Ghost Games and EA have today announced Need for Speed Payback, coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on November 10. Set in and around a desert casino town dubbed Fortune Valley, players will race and pull off heists as three separate characters united against a local criminal cartel that runs the city. Ghost has added off-road driving to the mix and is promising the deepest customization in the series to date.
IGN spoke to creative director William Ho to learn more about Need for Speed Payback.
IGN: For over a decade Need for Speed was on a cadence of yearly releases; now it’s stretched out a bit more. Do you think the extra time between releases changes the way people look at the finished product? If so, how?
William Ho: Taking more time means two things: One is we get the time to talk to our fans, understand their needs, and have time to adjust the game design accordingly. Two is we have time to make larger, more complex experiences that wouldn’t be possible with a shorter dev cycle.
IGN: What’s the inspiration behind Need for Speed Payback? I imagine there would have been plenty of suggestions regarding where to go following Need for Speed 2015: what made Ghost double-down on Payback, and what would you say the biggest differences are between Payback and the previous game?
William Ho: I looked to the last Need for Speed as a sharply focused experience. It just nailed authentic car culture, deep customisation, and accessible racing in a gorgeous open world. It was easy for us to just go for more variety on every front: more visual variety, more gameplay variety, more exploration and discovery, and more motivations to build and drive fast cars. To focus all that variety, we viewed our core gameplay through a blockbuster movie lens. That shift in focus from racing to action driving is the key difference in Need for Speed Payback.
IGN: The lighting in Need for Speed 2015 is very strong; I really like the way it gleams on the damp, rain-slick streets. Did the strength of the previous game’s lighting help encourage the team to look at doing a presumably Vegas-esque casino town with Fortune Valley? One that I guess would be brimming with a huge amount of coloured light?
William Ho: Nightime in Ventura Bay really showcased what EA’s Frostbite engine is capable of. But we knew that our rendering, lighting, and VFX systems are capable of much more variety than what you played last time. So Need for Speed Payback shows off a full spectrum. You’ll see the glamourous lights in the casino district and at other shiny landmarks. But that glamor is juxtaposed with the grit of rougher neighborhoods and of the surrounding rural areas.
IGN: On the topic of the map; does the game only take place at night again? I actually didn’t mind that at all in the previous game (I feel like the city probably looked its best at night) but I did find it a bit weird when it would transition from the dead of night to a pre-dawn state and back to night again…
William Ho: Need for Speed Payback will feature a 24-hour day/night cycle. So we’ll definitely have nighttime again, but also other times of day that look just as great.
Need for Speed Payback will feature a 24-hour day/night cycle.
IGN: The announcement mentions off-road racing, which certainly adds a whole new dimension not present in NFS 2015. How has off-road racing changed the way you look at Need for Speed Payback’s handling model, car selection, and customisation options?
William Ho: We really aimed to make customisation and gameplay feel broader and deeper. All of the stars aligned to make off-road a no-brainer. Trucks are as popular as ever in the States. Off-road customs are hot right now. Off-roading combines both speed and style. And it’s a nice counterpoint to street racing, so much so that off-road is a key part of the single-player campaign.
IGN: I see you have five classes for cars (what’s ‘Runner’, specifically?); what else has informed the way you approached car curation in this instalment?
William Ho: We have a wider variety of gameplay, including the addition of action missions. Of course, there isn’t a single vehicle type for all occasions. So we came up with five distinct car classes: Race, Off-Road, Drift, Drag, and Runner, which is decked out for stealth and built for dodging cops and threading through rush hour traffic. Everyone will build up a stable of cars that’s diverse enough to win any race and complete any mission. But exactly what you choose to build is entirely up to you.
IGN: I love the abandoned vehicles, like the barn finds in the Forza Horizon series; they’re a great idea. What’s the story here?
William Ho: There’s a rapidly growing car culture in the States called Derelicts. Basically, abandoned classics are being restored and rebuilt in surprising ways. Some are made to look as mint as the day they left the factory. But more interestingly, a lot of derelicts retain some of their natural aging. Others are transformed with unique, bespoke parts. The results are stunning and are truly one of a kind works of art. It’s only natural that Need for Speed Payback present Derelicts in a big way.
IGN: How much other feedback did you receive regarding NFS 2015’s customisation and how much has it evolved?
William Ho: Fans who customise their rides are dedicated and vocal. We heard how the Wrap Editor was great. The inconsistent number of visual parts per car was not so great. And they gave us many suggestions about the tiniest details. We’ve taken the feedback seriously. The result is a refined visual customization experience. Same great Wrap Editor, more parts to mix and match, more refinement to make millions more jaw-dropping rides.
IGN: How does having three player characters change the way the game unfolds?
William Ho: We have a wider palette of ways to drive fast. So we’re introducing three characters with different skills and points of view, all working towards the same goal: to bring down The House. Tyler is the rising street racer, Mac is the gonzo showman, and Jess is the consummate wheelman for hire. You’ll play each character’s personal quests, but also at times help them team up against some stiff competition.
Need for Speed Payback is built on a solid racing core… [b]ut it has a wider palette of driving fantasies.
IGN: Will Payback handle multiplayer differently to NFS 2015?
William Ho: We’ll talk about multiplayer in greater detail later. But for now, I’ll say that Autolog will get a proper treatment for recommending the best times for you to beat in races, missions, and activities. And we’re levelling up our online multiplayer Speedlists to 2.0. Stay tuned for more info soon…
IGN: You’ve mentioned heists, which interestingly seems to place NFS on the same trajectory as The Fast and the Furious film franchise. But how do your heists compare?
William Ho: Need for Speed Payback is built on a solid racing core that our fans love. But it has a wider palette of driving fantasies, including a series of blockbuster action movie sequences. You saw a preview of our thrilling highway heist mission in our reveal trailer. It involves our three characters working together to hijack an 18-wheeler that’s barreling down a busy highway. It’s an example of what we mean by action driving: white-knuckle, high speed driving and battling that ends with an action movie payoff. Be sure to tune into EA PLAY to see what the payoff is!
IGN: What are you most happy with so far in Payback?
William Ho: I’m super happy with the game as a whole. It’s ambitious, but it all just kind of fits together. Looking back, I’m really satisfied with our goal to stretch beyond racing and into action driving. It respects core Need for Speed gameplay, but frees our team to explore possibilities that lie outside the bounds of strictly racing.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.