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 Need for Speed Offers a Personal Journey with a Narrative

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Need for Speed Offers a Personal Journey with a Narrative Empty
PostSubject: Need for Speed Offers a Personal Journey with a Narrative   Need for Speed Offers a Personal Journey with a Narrative EmptyTue Sep 29, 2015 11:18 am

Considering how decidedly average I am at racing games, I’ve always found it slightly odd that scarcely a year goes by without me purchasing at least a couple of entries from the genre. Masochistic tendencies aside, it’s all a bit strange – I know I’m not improving, my knowledge of car makes isn’t getting any better, and my progress through each successive game comes to a screeching halt long before the halfway mark. With this in mind, I thought I’d get some enjoyment from my time with the Need for Speed reboot, but by the time my six or so hours with the game had come to an end, I was hooked.

There’s a number of big changes that have gone into this NFS title, all of which have some role in making it far more appealing to someone like me, who is in no way a car enthusiast, though it certainly seems there’ll be plenty of stuff in there for those who are that way inclined. Having spent the last year taking a break in which to seriously think about how to redefine the franchise, creative director Craig Sullivan explains it’s the fans of the franchise who contributed a lot of the ideas for what should be a staple part of the series going forward. It just so happens that these elements also have universal appeal.

“We wanted to redefine what Need for Speed is and say from now on, the core components of what a NFS game is will stay the same,” he explains. “So you should always have modified cars, some kind of narrative, the ability to performance tune the car, cops and irresponsible driving. We know we’re not a straightforward sim of driving around a track – there are other games that do that and they’re fun, but Need for Speed should stand for something consistent so when people think about putting their hard-earned cash into it they know what they’re getting.”

We realised that in order to do this we needed to treat the cars with a bit more reverence and respect.

There are quite a lot of big changes to take in, though I found one of the more interesting to be the decision to limit your garage space to just five cars. Though some may lament that gone are the Pokemon-esque days of trying to collect every car, the benefits seemed to outweigh the costs. What Ghost Games is trying to achieve is to make you care about your ride – whereas in previous years I’d unlock a new car and take it out for a spin without even bothering to look at its name, during my hands-on I spent six hours driving a 1990 Ford Mustang Foxbody, carefully selecting upgrades to hone its handling, tuning how much drift it had and how sensitively it steered.

“We wanted to teach you the skills and allow you to unlock the possibilities of tuning your car, making it look the way you want to, whether it’s putting fenders on it or a body kit or decals, and we realised that in order to do this we needed to treat the cars with a bit more reverence and respect,” explains Sullivan. “So we didn’t want to just give you a car that went 15 miles faster in 30 minutes, then another that went 100 miles faster in two hours. We wanted to go: ‘Here’s your car, here’s a bunch of money, treat it like a real thing. Do you want to save up and buy a Lamborghini? Or do you want to spend $100,000 making this car go as fast as a Lamborghini?’ There’s not many games where you can do that and I think that’s a really interesting aspect of the game.”

But where Need for Speed really hooked me, completely unexpectedly, was with the decision to seriously focus on narrative as a pillar of the game. Ghost has revealed before now the five racing icons who’ll be appearing in the game, and how your aim is essentially to rise up and cruise alongside them as a peer. What hasn’t been so well publicised is that each of these masters has someone just like you, a wannabe pro who idolises them, and it’s this group of five amateurs that you slot into when the game starts.

With the story told via live-action cutscenes and all characters played by actors, maybe it isn’t so surprising that I found myself so engaged. Sure, there are a heck of a lot of hammy moments and tragic bits of dialogue, but it also felt like I was sitting among friends thanks to a first-person perspective. The moment I realised how much I was enjoying myself was when I stopped playing for lunch, and found myself passionately chatting with my fellow games journalists about the possibility of a love triangle developing between three of the characters. It’s managed to make me take the story away from the game – and that’s no mean feat.

Ultimately at the end of the day you’re driving a car round a city at 200mph being chased by the cops – how serious can it be?

“We tried to make it so the way your group of friends talk to each other and include you is Need for Speed,” says Sullivan. “We know it shouldn’t be super serious or overly dark, or overly comic book. There’s a tone we think works. It’s fun right? Ultimately at the end of the day you’re driving a car round a city at 200mph being chased by the cops – how serious can it be? So there’s a storyline in there that pushes you through and lets you have fun. We think it’s cool, we think our fans will like it because they’ve been asking for it so… we’ll see.”

In essence, Ghost Games has created an RPG – or maybe it’s just the fact the CarPG has arrived at long last. The five slots for cars create a situation where it feels like you’re levelling a character as you scout the world for quests/events to complete, accrue experience, level up and upgrade your gear to facilitate you fulfilling the role you enjoy playing most. Will you focus on boosting your speed first of all, or do you want to go for tighter drift control instead? It comes together to create a feeling that this isn’t just a vehicle – this is your ride, and I was oddly as committed to this faceless protagonist as I have been to the many characters I’ve encountered throughout my gaming career. All this happens while you’re surrounded by a group of likeable caricatures with whom you meet regularly in drinking holes to discuss your collective plans to move forward.

Best of all, gone is the forced skill roadblock found in many other car games. If you can’t complete a race, you can keep on grinding on it until you outlevel it and can afford the upgrades needed to beat it with ease – if that isn’t a staple of the RPG genre, I don’t know what is, although mercifully this grinding is far less tiresome than one would assume from the connotations implied by the phrase thanks to the rapid rate at which you accrue cash.

This isn’t the Need for Speed we’ve seen before. But this is what we should expect in future. In a marketplace where an influx of franchises old and new like Forza, The Crew, Drivclub and Project CARS make it more important than ever to have your own, defined voice, it’s about time one of the genre’s stalwarts drew a line in the sand. It’s a good time to be a racing fan – and an even better time to become a convert.
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