Need for Speed’s Story Experiments Continue with Payback

This holiday season has already provided an onslaught of games to choose from, including three different racing titles that each offer something different for fans of the genre. With Forza 7 and GT Sport trying to entice more serious driving fans, Need for Speed is continuing to focus on its more arcade-style roots with this year’s release, Payback. In addition to the massive open world and focus on police chases, Payback also brings to the table something neither of the either franchises have really dared to try: a compelling campaign. But this attempt at a character-fueled tale is all but the first for EA’s flagship racer; from 2011’s QTE-filled The Run to the more recent FMV fest that is 2015’s Need for Speed. None have really proven to be all that successful, and while the series can easily rest on the quality of its high speed action, it’s promising that the team at Ghost Games is continuing to bring unique ideas to the occasionally stale genre.

So where does the studio turn when looking for inspirations for its latest try at a story? Why not the multi-billion dollar movie franchise Fast & Furious, which has only managed to increase in popularity over its sixteen year tenure. While the movies series has managed to raise the stakes and scope as time has grown, the early looks at Payback has kept things relatively low-key. Although it is certainly possible, even likely, that EA may be keeping some bigger set pieces under wraps, many have begun to wonder if the developer can manage to capture the films’ true best-kept secret: a cast of characters that at first-glance seem cliche, but over time have proven to be anything but. The elite team of quality actors have certainly helped enhance those characters, a feat that will likely not be replicated within Payback, but if the first F&F movie did one thing well, it’s establishing those characters as grounded, relatable people with a fondness for fast cars, and setting up these roles for an ultimately unpredictable future. If Ghost Games wants to attempt to secure a similar future with their trio of protagonists, pushing off the series’ constant bi-annual need to reinvent itself, these heroes will need to do a little more than just quip and drive.

Last week, EA released the above trailer that has given us our best look yet at Payback’s story, as Tyler, Mac and Jess reunite their crew to take down a cartel that controls their hometown of Fortune Valley. While it certainly supplies the F&F vibes in spades with its explosions and hip hop, there’s also some concern to be had. Some of the voice acting and animations seem rough around the edges with only a month until release, and the generic dialogue is just as likely to feel fitting as it is to be campy. It’s tempting but problematic to look too far into that one minute trailer, but with as little as EA has shown so far, it’s hard to feel confident in Ghost Games and their shot at replicating the same success that Vin Diesel and crew have earned over the past decade and a half.

Regardless of Payback’s ultimate results as both a racing title and one with a story, it’s worth mentioning again that Ghost Games deserves plenty of praise for continuing to innovate a genre that often doesn’t see a whole lot in the way of originality (not that it necessarily needs it, but that’s an opinion piece for another time). Nonetheless, if the studio can capitalize on their reliably enjoyable arcade driving and enhance it with a story that can deliver more than just a run-of-the-mill tale of revenge and speed, then perhaps Payback can spearhead a new direction for this historic racing franchise to turbo boost into for future entries to come.