Even after so many releases, Need for Speed is a series in a constant state of reinvention. While so many companies seem content to iterate endlessly, EA’s approach to the NFS series on mobile has been conservative, releasing a game only every few years, with each quite different from the last. The latest entry, No Limits, is not so much a companion to the upcoming series reboot on console, but an original entry built from the ground up for phones. Firemonkey Studios (the result of a merger between NFS: Most Wanted dev Iron Monkey and Real Racing dev Firemint), it’s got both the legacy and the talent behind it to raise expectations.
The latest reimagining of the flagship racing series doesn’t ape its nearest competitor Asphalt 8, but it does bear a strong resemblance to the earliest 3D titles in the Asphalt series. Set in a realistic city scape, it pits you against other street racers as well as aggressive police with fast, simple arcade controls, and quick, straightforward racing events. There world it’s set in feels rooted in reality, even if the fast, nitro-boosted, power-sliding physics aren’t.
No Limits is about as close as it comes to a AAA production on Android. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, not just for their detailed textures and realistic lighting, but for the subtle presentational touches. The camera subtly shakes with the rumble of the engine, and the view feels more like a chase cam than the kind of ethereal hovering disembodied view you normally see in games. The series has never felt faster or more visceral.
This is pure, simple, high-speed racing action, almost to a fault. All the basic tropes are here. You have your nitro meter that can be charged up. You can swipe down to drift around sharp turns. There are even ramps littered around the courses to help you catch a little air (though don’t expect anything like the outrageous jumps of Asphalt 8). This all works very well, but it can all feel a little too easy at times. It doesn’t take a great deal of skill to keep your car on course and out of harm’s way, which means victory can often feel like it has more to do with your car’s specs than your driving skill.
And therein lies No Limits’ biggest flaw. Inevitably, EA has moved the series to a free-to-play model, much as they had with the successful Real Racing 3, and as Gameloft did (post-launch) with Asphalt 8. This means a “feul” limit that limits how much you can play at once, level and performance rating gates that lock you out of races until you’ve done enough grinding (or dropped a little cash). None of these seem terribly punishing, especially early on, but the real problem is the undue weight that they’re given in the gameplay itself.
When you’re already artificially stopping players from progressing unless they’ve achieved a certain level, it’s unnecessary and even counterproductive to weigh these stats so heavily in the game itself. Since the courses themselves are so easy, success or failure feels like a matter of the hardware you’re bringing to the race rather than your driving skill, which effectively neutralizes the reward of practicing and perfecting your run; the core of any great racer.
This is a missed opportunity. What No Limits does well, it does so very well. This is one of the best looking mobile games out there, it plays great, and it’s packed with content. It tries to walk that delicate line between rewarding skill or just grinding, and at times it succeeds, but more often races just feel too easy, and occasionally just impossible without better hardware. Despite all there is to like, this year’s Need for Speed still finds itself eating Asphalt’s dust.
Is it Hardcore?
It may look and play great, but Need for Speed’s first free-to-play entry can feel like an exercise in grinding.