★★☆☆☆ | PS4, XBO, PC
Need For Speed, a tepid reboot of the sprawling, 20-year-old franchise, tries to cherry-pick the best elements of the series but fails on almost every conceivable level.
It's ostensibly an open-world racer, but as you only see that world from freeways and slip-roads, the details quickly become little more than a repeating urban wallpaper. It's a shame, because when you take your eyes off the road, you realise the graphics are very accomplished, with moody, noir-ish shadows and lots of strip-neon reflected in puddles. But you don't take your eyes off the road because this is a driving game.
Instead you spend your time traversing the implausible number of spaghetti junctions over and over, as if you've died and discovered that purgatory is just driving around the outskirts of Birmingham in search of services. It doesn't help that Need For Speed appears to be set in a near-future dystopia in which the world is in a state of perpetual darkness and drizzle, and nobody, literally nobody, walks the streets. These abandoned roads feel like a gritty sequel to Disney’s Cars.
To try to string the repetitive missions – race here, now race here, now race here – into a coherent whole, you're bombarded with calls and text messages from some people who you just met, who are all entirely, irredeemably terrible people. The opening hour is packed with nauseating cut scenes, which unforgivably slow down a game with the word "speed" in the title.
Even when the races get underway, the AI is so horribly designed that you only really need to concentrate for the last portion of each one; lag behind and the cars in front inexplicably slow down, while no matter how far ahead you get, one mistake is always enough to drop you back into second or third place (an upcoming update may fix this "rubber-banding")
It's not a complete write-off: side missions involving baiting the police while causing wanton destruction to the environment have a certain brainless charm, and the customisation options provide some motivation to keep grinding through the missions.
But it's not enough: everything from the HUD to the cut-scenes feel like a sad, distant echo of Grand Theft Auto V. If you're going to take an open world game and strip away everything but the driving, you better make sure the driving is a lot more fun than it is in Need For Speed. This reboot has already stalled.