Payback introduces both marked improvements and missteps in its overall narrative. In the shift from the live action first person cutscenes of Need for Speed 2015, Payback improves the flow of its story. The problem is that while it is an actual improvement, it takes itself more seriously, losing the camp charm of 2015’s iteration. Need for Speed 2015’s story had a ‘so bad that it’s good’ charm, intentional or not. Every scene had something to laugh about. Setting up Payback’s story mode like a traditional action game exposes the awful voice lines and loses a lot of the charm. The upside is that the story allows the player to be placed in genuinely fun missions and concepts. Portraying the characters as real people allows them to co-operate together and have different strengths and weaknesses. However, having a real face behind the wheel has had a negative effect on the crashes as they’ve been toned down to allow the characters to live. That said, it is nice to have the character visible in the car while driving, even if surviving the crashes makes little sense.
Payback features an open world that is genuinely fantastic. The world design incorporates rolling plains and tight streets. Collectibles are handled flawlessly, resulting in an empty map at the start, encouraging players to truly explore the world while playing. Collectibles are highlighted through close proximity. Collectibles also revolve around techniques to obtain them, hitting high speeds, landing large jumps or a combination of both to reach higher places. Some great examples of this are the derelicts. Derelicts are classic cars that have been left in pieces across the map. Completing a series of races with groups throughout the story gives a postcard which spawns the derelict in the environment. The postcard has a picture and a snippet of the map which gives you a clue for the part’s location. This results in a treasure hunt as you try to align the picture and the map with what you see to find the chassis in the landscape. This then opens a set of smaller pictures and maps to find the remaining parts. It’s fantastic becauseit incentivises exploration. These special cars are also incredibly useful as they can be built to suit all car classes.
Postcards provide for an enjoyable treasure hunt
To progress the story missions, the cast must gain fame through racing the gangs of Fortune Valley. Events are split across off-road, road racing, drag racing and drift disciplines and all of these work extremely well. Off-road is brilliantly realised, and this is a huge factor that contributes to the fantastic world. So much of the map is driveable that there is a great mix of distinct routes for races and wide-open spaces to play in. The problem with progression lies with the performance modification.
“It’s Not a Gamble if You Know You’re Going to Win”
Payback has dropped the series’ traditional performance upgrade system in exchange for something more in-line with The Crew. Car parts are tied to cards with modifiers and cards are rewarded post-race or bought from a shop with a rotating inventory. While it does result in the same effect as in prior games, where you bought parts to turn street cars into what effectively become race cars, gone is detuning a car or having any other fun challenges that force you to make your car slower.
The upgrade system would be incredible in any other genre of game. This is a step back purely because what came before worked well. The shift towards a largely randomised system with no real-world analogue from one directly rooted in reality, reduces how enjoyable earning upgrades is, making parts of the game a chore to play. That said, Payback is in a much better place than The Crew because the feel of the cars is not harmed by this system, which makes it fun to drive more, even if the AI is questionable at best. It’s just frustrating that the game is about taking down those that rig races, only to have a system that is rigged towards grinding and luck-based rewards.
Is it for You?
Payback fixes almost every issue with its predecessor and is a joy to play until you need to upgrade your car. The world is vibrant, the handling is well-realised, it has new concepts to make the world more than a glorified loading screen and is filled with fun things to do. Payback shows the studio’s heritage of games like Midtown Madness 3, Rallisport Challenge and Need for Speed Most Wanted (2005). If you liked The Crew, this game is definitely for you, to any other fan of driving games, the progression system might be enough to turn you off playing before the game has its chance to shine.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.