Need for Speed Payback — a video game review


I recently finished the game Need for Speed Payback.

Well, “finished” may not be the exact word I’m fumbling for here. I’ve completed the story portion of the game. I am nowhere near finished with all of the activities, whether it’s earning all stars on every jump and speed trap or collecting parts to rebuild my own derelict automobiles. Not even close. I am pretty close to reaching Level 50, however, and I really want that, so I’ll keep on grinding away for at least a little while.

However, I know myself pretty well. With the story portion of the game behind me, I’ve finished the game. I’ll soon have my head turned by something new and shiny (perhaps another NFS game), and I’ll leave this one behind. I don’t think I’ll sell it, though. I’ll keep it the same way I kept Need for Speed Rivals to play again at some unnamed future date (and the same way I didn’t keep Need for Speed (2015), the reboot of the series, although it had some fun moments as well).

Somehow, without fully realizing it while it was happening, I’ve become a fan of the series. Looking over the list of all the NFS games ever produced, I have played many of them. Some were more memorable than others. Some were, frankly, forgettable. But, without a doubt, should I live long enough, there will be another NFS game in my future.

That being said. I’m not really a car guy.

I mean, I like cars. We own a couple. And I can drive. It’s how I get to and from work, and anywhere else I want to go. I’m not anti-car. I’m just not a gearhead. I’ve played games that purported to offer a more realistic racing simulation experience than NFS. They probably do. I also found them incredibly boring in comparison. In fact, while playing them, I was reminded of some of those early flight simulator computer games, many of which were in realtime and about as exciting as watching paint dry.

As it turns out, I don’t want too much realism in my racing games. That should come as no surprise when you examine my choices in entertainment more closely. In video games, as in television programming and motion pictures, I’m forever chasing imaginative fantasy. That’s what Need for Speed is, at heart: imaginative fantasy. You can do things in the cars offered as options in this game that you could never do in a real car, including incredible jumps and equally incredible crashes that don’t result with your character being DOA. When I’m behind the wheel, I collide with parked cars with the same gusto as I possess when ramming police cars or T-boning rivals. You should all thank your lucky stars that this isn’t a fantasy that I wish to play out in reality. That would be—crazy?

If you’ve played racing games before, you understand the thrill of the race and achieving that sudden burst of speed with nitrous. I can’t swear that the racing mechanics in this game are any better or worse than the other racing games I’ve played, including other NFS titles. I can tell you that it’s fun, and often challenging. Some of the missions were a bit on the tedious side. Plus, I never really got the hang of drifting in this one, at least not when it counted. Fun in spite of this, though.

This game received mediocre reviews from most critics and civilian players who bothered to write reviews. Most were complaining about the grinding required for progression and to earn the money to buy the more expensive cars. These are true statements, though its part of the challenge of playing a game such as this one, I’d rebut. Others complain about the technical aspects of fine-tuning your car. I know little about this and usually do only cosmetic adjustments to my vehicles. Perhaps this is not a game meant for the hardcore gearhead.

Something I do feel I am qualified to comment upon are the criticisms leveled at the story-mode in Payback. One reviewer called the dialogue “retarded.” No more so than in any action movie, I’d warrant. The story itself is straightforward, about a team of three rogue racers who are going up against overwhelming odds to beat The House in the city of Fortune Valley that seems to have been modeled upon Las Vegas. The House is a cartel that runs the casinos and the city’s police force. As player, you take on all challenges and events as one of three characters: Tyler, the Racer, whose primary drive is a Race car; Mac, the Showman, who mostly comes to play in Off-road events; and, Jess, the Wheelman, who drives Runners and getaway vehicles. There are intense cinematic set pieces in this game that offer more spectacle than gameplay challenges, but I found them enjoyable. The conclusion of the game might have been a bit anticlimactic. With all of the exciting buildup it could hardly have been otherwise.

Some Easter Eggs for a genre fan such as me are included. David Ajala, who plays Mac in the game, is the actor who was Manchester Black on Supergirl for several episodes. He has several other credits that caught my attention, including Star Trek: Discovery. Dominique Tipper, who is chief antagonist Lina Navarro in the game, is better known, to me at any rate, as Naomi on The Expanse (returning on Amazon in December. Yay!). Other faces, and voices, seem familiar as well, but I’m not sure where I’ve experienced them before.

Firewater’s High-Octane Report Card: A-


Bottom line: I believe this is a good game. You already know what you’re looking for in a racing game. If entertaining fantasy is more important to you than realism, you’ll find something to like here as well.

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