Set in the fictional Fortune Valley, Need For Speed: Payback introduces you to a group of racers who are pulling off a heist, only for it to go wrong as they are double crossed, go their separate ways, get back together after a few months and plot their ‘Payback’.
You get to play as three characters in Payback. Tyler Morgan, Sean McAlister and Jessica Miller. You’ll play as each character depending on the discipline of the events. Tyler takes care of Race and Drag. Sean, Off-road and Drift and Jessica, Runner. The story is made of of separate chapters in which you have to compete in a set amount of events for each character, with progression of the story only happening if you win a race or meet the target time etc. This can be frustrating mainly due to the way in which cars are upgraded within the game.
Upgrades, or Speed Cards as they are known, are randomly given at the end of a race, or purchased from tune-up shops dotted around Fortune Valley. applying an upgrade card adds/takes away from the cars overall level, with each event having a recommended level for you to meet to stand a chance at beating it. The issue here is getting decent Speed Cards to upgrade your car is all down to luck. Picking one of the cards at the end of an event may turn out to be worse than the one you already have, meaning you either have to make a trip to the tune-up shops to check on what cards are available, which refresh every 10 minutes or so, or trade in unwanted cards for part tokens (1 per trade-in) that can be re-rolled to try and get something decent.
Re-rolling however costs three part tokens, and while you can lock in a specific part/brand/perk there’s still no guarantee that it will be better than what you have. You can of course grind for cards by replaying events that have already been completed. This did put me off on numerous occasions, especially when, as an example, you have a level 8 exhaust part, are hoping for at least a level 9 exhaust part. but are given one that’s 7 or lower. Making that 5 minute run seem a waste of time. You can send cards to the garage to be used on other cars, sell them, or as I said earlier, trade them in.
Overall the gameplay is solid, cars are easy to get to grips with and all have a distinct feeling to them. While it is fairly limited to the type of discipline car you’re in, I particularly liked the Live Tuning, accessed by pressing down on the d-pad while free roaming, you are presented with a few sliders that can be altered with the right stick while driving around and help you dial in the steering etc. There are however, at least for me differences in the enjoyment had out of each discipline, Race, Off-road and Drift are all pretty standard, you get what you expect and are fairly enjoyable. Drag races are a little complex, having to keep an eye on the meter at the top of the screen to get a perfect start and up shifts while trying to keep an eye on the road is particularly difficult, and as for being forced to do a standard race in a car set up for only going in straight lines, well that was extremely difficult and had to be re-tried a fair few times.
I feel that runner missions have to be explained a little more, so, as Jessica you’ll perform a variety of tasks from picking someone up and taking them to a drop-of, usually resulting in a police chase, that sadly has you following a pre-set route through checkpoints. You’ll also have missions that are timed, where you’ll be running around a certain area to perform drop offs within a set time limit. to me these felt a little like they were shoehorned in to make use of the police chases.
Being an open-world racer there’s more to do than just the story mission races. Fortune Valley is littered with activities, there’s speed traps, speed runs, drift zones and jumps to check out. There’s also collectables in the form of casino chips and billboards to smash. At certain points in the game you’ll be given clues to go and find a ‘Derelict’ which are, for those at are familiar with Forza Horizon, the same as Barn Finds. an abandoned vehicle out in the world to track down and keep. With Derelicts, you’ll also have to go and find four parts that are also hidden in Fortune Valley somewhere, once all have been found you then have to head back to your garage to put it together, and decide what discipline you want to build it for. I did like this, as it felt a little more involving that the aforementioned Barn Find in FH.
As you level up through gameplay, you’ll be awarded shipments, these are opened from within the pause menu and contain 3 items. A vanity item, used for customising your car, (nitro colours, under glow air suspension) 1 part token and in-game currency. These do stack up often if you miss the little pop-up notification that you’ve earned one. There are 2 versions of shipments, the one I’ve just mentioned is a base shipment earned through game progression, the other is a premium shipment that can be purchased with ‘Speed points’ the in-game conversion of your real money should you wish to purchase them. Premium Shipments offer exactly the same items available in Base Shipments, you just get 2 extra items. Speed points can also be spent on Base Shipments, but as stated above, You get enough of them to void ever having to part with your real money.
For the modders/painters out there, you can also customise your cars, while there’s a myriad of body part options to chop and change the majority of them are locked until you have performed a specific challenge, as an example, to unlock hood customisation you need to complete 3 jump activities with a 2-star rating. Customisation doesn’t end there though, as you can also apply paints and wraps to further make your car your own. If you feel inclined to share your creation with the world then you can upload your design for others to download and enjoy too.
Visually Payback is good, there were some issues with the game taking time to render the majority of the textures, most noticeably on the cars, it lasted for a few seconds before the car/scenery fully rendered in after loading into the game from the main menu/cutscene etc. Very disappointing. There were also a few occasions where the textures struggled to render in while racing. (reviewed on Xbox One S) The game’s audio is fairly decent, with various music tracks to listen to, and engines sounds being pretty spot on. Story dialogue, while cheesy and cliched, was performed well by the main cast.