Fresh from my chat with Marcus Nilsson, head of developer Ghost Games and the man charged with bringing consistency and quality back to the Need For Speed franchise, I took in a presentation and hands-on session with this year’s entry to the series, Need For Speed: Rivals, to catch a glimpse of the development team’s vision for the future.
What I discovered was one of the most coherent Need For Speed games I’ve seen in years and despite the complexity of the systems running under the hood, the game’s online features and ‘back to basics’ cops vs. racers gameplay make for a compelling conceit.
Senior producer on Rivals, Jamie Keen, introduced us to the game by outright stating that it’s about the rivalry between cops and racers, but also the rivalry between you and your friends. Using the AllDrive system (which “destroys the barrier between singleplayer and multiplayer”) means that players can enjoy separate singleplayer experiences at their own leisure, but then choose to look up what their friends are doing on an online map using Need For Speed Network and then seamlessly get involved in the activities of others simply by driving in the same areas of the game.
With AllDrive, there are no lobbies or server screens or options to join a multiplayer ‘match.’ Connecting with a friend’s game happens automatically, at which time you can choose to be a racer and compete in events with people you know, for example, or become a cop and make your friends’ lives that much more difficult as they try to complete challenges.
Need for Speed Rivals Trailer – Customisation Screenshots
When speaking to Marcus Nilsson, he said that personalising your car is a huge part of the Need For Speed series, and Keen wholeheartedly agrees saying that customisation is “a huge part of the game,” and parts to change and upgrade your cars – as well as cars themselves – are all tied into the progression of Rivals as you complete different tasks.
You could go with the factory defaults when it comes to the car’s colour, wheel rims, decorative decals, full body wraps and liveries, and engine setup, but you can of course also dip in and customise these aspects either as a racer or a cop. In terms of performance tweaks and upgrades, the system has been simplified slightly to make it more accessible so the team has grouped certain areas of the car together, like the Engine, Handling and Transmission, and you can also upgrade how much damage your car can take as you progress.
Keen was happy to inform us that Pursuit Tech is back in Need For Speed: Rivals after last appearing in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, which brings back the “rock / paper / scissors” gameplay and decisions as you play as either a racer (who uses speed to escape) or a cop (who uses gadgets and brute force to take down opponents). Cops have access to things like EMP blasts to take control away from racers, and roadblocks to slow their quarry down, for example, while racers, can deploy things like spike strips to slow down the cops, as well as use turbos to outpace them.
Your own personal playstyle is important to the Rivals developers, so they’re giving you the option to not only customise your set up to suite that style, but the ‘Assignments’ that you need to choose in order to complete and progress are completely up to you, too. Each Assignment contains a list of objectives that you need to achieve, all of which are themed around different styles of racing. If you enjoy driving fast, you can choose an Assignment list that focuses on speed and race events, but if you like to test your driving skills, there are Assignment lists with objectives that task you with performing drifts, jumps and more.
Once you complete an Assignment list, you’ll unlock new cars, upgrades and liveries to further personalise your playstyle and progress while earning currency to purchase and unlock abilities – your progress, then, continues to feed back into the way you want to play. There are tons of Assignment lists in Rivals so you can continue to work down a path that you will most enjoy. Intriguingly, you’ll also be able to set up challenges and objectives for your friends to complete around the game world, so there will always be something to do.
Need for Speed Rivals Trailer – Screenshots
Of course, there are also regular events like basic point-to-point races and ‘Rapid Response’ challenges (where you lose time if you make contact with anything), as well as other events. The developers got into a quick race and demonstrated ‘Overwatch,’ which is a second screen feature (accessible on smartphones and tablet devices) where you can ‘join’ the game of a friend in order to very easily help them (by refilling ammo and nitros) and hinder others (by sending in helicopters, setting up roadblocks or jamming weapons).
It wasn’t explained how Overwatch will be limited so as not to simply annoy players online, but hopefully Ghost Games have a system in place to avoid this. While one of the focuses of Need For Speed: Rivals will be the career mode and its story as you play as either a cop or racer, Keen said that details on this part of the game will be forthcoming closer to release.
Need for Speed Rivals Trailer – Undercover Cop Reveal
Once I got a chance to go hands-on with Rivals, I was free to switch between playing as a cop or a racer at any time and burn through the items on my Assignment list to earn some cash, which in turn allowed me to purchase access to gadgets and abilities, like the EMP blast. Need For Speed has always been decidedly ‘arcade’ in the feel of the driving and this is no different in Rivals, harkening back to something like Hot Pursuit as far as manoeuvrability of the cars at high speed is concerned, and the ease with which you can drift around corners.
The build of Rivals shown at gamescom was still in an early state with placeholder artwork and screens for some of the progression systems, but visually the game is (obviously) looking better than the series has ever been, now making full use of the Frostbite 3 engine with considerable tweaks and additions to make it suitable for a racing game.
I’m very confident that Ghost Games can deliver the best ever Need For Speed game while reaching its goals of creating a fully connected online sandbox experience in which friends can race and challenge one another, so my main hope is that the activities, progression, events and player rivalry will be enough to hook me and other players and keep me playing for a long time to come instead of petering out mere weeks after release.
I need good reasons to continue to hop into a racing game, and because Need For Speed is my favourite racing series by far it’s going to be easy for Rivals to make up excuses for me to fire up the engines again and again.
Need for Speed: Rivals will be released on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on November 19th in the US and November 22nd in the UK. The game will also be released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this holiday season.
Keep up with El33tonline’s coverage of Need For Speed: Rivals for more screenshots, videos and details, and read our hands-on preview impressions from E3 2013.
Also follow our coverage of gamescom 2013 for our continued impressions from the show this year, with photos, sights, sounds and more to come.