There are several event types, and activating them involves engaging your awful posse who phone you multiple times mid-race. Robyn calls to offer drift challenges, speedy Spike’s all about point-to-point sprints, Amy doles out time trials, and silly-haired leader Manu incorporates all the disciplines into his lot. It’s astonishingly seen-it-all-before, just as it was in 2012 with Most Wanted. Even import and tuning culture, the whole point of this game, boils down to customising like you’ve done in a dozen other racers. Apply decals, paint rims, tweak suspension, lament the passing of time.
There’s a whiff of promise in bad boy Outlaw’s cat and mouse challenges with cops, but LA’s police force is terribly implemented. They’ll tail every few minutes telling you to pull over, at which point you can either do so and pay a fine, or not do so, because literally why would you in an underground driving game, and attempt to outrun them. Losing hefty chunks of change if you’re caught is a supreme annoyance. There are no paint-trading battles or spark-filled crashes, just an inconvenience you have to settle before moving on. They interrupt events too, which is less welcome than an ugly streaker during the Super Bowl. This is a racing game punishing you for racing.
Side activities are scant. You can hunt for doughnut spots in which you spin your car round in a little circle for points before driving off sad that it didn’t involve Krispy Kreme in any way. You can also find new parts, and sniff out designated scenic views by driving up to, say, a graffiti mural and pressing the relevant button to take a picture when prompted. They’re poor uses of an otherwise visually stunning world that captures LA’s (sorry, Ventura Bay’s) imposing gloom like few games before it, at least from the perspective of a person driving through it very fast.
The city won’t chime with memories so much as with as resonate with senses. There’s loose riffs on the Griffith Observatory and Hollywood Hills, sure, but it’s more a tonal tribute to LA, the city at twilight after the parties have died and before the trash is collected. A pumping contemporary soundtrack adds to the urban atmosphere, and this PC version adds more tracks. While Ventura Bay is great for taking pictures in, the nature of the racing also means it’s uncannily empty to drive through, resulting in a lush but lifeless location.
Need for Speed, then, feels like the tutorial for a deeper racer, or the barebones bit you can play while the rest of the game downloads in the background. It’s not only boring, but so bereft of ideas that it represents a series running dangerously low on creative fuel. The hazard lights are blinking.