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Need for Speed (PC) review: Excellent port, uneven game

Hayden Dingman | March 10, 2016
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Anyway, those are the features Ghost Games has been touting in the run-up to the PC version, and they’ve done a fantastic job. I’ve seen a bit of hitching at the high end of the speedometer and eventually turned most options down to “High” so I could maintain a constant 75-80 frames per second, but it’s the best Need for Speed PC port in a long time.

The game that’s been ported though...Ugh.

Need for Speed’s AI is busted. Just absolutely busted, to the point where I would’ve sacrificed racing wheel support for an intelligence bump. For starters, a number of events are actually co-op and require you to drift/race alongside members of your crew for maximum points. Without fail, this entails your friendly AI crew members slamming into your car repeatedly and knocking you off course, wrecking your drifts, and generally being a bunch of clowns. The only way to safeguard yourself is to get out in front and hope the rubberbanding doesn’t allow the others to catch up and run into you again.

Speaking of rubberbanding: It’s egregious. I’m not even going to get into the fact my 1970 Mustang could outrun an Aventador. Clearly that’s the silly sort of arcade racer fantasy Need for Speed is aiming for, and since I prefer lower-end muscle cars I’m willing to look the other way.

But racing in Need for Speed is a frustrating exercise. I can’t count how many times the frontrunner managed to stay just out of reach until...oh, let’s say the two-thirds mark in the race. Suddenly they’d slow down by about fifty miles per hour, allowing me to zoom by and “earn” that last-second win. Or the AI clocked impossible times on the back of my excellent driving.

Don't get me wrong: Rubberbanding is a vital aspect of racing game AI. You don’t want the player to feel like a race is unbeatable because they made one error, or that the game’s laughably easy because the player pulled ahead in the first turn and never even saw the competition in the rearview again.

It’s an art form, though. It really is. I guarantee you can point to racing games where you feel like the AI “cheated” and games where you felt like the AI was “fair.” And I can almost assuredly guarantee both those games used rubberbanding. One was just better at it.

Need for Speed is not very good at hiding its rubberbanding, and the result is alternating boredom/frustration on the part of the player.

Other problems

It's interesting for the developers to try and cater to fans of both old and new Need for Speed by allowing you to tune between “Grip” and “Drift” handling. However, given that ninety percent of the game’s events involve drifting, the choice is a bit facetious.

 

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