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Feeling the Need for Speed

GOTHENBURG (Sweden) — I careen down a highway, tyres screech as I take a hard left. Cops are approaching fast but my eyes are on the road — I’m in the midst of a race where winning will fetch me some good money. A flick of the nitro and I’m past the finish line — before I wheel away and lose the cops amid the turns of the city.

GOTHENBURG (Sweden) — I careen down a highway, tyres screech as I take a hard left. Cops are approaching fast but my eyes are on the road — I’m in the midst of a race where winning will fetch me some good money. A flick of the nitro and I’m past the finish line — before I wheel away and lose the cops amid the turns of the city.

I take my headphones off and I’m back in Gothenburg, home to one of the biggest racing game franchises, Need For Speed (NFS).

Having just celebrated its 21st year of existence, NFS is an urban street racing title that has taken many forms, from attempts at a story mode (2003’s Need For Speed: Underground) to a game purely about evading the police (2013’s Need For Speed: Rivals). At a press event at Ghost Games’ offices in Gothenburg, Sweden, members of the media got to race around the games’ fictional Ventura Bay in a beta build of its latest game, set for release on Nov 3 for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and for Windows in early-2016.

The upcoming subtitle-less NFS is a full reboot of the series, and is what developer Ghost Games’ creative director Craig Sullivan calls the “definitive Need For Speed experience”.

“We took a year out from Need For Speed because we wanted to listen to what the fans were saying,” said Mr Sullivan. The gamemaker found out that fans wanted a narrative, modified cars and driving in an urban environment – some of which were missing over the last few years and are all now included in its latest game.

The high-action driving game allows you to drive modified cars through a city at very high speeds. There are five different driving styles to choose from, with the final aim of meeting a real-world race icon. You play with a crew — Spike, Robyn, Amy , Manu and one nameless man.

The icons — Owner of multiple Porsches Magnus Walker (speed), Gymkhana expert Ken Block (style), Lamborghini modder Shinichi Morohoshi (outlaw), RAUH-Welt BEGRIFF owner Akira Nakai (build) and drift crew Risky Devil (crew) — each represent a style of play, whether it’s racing fast, modifying your car or evading policemen.

The real-life race stars act as themselves in the game, alongside other actors, as part of the narrative that blends real-world actors with CG cars. “(This is) something that is really cool and we’re really proud of”, said Mr Sullivan.

Selecting the icons was partly based off past work on NFS and from modified car culture website, owned by publishers Electronic Arts. The icons have been featured on Speedhunters before, and through this Ghost Games got in touch with them.

Said Mr Sullivan: “We got to spend time with them … we’d like to think that with those interactions we picked up the way they talked, the phrases they use. (In the game) they use phrases they would in real life.”

“We have the cars that they choose to drive — they’re in the game — I know Morohoshi-san is well known for that pink Lamborghini that he likes to drive around with the leopard print on it. ... we talked about Ken Blocks’ Hoonicorn — that’s in the game. Or the very wide-bodied Porsche 911s that Nakai-san builds — one of those is in the game,” he added.


So, was the year-long wait for the revamped game worth it?

Traversing city streets, highways and winding mountain roads was a certified blast, but where the game stands out is in the narrative. It turns out spending time with the crew is great fun. We only caught a glimpse of the icons in the introduction of the game, but you can quite quickly tell which member of the crew will guide you to your icon of choice.

The acting can be a touch cheesy, but it’s fun and adds to the glamour and bright lights of night racing. From fist bumps to the lingo, you’ll be pulled right in. And the blending of real-world actors with a computer-generated car? If you look closely you can see the seams, but it’s just a nice touch that makes the game more immersive.

In terms of driving, handling isn’t the most realistic. Still, the mix of arcade-style and simulation has been refined. This helps to keep it fun, while ensuring that mastering that drift isn’t as simple as just flicking a button.

Evading cops can be a bit of a pain — especially when they appear mid-race — but there is a way to adjust how often they appear. And if you have a rebel streak in you, the outlaw missions involve stringing the police along while racking up fines, then evading them. Getting caught is a huge bummer though, as you’ll be fined and returned to your garage.

Mad Max this is not. You’re not out to create vehicular mayhem but to attempt poetry on four wheels: Weaving through traffic, out-maneovering the police and going sideways down a hill. Winning races means more money and rep (reputation), which means you’ll get to unlock new missions, new races, and new cars and mods for your ride.

The first few hours of the game, which I experienced, seem promising. The driving experience and graphics were quite a bit to experience. The story mode was good fun, and the blend of real-world and computer graphics was a neat trick. There were few new features but Ghost Games has taken what fans liked about past iterations and modified it into a cohesive whole. Still, it must be noted that there’s always the chance the narrative might get steered astray towards the end.

As I left Gothenburg, my taxi drove on rain-slick roads to the airport. Midway, the taxi interior was flooded with blue and red lights thanks to a nearby police car. Suddenly I was on Ventura Bay again, escaping from the cops, taking corners at high speeds and drifting, drifting across the city. CHANNEL NEWSASIA

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