E3 2015: Need For Speed's E3 demo shines, but does it take vehicle customisation one step too far? (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

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Need For Speed screenshot

WHAT WAS IT?
A 15-minute presentation followed by a 10-minute hands-on demo of a PS4 pre-alpha build. The demo was split between 3 minutes of car customisation and 7 minutes of racing.

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

  • Set in Ventura Bay, a fictionalised version of Los Angeles.
  • Structured similarly to recent Need For Speed games, with multiplayer seamlessly integrated into the game, and event markers dotted around the map. To enter an event you simply drive up to one of them and press R1. Drift and race events were available in the demo.
  • As well as customising your car’s look you’re also able to tune the handling. Drift settings represents newer Need For Speeds, while Grip represents older games in the series.
  • As you race you’ll earn Rep, a form of XP obtained by driving at speed, drifting, outrunning police etc.
  • Daily Challenges will help keep the game alive, although examples of what these could be weren’t revealed.
  • Snapshots of special moments will automatically be captured while you play which are then shared within the game’s Snapshot Gallery. If your friends like the photo, you’ll receive an in-game reward.

HOW WAS IT?
Yes, it’s Underground rebuilt for a new generation, but this year’s Need For Speed actually has far more in common with Criterion’s games than its gritty aesthetic would have you believe. Look beneath its tough urban shell and you’ll find a combination of the old and the new; the deep vehicle customisation from Need For Speeds of the past colliding with the sense of fun, speed and seamless multiplayer mayhem of Rivals and Most Wanted. It’s a highlight reel of the last 15 years of Need For Speed.

In theory, you can make it play like any of the older games, too. You’ve probably already seen how deep cosmetic customisation goes in this year’s game – from body kits and spoilers to headlights and mirrors, everything on your car that you could possibly want to customise can be. But what you might not know is that you’re also able to customise the handling, tweaking the settings to one of two different handling types – Drift or Grip – or anywhere in between.

Need For Speed screenshot

Drift aims to emulate the handling found in recent Need For Speeds like Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted, while Grip targets Black Box’s older, ‘grippier’ games. For the demo, I chose to set it slightly closer to Drift partway between the two, but it didn’t feel overly intuitive, causing the back end of the car to swing out violently with even the lightest tap of the brake. Cornering often felt so unusual, in fact, that I started to perform better when I assumed the car was able to turn at 90 degree angles – far from the most natural way to play a racer.

The new chase cam didn’t help much either, dramatically swinging the camera out wide on faster turns, although Ghost later clarified that this was just one of five different camera angles available. The rest of the presentation stuns, though, with some incredible lighting and visual effects making Ghost’s fictionalised version of Los Angeles suitably grimy.

Whether I simply failed to find the sweet spot or my playtime was an indication of deeper handling concerns is difficult to tell. But with such an impressive visual style and the return to underground street racing many fans will have been waiting for, it would be a great shame to see Need For Speed let itself down with wonky handling after all these years of fine-tuning.



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