When you're forced to recycle old subtitles, you know that it's time that your brand got a reboot. EA Games' long running Need for Speed series has been securing podium finishes for almost as long as we can remember, but despite there being a movie in the interim, the publisher resisted the temptation to churn out a 2014 sequel to PlayStation 4 launch title, Need for Speed Rivals. Instead, developer Ghost Games was given an extra year in the garage to polish its latest game to a fine shine – but our initial impressions are far from positive.
Named simply Need for Speed, this latest joyride stinks of millennial madness – almost to the point where we're shocked that the studio didn't shoehorn a hashtag into its title. Faux social network accounts gild every inch of its presentation, while you'll almost always find your iPhone attached to your hand, as your trendily dressed friends can't seem to leave you alone for more than ten seconds without feeling the need to give you a call. Bruh, they just gotta tell you about that sick new spoiler they fitted to their Ford Mustang.
In fairness, there's a comedic appeal to the full-motion video cutscenes. The bantz is intentionally cringe-worthy, and it's so purposefully bad that it's hard not to be drawn in by all of the fist bumps and exaggerated body language. 'Ames' rocks a rad tattoo and dungarees, while 'Manu' has a fierce beard that best resembles a bird's nest. They're all no-hopers high on Monster energy drinks, of course, but they've somehow amassed the funds to fuel their high-speed habit – and some serious sports cars to keep them occupied overnight.
Need for Speed stinks of millennial madness – almost to the point where we're shocked there's no hashtag in its title
The problem is that, after a couple of hours with the game, this is the best that it's had to offer. The city of Ventura Bay – which seems to be rainier than a British suburb – feels lifeless, with long stretches of barren road flecked by neon lights. There's the odd bit of traffic for you to slip past, but aside from the obligatory collectibles – photo spots, donut destinations – we haven't found anything worthy of our attention yet. Instead, you just drive from race to race like a dope, waiting to see what slang crops up in the next cutscene. Dope.
To be fair, the cars feel good – or at least the couple that we've tested thus far do. The steering is responsive, but there's a weird bug on the automatic transmission which means that gears don't shift as quick as they should. There's no manual transmission option. And while we're on the subject of strange absentees, you can rule out a cockpit view and pause button, too. This game is online only so you can't play it if your Internet goes down – not that we've found a reason to justify this design decision yet.
You can personalise your car with what feels like an infinite number of options, and these tweaks both adapt the performance and cosmetic style of your ride. But while this is all rather impressive, the rubber banding is so bad in races that it doesn't seem to matter all that much. We've played contests where it's worked both for and against us; crashing several times over should leave you in dead last, but we've come back to win on the final straight. Similarly, we've had a clean race where we've been overtaken on the final bend after being acres in the lead.
But perhaps worse than all of this is that there's no sense of occasion to any of the races. You show up at the starting grid, drive for a couple of minutes, and then move on. It's bland, it's boring, and it's hard to believe that the developer's taken an extra year to deliver this kind of experience. Even the user interface looks cheap – the kind that you'd expect in a Gameloft copycat for your Kindle Fire, rather than a big budget console release. It's still early days yet, so we're not writing it off entirely – but when borderline embarrassing cinematics are the best thing about your game, then the grammatically incorrect graffiti's on the wall, isn't it?
Have you taken the new Need for Speed for a spin yet, or are you waiting for more reaction to the release? Put your foot down in the comments section below.