Like an endless night in which you and other friends are bored and wander the city for something to do, Need for Speed channels the feeling of urban aimlessness. While cruising around an empty city, players can snap pictures in front of murals or blast music from the car. Cutscenes find familiar faces bar hopping, playing pool, eating at diners past midnight, or lounging on sofas. Friends like the tomboyish mechanic Amy or the cocksure drifter Manu filter in and out of cutscenes and voice messages, as though departing to other get-togethers in the city before reconvening with the player elsewhere. Rather than amplify the stakes of a central conflict, Need for Speed is fully content with retreating to the coziness of a diner like in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. In these locales, characters summarize the cool things that happened during the course of a night, much like a drunken trip to Waffle House or In-N-Out Burger or another greasy restaurant to soak up a night of stories and alcohol. The perpetual night of the game makes narrative sense. The daytime is the hangover, and the sobering reality of returning to work or school. One imagines that the characters of the game have mundane day jobs, but the night allows them to come alive, finding temporary reprieve in casually racing and drifting alongside dive bars and burger joints.
Read the full column at Haywire Magazine.