Need For Speed: Payback













  • Great visuals
  • Ease of use
  • Fantastic open world


  • Very limited races
  • An abysmal storyline
  • Extremely repetitive

Need for Speed is a classic title, of course, it has been going on since 1994. I’ve had many fond memories playing some of the older games, the Underground series comes to mind every time I think about Need for Speed. It’s why it pains me so much to say that Payback just isn’t all that good.

This is painful. Really painful.

Payback is the first Need for Speed game I’ve played since Carbon, so it’s not all that unusual to see that everything has changed. A lot just seem completely unnecessary, however. So, sit back, make a cuppa and get your reading glasses on. Let’s see what Payback has to offer.

SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be talking about a vast majority of the game’s storyline, you’ve been warned.

The Story

I’ve never really seen the use in a story in what’s essentially just another arcade racer. Anyone who plays these games just wants to get a fast car and race. Nonetheless, there is a story. One that’s cringeworthy at best.

Side-note: You’ll see me using the words “cringe” and “cringeworthy” frequently throughout this review.

The story follows street racer Tyler Morgan and his “crew” in a hunt for revenge on a Illuminati-esque “crew” known as The House. You still following? Yeah, I know, street racers controlling the city. Yawn.

Two cars waiting at the racing line.

It begins with Tyler and his friends competing in generic style street races… From this point I got kind of bored because of all the stereotyping and general cringe. So, I’ll summarise:

They steal a Koenigsegg Regera R in a sort of heist, mission, thing? The guy who owned that car – the ominous Marcus Weir, loses it to The House and doesn’t like that… obviously. Tyler’s crew is disbanded and has to do some hard time working for Mr Weir and from this point I actually lost all interest and skipped most of the cutscenes.

What I’m trying to say here is, you will not get lost in a “fantastic story driven narrative”, you’ll get lost in a slur of pieced together scenes that are supposed to make you “feel” for the characters. Along with some stereotypical hard-man lines that will inevitably make you wince. It’s just, awful. There’s no other way to say it.

I just can’t stand the way some developers seem to think everyone is looking for a blockbuster movie experience through gaming. It’s nonsense.

Character Development

So, does the story improve? Are there any hidden gems? Put bluntly, no. I’ve seen better character development through a cat vomiting up a hairball.

Take, for example, Sean McAllister, AKA “Mac”, AKA “London Guy”. He’s depicted as a sort of stereotypical London roadman. Then, in one of your first missions playing as Mac, you’re introduced with Lethal Bizzle’s “I Win”, you know? to get that London grime scene vibe…

The only real development we see is how he’s gone from being a sort of showman to a street racer professional. Wow, I can feel the cringe just typing that.

And then the dialogue is just sincerely painful and dull. “I can fly!” is a frequent example of this. Just stop.

Still, if you really feel like investing your time into understanding the characters then there is a fair share of cutscenes. These cutscenes do try their best to break down their characters. Whether it be for better for worse, that’s for you to decide.


There was a time when Need For Speed was rivalled by similar urban racer titles. Games such as Midnight Run, Burnout and Juiced are a few that spring to mind. These days, the arcade street racing scene has become saturated. Leaving very little to compare to.

However, that’s not to say there is nothing to compare it to. There’s arcade racers like Driveclub, The Crew, Forza Horizon and our recently reviewed Crash Team Racing. Each have the differences, and in turn they have their similarities.

Need For Speed, much like EA’s other titles has a beautiful environment. And with it being in such a vast open world, it gives players the means to explore and be a little creative.

Except for one thing – your creativity is limited.

Free Roam

After roughly 30 minutes or so of an introduction to the game you’ll be treated to your first car and free roaming. It’s a great way to start some sight-seeing in Fortune Valley.

Need For Speed makes great use of exploring through it’s “mini games”, and by that I mean a few speed focused racing lines you can take through the countryside. You’ll be challenged with speed traps, drift trials and average speeds throughout the map.

On top of that there’s the option to collect casino chips and to find and destroy billboards.

The map as seen in the menus in Need For Speed

This may seem like a little bit of fun to do while progressing the storyline, but then you start to think… it’s a little bit boring. Well, maybe not boring, but monotonous. It gets stale quick. And if anything, loses excitement within a few minutes.

Free roam does give you the opportunity to test your finely tuned machine, however. And with the vast amount of space, it gives you plenty of opportunity to find some twisty mountain roads, long straights and of course – off road dust bowls.


The main aspect of the game – racing. How does it weigh up? It’s tough to say. The whole time I was playing I had this thought at the back of my mind: “It’s just an arcade racer”. And I suppose, that is the correct way of thinking.

A BMW sliding through the streets in Need For Speed: Payback

The races are fairly simple: the large majority of them are just race from A to B or complete X amount of laps and come first. To change things up there’s the occasional time trial race where you’ll have to reach a checkpoint for the time to be extended.

There’s really no other way to put it. It’s just plain, tedious and outright repetitive.

The worst part is you’ll find yourself repeating these same races in order to get some cash, because inevitably, you’ll get bored of the same witless car and will eventually want a new car.

Cars handle as typically as possible for an arcade game. And by that I mean you’ll find yourself sliding into any nearby wall or object. There is so much understeer, and this is definitely the case for every single car you drive. Then again, you’re not really expecting simulation results from this game.


Customisation in Need for Speed is critical. And I sincerely mean that. If it wasn’t for this then I’m sure there would be almost no point in the game. It sets it apart so well.

So how does it fair? Better than previous criticisms I assure you.

Much like the previous iterations, there’s room to make your own custom livery as well as the usual body kit additions. There’s a reworked upgradeability system that works but only just.

I say that kindly, only because these are at least staying somewhat true to the original.

But the thing is, it’s just not as fleshed out as it could be. It just feels a little pointless upgrading a part of your vehicle that in turn upgrades other aspects. For example, upgrading the turbo will give you a speed boost but for some reason, it’ll also affect your braking.

I just don’t really see why? Why not give the player full advantage over what does what without affecting other stats.


You remember that old saying – gameplay over graphics? It’s a fairly simple idea. The game is built upon its core mechanics and all of the art & visuals are usually built after it.

Well, in this case it seems like it may have been the other way around.

The game is gorgeous and very well polished. There’s a really immersive environment, too. The cars feel very well detailed and the various materials to the individual cars really is quite pretty.

And all of this just feels like a shame. Because of it’s detailed exterior, it’s almost as if it’s a cover up for the uglier inner workings.


I know for a fact that there will be a multitude of individuals who will disagree with the vast majority of this review. And that is completely to be expected. At the end of it, this has been rather negative.

Need For Speed Payback is a great little timewaster in my opinion. The kind of game you could pick up for a few moments while you’ve got 10 or 20 minutes spare in your day. But as a compelling narrative with ground-braking mechanics? Not in a million years.

And for that reason, I can’t really suggest buying it. There are better alternatives out there that may be worth investing your money and time into. For example, The Crew & Forza Horizon have fantastic open worlds as well as the expected racing element.

But then again, it’s not for me to decide, this could be the perfect racing game for you. The only way you’ll ever know is by trying it for yourself.

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