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You’re in the scorching desert.

In the distance you are greeted with an outline of a luscious and fruitful city as the heat from the sun reflects on every smooth surface of your car.  As you gaze upon the perfect machine for the job, you cannot help but form an emotional bond with it.The engine roars into life, and sends chills down your spine, as you look at the empty road ahead. Filled with fast sweeping bends, you can only imagine the ungodly speeds you are about to take them in. You grip onto the steering wheel as man and machine venture once more. These are the thoughts that encumbered my mind after watching the Need for Speed Payback unveil at E3.

However,Payback lacked the voluptuous game we were promised. You truly have to love the car you first get. You’ll be spending a lot of time in it.

I chose the Honda S2000 as my first ride in the opening of Payback’s story campaign.  The unremitting challenge posed by the AI prioritises upgrading a single vehicle over getting new cars, much less customising them. Ironically cars, parts and all the diverse customisation that have given the franchise its sense of personalisation and chic are given the back seat, as your are faced with an unpalatable choice : Use the same car in different races, or drive various cars in the same races, to grind out levels and unlock parts. This really is quite painful, as Payback is built on what is a promising foundation. EA do have an astounding knowledge for creating strong arcade racers, and it is evident in Payback. However, Payback clutters this with lacklustre  AI and a repetitive grinding process.

Need for Speed Payback lacks focus in what made the original games so successful: the cars. The story isn’t really prioritised either, written in a tolerable manner with explicatory dialogue and shallow characters. There are three main characters each with their own forte –  a street racer, a getaway driver and a drifter/ off roader. In order for you to progress through the story you will have to give them new cars – A car that can have a level cap of 399 – which is to potentially start over, grinding your way through levels that one has already beaten in order to bring the car up to par for the mission ahead. Each mission has a rating that your car needs to match in order to partake fairly in the race.

Cars that happen to be under that number will be left behind almost indefinitely, mainly in street races and off-road events. The challenge was welcoming, especially knowing in typical arcade racer fashion the AI would always find the perfect line and display tremendous amounts of cornering speed. The game would feel a lot more rewarding if the game were to give better resources on the spot, or unlock more higher tier cars that have progressively better handling and performance, without having to grind in order to buy them.The “shipments” are available to players for “speedpoints” which you buy with real-world money. While this is not a technical pay-to-win mechanic, you can still acquire in game currency to build up your cars. You can still get shipments by logging in everyday, and they involve a reasonable size of in-game money, some part tokens and a cosmetic item that is exclusive of the shipments.Some would argue that Paybacks repetitive grind, loot boxes and various in-game currencies push players to spend money in order bypass the grind and therefore take part in the pay-to-win scenario. A more ergonomic solution would be to allow players who partake in racing, to take what they earn from it into a new vehicle.

However, every race after the initial story, feels as if you need the most optimum performing car to the starting line. Hence, repeating the process of an excruciating grind.The events and activities in Need for Speed Payback are well connected to the story, but the story    isn’t any deeper than the emotional connection of losing ones goldfish. The main protagonist known as Tyler, got double crossed on a deal. He and his faithful conglomerate aim to take on a mysterious organisation called The House, which are going against the true spirit of racing, by rigging them in their gambling themed city of long open highways and twisty suburban areas.Payback emphasises the glamour of the street racing scene, and it is really entertaining, but the dialogue is always shallow and lacks the spunk seen in the character design.The most satisfying aspect of the game would be the boss battles that coincide with the story. They are raced through beautifully designed courses that are set to emphasise the boss’s driving speciality, however the courses allows from a long stretch of road that allow you to easily get past them should you struggle in the beginning.

Incorporated in these events are a good selection of appropriate music, while being soft enough for the engine notes of the cars to be heard. If you want to listen to a song, simply stop the vehicle and the volume will momentarily go up.Need for Speed Payback doesn’t really speak well for itself. While still being a well grounded arcade racer, the story lacked depth. The car aspect of the game would of dealt better had it not been stat focused.

All this, coupled with a map layout that does not encourage much exploration despite being packed with collectibles. Payback, while being built on a well based foundation, lacks the necessary  je ne sais quoi, to keep me coming back for more.5.8/10

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