Yes. You read that right. Allow me to clarify.
The first time I played a Need For Speed game was actually the first Need For Speed game, released in 1994 as a year-long exclusive on the 3DO “Interactive Multiplayer” – Road & Track Presents The Need For Speed. On a slow summer day at GameTrader of Casselberry, Florida, my coworkers and I popped the disc into the store display unit, waited almost 5 minutes for the game to load (it was 1994, after all) and pressed P to start.
The revolutionary game took advantage of its CD-ROM based format, featuring slick, shiny cinema sequences of real sports cars tearing up the road, Top Gear style. It gave you the virtual rush of racing these beautiful cars along the highway at insane speeds with no risk to life, limb or wallet. And it made you listen to one of gaming’s first douchebag characters, Mr. X, as he taunted you with awful, smarmy smack-talk no matter if you won or lost. Several on-the-job-clock races later, the Need For Speed franchise drove its well-produced, fun-to-drive, horribly-scripted way into my heart.
Here I am, 20 years later, playing Need For Speed Rivals. The cars have become faster and more fluid in control. The graphics have become hyper-detailed, going beyond realism and into motion picture-like visuals. So in this age, the 8th generation of video games, why has the storytelling actually gotten worse? It serves as only a fraction of the experience, yet manages to deliver misery on a much larger scale. But I don’t care. I love the games. The Need For Speed name has become synonymous with great racing and terrible writing. It’s part of its charm. And when the overblown dudebro machismo becomes too unbearable, you always have the option to press X and skip the cinemas and get straight to the asphalt.
Which brings me to the Need For Speed movie.
Like all Need For Speeds, the racing is recklessly marvelous and every impact had me giggling with destructive glee. It echoes several aspects of the games, whether it’s the copious amount of first-person driver’s seat camera, the handy real-time race maps complete with gamer icons puttering along the roads or the flares marking the finish line. Things I missed? No “chase cam” angles above and behind the car (where I usually play), no gamey gadgets like EMPs, no Christina Hendricks (who played Sam Harper in Need For Speed: The Run)… and why the hell didn’t we get cops in pursuit Lamborghinis? All in all, the only thing the races really needed was a controller in my hand to do the driving.
Then there’s the rest of the movie, which takes that tiny fraction of crappy story cinemas in Need For Speed games and blows them out to a running time of more than two hours. TWO HOURS. The time between races just keeeeps gooooing. I mean, Aaron Paul’s great and all, but he can only do so much with the material. Dominic Cooper channels Wacky Races villain Dick Dastardly so well that I almost wish they’d put a scruffy Muttley-looking dog in the cars with him. Then there’s the gang of wisecrackin’ mechanic buddies with all the ’tude of Sonic The Hedgehog. Not attitude, apostrophe tude. Imogen Poots starts out as the only intelligent character, but that doesn’t last long. After all, who could possibly fill the shoes of improbable love interest?
STOP TALKING AND KINDLY START WITH THE SUPERCARS AND THE DRIVING AND THE SMASHING, PLEASE. I’M GONNA PRESS X AND SKIP TO THE RACE. Oh. Wait. I can’t.
So there you have it. I really liked the fast parts. The rest, not so much. The Need For Speed movie has all the racing excitement of a Need For Speed game… bogged down by the longest, dumbest cinemas in video game history.
And with no X button to save you, they’re not to be skipped.