In a move that’s not too uncommon in gaming these days, the PC release of Need for Speed comes a few months after the console release. The “why” often has people speculating about plots to safeguard sales on the console version, but in this case the reasons were more directly linked to specific optimizations for the PC platform. Let’s see how they turned out in our review.
When Need for Speed came out for consoles just in time for the holidays last year, it wasn’t the glorious reboot many were hoping for. The game had a flashy exterior, with some good looking arcade racing and live action cut scenes of the B-movie variety, but critics lamented the fact that – under the hood – not all was well. We’ll get back to some of that criticism later on, because we want to keep our focus on the PC-specific features for the sake of this review.
For starters, the game’s frame rate is unlocked now, and now longer capped at 30 frames per second like it was in Need for Speed Rivals. This is excellent news for PC gamers who have a gaming rig powerful enough to run games like this at blistering speed on high resolutions. For those who are really serious about the power of their graphics card(s), Need for Speed on PC also gives you the chance to run the game at 4K resolutions – opening up the potential for bragging rights (and apparently tons of #pcmasterrace tags on twitter). For a game that already looked good on consoles, this is clearly the best version to get if you’re interested in fancy graphics for your arcade racer.
Next to these visual upgrades, the game also offers built-in support for a host of steering wheels. Steering wheel support isn’t new because wheels can be bought for consoles as well, but the range of supported wheels is far greater on the PC. While a wheel isn’t as essential here as one is in a game like Assetto Corsa or Dirt Rally, it’s still a nice touch – especially for people who already have the setup installed.
Most importantly, the updates that came to the console version post-launch have already been integrated into the PC version. Aside from little tweaks here and there, most of these updates involve new content for the game – with one important exception: much improved catch-up logic for the game’s AI. In nearly all the console reviews, as well as in player feedback, perhaps the biggest gripe with the game was that the AI’s catch-up logic ruined a lot of the fun. It’s also called rubberbanding, and it’s the effect that allows you to catch up after making a mistake early on in the game. It also makes sure that, no matter how impeccable your race has been, a mistake in the final mile is going to cost you the win – since you can’t ever shake your opponents. A dynamic like this is needed for an arcade racer, but it also has to be carefully balanced.
In the console release of Need for Speed, this balance was clearly lacking – and the community complained. The experience often felt unfair, no matter if you won or lost. In the PC version, rubberbanding still happens (as it needs to), but it’s far less annoying than what we’ve seen happening in the console versions. Assuming you’re running Need for Speed at a resolution of a “mere” 1080p, this is actually the biggest change you’ll see when compared to the release versions of its console brethren. This doesn’t make the Need for Speed reboot a perfect game on PC, of course. Other issues remain, such as over-simplified AI behavior for teammates and cops.
When games get patch up after their initial release, the original review score doesn’t change. This is where EA profits from their delayed release of the PC version – a more than competent arcade racer that’s still a little rough around the edges but vastly superior to the console editions that came half a year earlier.