Tyler and his crew have landed themselves in a spot of bother, forced to pull heist after job and job after heist, chipping away at the criminal cartel, The House, in Fortune Valley. He’s looking for payback, but there’s a little more to it than that, in what promises to be a blockbuster ride that’s aiming to be considered alongside the spectacle of the latest The Fast and the Furious films.
But how did they get into this predicament? Well, they actually simply walked straight into it, trying to swindle Marcus Weir out of the Koenigsegg Regera, only to be double crossed by The House and a turncoat within your crew. It’s an audacious plan, though not one I would personally have come up with, as Tyler Morgan enters a race driving the Regera, while others prepare a path for him to first leap out and over the side of the street circuit (which is only really restricted by the artificial glowing arrows that keep you on track), you then have to lose the cops that instantly appear, thanks to a diversion from your partner in a more bruising car, and then make good your escape. It sounds simple, right up until the double cross.
When Weir catches up with Tyler, it’s a straightforward deal; work for him to exact revenge, or get a nice long stay in prison. The most audacious of these jobs will naturally tie into the blockbuster action missions, weaving together high-octane action and story in a mixture of gameplay with occasional cutscenes breaking it up. There’s no doubt that The Fast and the Furious series of films is an inspiration, but it’s yet another shift, another fresh start for the series.
Kyle Buck-Thompson, Lead Level Designer at Ghost Games said, “In some ways it is a follow up to the last game. We have the deep customisation that we had previously, we have a much more open world this time around, but I think the last game brought our fanbase back to the underground. We’ve been driving towards our original DNA and locking down what this franchise is from our point of view, and I think we’ve found it with this. […]
“I’d say that this to me feels like the first time we’re taking a step beyond where we were before. We have our creative direction locked down, we have our lead designer locked down, we have level design locked down; we have a vision for where we want to go in the future and we don’t want to keep picking up a player base and dropping them, picking up a new player base and dropping them. […] It was really a symptom of having multiple studios on the franchise at the same time, but we’re finding our feet, I feel, and I’m really excited by the direction in which we’re going.”
In the process, they’re doing away with the fascinating mixed cutscenes from Need for Speed in 2015, which brilliantly and seamlessly blended video with in engine graphics. In many ways this was the game’s signature trick.
“Again, we really struck our creative direction,” Kyle explained. “The previous title was a return to the underground, but it was very rooted in genuine car culture, but for us, that’s not where we want to be. We want to be going towards more and more of a world that can support narrative flows, with characters that you get to know and then continue growing with for a period of time. We don’t want to keep changing it up all the time with a new cast of characters every time.”
Payback builds itself around having different cars for different tasks. You don’t want to go shunting into people in a nice, ultra-rare hyper car, you want to be blazing a trail and getting away from the fuzz that are chasing you. Instead, you’ll want a Runner for the times where you need to get a bit rough with the rozzers. A nice BMW M5, as EA boisterously unveiled at Gamescom ought to do the trick. Then again, the police will gradually break out more powerful Rhino trucks that try to put you out of commission, will chuck spike strips at you, chase with helicopters and might even bring out electronic kill switches that they can trigger after pulling up alongside you for a while. A nice bit of AI design has them try to box you in, in the hopes of slowing you down.
Drag racing, drifting, and off road racing join the hyper cars and bruising chargers, each with events tailored to them and their varying handling styles. Not only that, but you’ll be hopping back and forth between the three characters. Tyler’s all about the racing, Jess is about making a getaway, while Mac is the showman who’ll take on races for the hell of it. It’s him in a modified BMW X6M that I control in one of the game’s off road races, taking a step away from the main thrust of the story and indulging in the open world.
In each of these, you can then place sidebets on yourself to succeed time and time again. They’re not just your standard positional bets, as explained by Kyle to us, but let you put money on being able to pull 500m of drifting, or stay in first or last place for a set period of time before then winning, for example. If you’re feeling confident, you can let this accumulate between races, raising the stakes each time you spin up your rear tyres.
Winning events is important for unlocking new parts and upgrades for your vehicles, but Payback takes a leaf out of online shooters here with the introduction of Speed Cards. You choose blindly between three cards at the end of a successful event and can unlock various different parts to try and boost the performance. What’s interesting here is that instead of simply making the car better and better, there can be a trade off. An exhaust I unlocked would boost the airtime and landing for the X6M, but reduce the BHP, top speed and 0-60 acceleration in the process. It’s likely to be a divisive decision, but one I feel will help to keep the playing field level, while also scratching the loot crate itch that many people feel.
From one type of crate to another, and Bait Crate will bring all the cop cars to your yard. Found out in the open world as crates to smash into, they’re straight up cop chases that you can head off in any direction to try and escape, in contrast to some of the more linear events and missions in the game. They’re scaled up or down to suit your vehicle, but again, it’s playing on that fight or flight decision that you’ll see elsewhere. Is your car up to taking a few hits, and dishing them out? Or are you better off trying to race off into the distance and lose them?
While there is plenty of open world play to be found, it does feel that the game will all hinge upon the draw of the story running through it and the blockbuster action that has been showcased so far. “We feel that’s an integral part of our game,” Kyle said. “We want to be the underground king, basically. We want big action, we want people to feel like heroes in these cars, and form bonds with the cast of characters.”