When Need for Speed: Payback was first unveiled to the general public in a highly cinematic trailer, I instantly took to slamming the game for a variety of reasons, criticizing EA’s willingness to pursue a story-driven direction that already had failed them twice prior, as the mixture of narrative elements and a lighthearted, semi-scripted driving mechanic was explicitly not what their core audience had asked for. However, while some jumped on me for not giving the game a proper chance – it was just a trailer, after all, and there was a glimmer of hope that the actual gameplay experience might be better considering the extended development time – moving footage of the software in action surfaced during Electronic Arts’ own EAPlay event, and it only confirmed my suspicions. Devoid of character, life, or a satisfying driving experience, Need for Speed: Payback is the result of non-gamers sitting in a boardroom, crunching numbers and analyzing data ad nauseam to try and piece together a package that ticks all the boxes of what market analysis says customers should want, but in reality has the substance and longevity of a kiddie pool.
There’s a story, but it’s so embarrassingly cliche and stereotypical, away from Need for Speed it would pass as little more fan fiction from a borderline-obsessed Fast & The Furious fan on DeviantArt, registering under a fake birthday to bypass the age restrictions. The driving elements, again calling upon the Ghost engine that has been used since 2013’s Rivals, looks to once more draw upon what was established with Criterion’s Burnout series of yesteryear – meaning that driving is a solution to a problem that occurs on-screen, not something to be enjoyed and mastered over several hours of play. Payback isn’t a recipe for X amount of sales or an average rating of 8.0 on Metacritic because Y amount of Need for Speed fans also happen to like the official Fast and the Furious page on Facebook; it’s a sad, clumsy project that should never have been given the green light.
And the remaining Need for Speed supporters are making their voices loud and clear – that they too are sick of this bullshit that the team at Ghost have been needlessly perpetuating since the launch of the current console generation. The official Need for Speed Facebook page has been loaded with negative comments trashing Ghost for what will now be three totally misguided efforts since taking over the franchise, with EA awkwardly trying to convince buyers that this year will be different because some YouTube personality they flew around the world to promotional events said so.
Actually, make that two YouTube personalities; one of which whom can’t even remember his lines, and most likely couldn’t tell you the difference between aero push and an apex. This is of course exactly what I want from the longest-standing racing game franchise attempting to make a compact; a guy who looks like he’s never driven more than 10 km/h over the speed limit telling me to get excited for a game where the driving experience isn’t satisfying and the story – which none of us wanted in the first place – is so intrusive, it constantly takes control away from the player.
Good job EA, this is why people hate you.
Now, are Need for Speed supporters acting entitled by aggressively lashing out at Electronic Arts and Ghost Games for taking the legendary series in such a bizarre, nonsensical direction?
I don’t believe so.
As a video game developer, or the creator of any piece of entertainment, your fans are what carry you. If you’re in a rock band, your fans are the ones buying the albums and going to shows. If you’re a director, your fans are the ones hitting up your new movie on opening night and consuming all the merchandise. If you’re an author, your fans are the ones lining up in front of Wal-Mart at midnight. Maintaining a good relationship with these people is priority number one because it guarantees success & stability, and right now, Electronic Arts and Ghost Games have failed to do that.
And they failed because the team have decided regurgitating two concepts the fans previously have not responded well to – bullshit physics and intrusive narrative elements – rather than actually sitting down and listening to what the fans have been asking for. Across multiple Need for Speed communities, the demands for a game are pretty simple – a nice selection of vehicles, a variety of scenic locations, acceptable customization elements, a driving model that behaves somewhat like a car with four rubber tires, and an intelligent police presence. By ignoring the community and spawning an abomination such as Payback, it’s basically EA coming out and loudly proclaiming that they don’t give a fuck what the fans think – which of course tarnishes their relationship with the fans even moreso.
Now this would be kind of understandable if Ghost had set out to create a sort of Lulu on Wheels – an avant garde art piece – but that’s not what happened in the slightest; Ghost took a year off primarily because sales of Need for Speed 2015 were so low due to paltry fan support, and they wanted to ensure the next game would tick all of the boxes hardcore fans had been asking it to, therefore resulting in a sales resurgence.
Yet Payback proves they have simply wasted everyone’s time. Undercover, The Run, Rivals, and the 2015 reboot were all received horribly, so why on earth would Ghost and EA believe it was a wise idea to combine all of them into one gigantic mountain of shit, while acting under the guise of “doing what the fans want?” This isn’t what the fans wanted; it’s what the fans returned to GameStop a week after launch in 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2015 respectively.
What’s even more perplexing is how Ghost were unable to sit down for an afternoon and actually examine the source material that Need for Speed fans have been masturbating over for the better part of the decade; desperately wanting sequels to. It’s honestly not a difficult task to hook up an Xbox 360 with a copy of Most Wanted – the highest selling Need for Speed game of all time – or download a PlayStation 2 emulator and turn a few laps in the unforgettable Hot Pursuit 2, while taking notes about what each game nails to perfection. This isn’t some instrument that Celtic folk stopped playing in the 1200’s, it’s a fucking video game from a decade ago and it runs on Windows 10 operating systems; how Ghost were completely unwilling to hear out the fans in the first place and turn laps in these games to see what they did right, while simultaneously taking a year off and claiming the next effort is for the fans despite combining the worst elements of the four lowest-rated Need for Speed games in the series’ history, is mind-boggling.
Need for Speed fans have every right to be upset over the existence of Payback and what it stands for; the project is the absolute pinnacle of businessmen totally detached from what makes a genuinely fun video game trying to craft an experience that does nothing aside from tick boxes in an effort to maximize potential sales.