which isn’t at all helped by its grind-inducing tuning system. That being said, it’s an enjoyable arcade racer if you’re willing to put in the time, and Fast and Furious fans will at least be able to see where Ghost Games have drawn their inspiration from. As a Fast and Furious game? Payback works great. But as far as fitting into the well-established franchise goes, there’s a bit of tuning work to be done.

Buy now at JB Hi-Fi

Reviewed on Xbox One X.