Enlarge / Derelicts start weak but are potentially some of the most powerful cars in the game—assuming you grind enough. (credit: Electronic Arts)
Despite being an overall fantastic year for games, 2017 has brought some real lemons in the racing world. Need for Speed: Payback should have been poised to flip that narrative.

The once-annual series had a year off to center itself and looked like it was leaning into a promising premise—a Fast and Furious-like tale of professional car thieves/street racers.

The stars seemed downright aligned to light the way for Need for Speed’s comeback.
Unfortunately, even next to relatively weak Gran Turismo and Forza releases, Payback might just be the worst major racing game this year.
It’s certainly the worst Need for Speed in some time, which is saying something given the series’ own flailing in the last few years.
Sanitary revenge
The game’s issues begin almost immediately, with the revenge plot that gives Payback its name.
It’s an almost comically low-stakes setup in which one member of a gang of five street-racing heroes betrays the others over a Koenigsegg Regera (that’s a fancy sort of car). Nobody dies, goes to prison, or is grievously hurt over it.

The betrayed gang members just get different jobs—as a getaway driver, mechanic, valet, and stunt driver for YouTube celebrities, respectively.
That indignity is apparently worth the gang getting back together and plotting life-or-death raids against “The House,” a vaguely criminal organization that wants to rig all gambling in Fortune Valley (aka “Fake Las Vegas”).

All such raiding involves street racing of some form or another, because that’s what a Need for Speed must be about, regardless of any seemingly unrelated MacGuffins the plot wraps around it.
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