The Need for Speed series has long been about hot pursuits and narrow escapes, but Need for Speed Payback chases those thrills in some new ways. I got some hands-on time with the game during Gamescom, where I poked a hornet's nest and tested out some of the game's new off-road action.

One of Paybacks new activities comes in the form of bait crates. These are mini-sting operations set up by Fortune Valley's police department to catch thieves. When you hop into a bait-crate mission, your objective is simple: Evade the cops until they lose interest in your speedy butt. The prize – loot contained inside the crate – is sent to your garage. Don't worry; the police in Fortune Valley are in the pocket of a criminal organization known as The House, so you needn't feel guilty about breaking the law.

The police showed up almost immediately after I activated the mission. We were on the outskirts of the Las Vegas-like city, and my tires kicked up clouds of sand whenever I veered too far off the road. The A.I. is aggressive and pretty clever, and they'll try to box you in. I did my best to prevent that from happening by weaving in and out of traffic and ramming them before the police had a chance to get into position. The difficulty was balanced to be challenging but fair, which I appreciated. There wasn't a whole lot of rubber-banding that I could detect, and I was able to get away thanks to judicious use of nitro and a little bit of luck.

I also participated in an off-road event. Before it started, I accepted a side bet. If I was able to get first place while maintaining a particularly long drift, I'd get an additional payout. I figured I didn't have much to lose, so why not? Off-road isn't something I typically associate with Need for Speed's normal street racing, but trading paint with other cars on sandy trails was a lot of fun. A few well-placed ramps added some additional thrills, too, and I nearly landed on one poor sap's roof. The driving felt looser than on the proper asphalt roads, but I was able to negotiate hairpin turns and last-second shortcuts fairly well. I didn't manage to hit that drift requirement, however, which was a bit of a bummer. Maybe next time.

Ghost Games is playing up the game's high-octane story mode, but I'm happy that the comparatively mundane activities that I accessed while just driving around were still a lot of fun. Look for Need for Speed Payback on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on November 10.