Need for Speed Payback is a fun open world racer and you could do much worse than playing it, but its attempts at goading the player into using micro-transactions, uneven difficulty and attempts to crib open world design elements from Forza Horizon keep the game from being truly great.
You play as three protagonists, Tyler, Mac and Jess as they race Fortune Valley a Las Vegas stand-in as they complete various racing, drifting, dirt, drag and getaway events to take down 'The House' a cartel that has been fixing street races and screwed over Tyler. Blah blah, the story is knock-off Fast & Furious schlocky tripe, but nobody plays racing games for the plot anyway.
The game can look very good at times and the open world is fun to drive around in, mostly because of the open world activities you can do in it. Smashing billboards, breaking speed records, drifting, finding derelict cars and challenging roaming racers are all fun to do, and I know that because I had fun doing them in Forza Horizon. Still, for people who don't have access to an XBox One or a decent PC, this game can be a good replacement for Forza in its best moments.
It's just too bad that the highs are counterbalanced by a vehicle upgrade system that, maybe true to the game's Las Vegas aesthetic feels less like upgrading a car and more like pulling a lever on a slot machine. To the game's credit, since it has been released the game has made its upgrade system kinder and gentler, putting less pressure on the player to give in and purchase micro-transactions. However simply having to engage with a randomized upgrade system that was designed to frustrate you into paying more left a bad taste in my mouth, regardless of them walking it back.
Also, this game has some of the more ridiculously blatant rubber banding I've seen in a racing game in a long time. You will absolutely feel it when you eat wall and get sent to the back of the pack and the cars ahead of you slow down to give you a chance, just as you will when you're ahead and the cars always manage to stay close enough to pass you if you make one single mistake, no matter how high you've leveled your car. This ties back into the micro-transactions; the game seems to purposefully try to frustrate you so you will go to the store and pull the level on the slot machine and hope you get something useful. Forget about being the same level as an event being enough to beat it; I found that you need to be at least 15 to 20 levels higher before your chances of winning went from being a coin toss to likely.
All in all, it's an okay game, but people with access to Forza Horizon 3 should just get that instead.