Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, it’s amazing to consider the journey that Need for Speed has undergone till now. From the first game, The Need for Speed, in 1994 to arguably the series’ peak with Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed in 2000 and then traversing new territory in the Underground series, Need for Speed is a franchise that’s constantly being pulled in new directions. However, in time, Need for Speed began to look back at its former glory days and trying to translate this magic to whatever the current generation of consoles would be. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010), Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) and even Need for Speed Rivals (2013) all worked to recapture what truly made the series great while repackaging it for the current generation.
Of these, Need for Speed Rivals was probably the best indication of the series going forward. Yes, it was about avoiding cops and taking part in illegal races based in an open world but it was dirtier and grittier than previous titles that stuck to a more metropolitan landscape. It was also the first cross-generational Need for Speed title, meaning it launched for Xbox 360 and PS3 along with Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Perhaps most incredible was the fact that despite running at an almost locked 30 frames per second, it ran at 1080p resolution across all platforms. This is noteworthy because there weren’t many Xbox One titles that could hit that benchmark so early in the console’s life cycle (and many still struggle to achieve this).
The new Need for Speed is focused purely on current gen platforms however. As noted in our initial analysis, it runs at 1080p resolution on the PS4 and 900p resolution on the Xbox One, and our pixel counting wasn’t exactly easy due to the number of post processing effects on display. Both versions run at 30 FPS, which is a bummer given how other titles like Forza Motorsport 6 and Project CARS run at 60 frames per second. However, again, the number of effects combined with the large open world (which is twice the size of that in Rivals), velocity based motion blur, beautiful rain effects detailed screen space reflections and high dynamic range lighting make the current frame rate understandable. Frame rate performance in general is better on the PS4 version.
Head to head comparison between the PS4 and Xbox One comparisons. Also include is a short comparison with DriveClub.
The improvements and evolutions that have been made on Frostbite 3 – which the current Need for Speed runs on – are intriguing on their own. As noted in Battlefield: Hardline and Star Wars Battlefront, developers seem to be focusing more on post processing effects for games on the Xbox One rather than significantly upping the native resolution. While we’ve noted the somewhat meager jumps in the engine’s use since its introduction in 2013, Frostbite 3 is still responsible for introducing physically based rendering, new weather system, photogrammetry and further improving on workflows for development. This is combined with the already established in-game destruction technology and Geomerics’ Enlighten which allows for real-time updating of lighting on consoles.
With Need for Speed, Ghost Games takes the focus on effects and HDR lighting to deliver a sleek vision for the game. The action is fast and yes, even furious, with a cinematic depth of feild and high quality motion blur. EA touted the customization of Need for Speed, promising a return to the days of Underground, and visually at least it doesn’t disappoint. Physically based rendering can be observed even on the smallest body parts and this definitely sets the customization and level of detail apart from other titles.
Need for Speed has a massive open world but thankfully, Ghost Games decided to populate it. Unlike in Need for Speed Rivals, the city just feels denser with more detailed scenary and high resolution textures. Core assets definitely seem to have gone up a notch and it presents a significant step forward for the series. However, the biggest difference between this Need for Speed and previous entries is in its usage of volumetric light effects. Given that there aren’t any purely daytime races, you’ll witness some very cool scenes during dawn and dusk. And as stated in our initial analysis, you won’t find better screen space reflections than here – brake lights, street lights and more all reflect on the roads and whatever damp surfaces you happen to drive by thanks to screen space voxel calculation.
The lighting effects in-game are further enhanced by chromatic aberration and while we’re somewhat divided on this approach, some may appreciate it. The implementation of bloom and blur – with the game using velocity motion blur and per object motion blur – further make the races feel dynamic. This paired with mist and fog effects and film grain effects also helps in making races feel truly cinematic. When comparing the Xbox One and PS4, we found the former to be using a normal bokeh effect while the latter relied on higher quality depth of field similar to that seen in Need for Speed Rivals. Another cool effect we noticed while observing Need for Speed: the engine uses live action footage mixed in with real-time game footage of cars. It’s subtle but adds some intriguing dimensions to the gameplay’s visuals.
Also while observing Need for Speed, it’s interesting to see how it takes after Evolution Studios’ DriveClub with its lighting. Plenty of lights bounce from headlights on to your own vehicle and nearby objects with some global illumination thrown in. One of the key points of Enlighten (which is used in Frostbite 3) is its ability to separate direct lighting from indirect lighting while having both run asynchronously. Not only does Enlighten allow for a reliable but flexible architecture but it’s also great for dynamic environments. If you’re wondering why Need for Speed can handle so many bounce lights so well, then the key is Enlighten.
Of course, Need for Speed does have its downsides. Clipping issues could be noticed on cars and we also saw low quality animations on bushes and trees. Also, despite SSAO providing smoother shadows, dithering does occur at times. This isn’t as noticeable in Need for Speed due to the lack of daytime racing but it’s certainly there.
In terms of overall image quality and performance, we have to give our nod to the PS4 version of Need for Speed. Not only does it provide a better native resolution and benefits like a higher quality depth of field but there are less frame drops than the Xbox One version. That being said, we can’t wait for the PC release of Need for Speed to find out how the game runs at 60 FPS.
Analysis performed by Bill Smith. Additional reporting by Tim Cook.