Need For Speed: Rivals

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The Need For Speed series has suffered from a severe identity crisis in recent years, a problem that EA and Criterion seemed to have solved with Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit in 2010, one of my personal favourites of the franchise. Need For Speed: The Run, however, threw shade on the series once more before Criterion attempted to correct the course again with 2012’s Need For Speed: Most Wanted.

To solidify the identity of Need For Speed and ensure its positive momentum going forward, EA built Ghost Games to take control of franchise development and in collaboration with Criterion, Need For Speed: Rivals was born.

Does Ghost’s first entry to the series fill us with confidence for the future of Need For Speed?

What You Need to Know

The core conceit of Need For Speed: Rivals once again revolves around the battle between the overzealous Cops and thrill-seeking Racers, this time in the expansive county of Redview. You can swap between both sides of the story and play as either a Cop or Racer at any time to progress, earning ‘Speed Points’ to buy cars, upgrades and equipment as a Racer, or simply purchase technology as a Cop.

The story is incredibly silly, self-serious and melodramatic, but fortunately your enjoyment of Rivals won’t hinge on the quality of the narrative. Once you’ve loaded yourself up with exotic cars and bought speed boosts, EMP charges and electro mines as a Racer, as well as spike strips, energy blast attacks and the ability to call in back-up as a Cop, you’ll drop into an impressively large and incredibly varied open-world where you can take part in regular races, time trial events and Hot Pursuit challenges where Racers need to make it to the finish line and the Cops need to put an end to their fun.

A first for Need For Speed, Rivals introduces the concept of a seamless online world where up to six players all co-exist in the same map (either as a Cop or a Racer) all going about their own progression business, or able to challenge one another to races and pursuits if they happen to see each other driving around the coastlines, desert, highways and mountains of Redview.

On PlayStation 4, the frame rate has improved significantly compared to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game with the bonus of a higher resolution and more detailed world, as well as more noticeable visual and weather effects.

Need for Speed Rivals Screenshot 2

What’s New?

The chance to join up to five other players in a large open world online, all at the same time, is new to Need For Speed and if you’ve got friends who own the game you’ll easily be able to co-ordinate challenges and events in certain areas of Redview by chatting with your fellow racers, which is where the game shines.

If you drop yourself into a completely public match with strangers, however, you’re going to have less of a great time as you chase after other players to challenge them to a race – a challenge that can and will be denied more often than not. The Cop versus Racer dynamic works a little better and more naturally as either can act antagonistically towards the other at any time and be rewarded for it, but it still requires you to actively hunt down other players is a massive world.

Also new to Need For Speed is the concept of the points multiplier, where your current level of ‘Heat’ as a Racer will multiply the amount of points you get for completing pre-set challenges in a ‘Speedlist,’ a laundry list of activities ranging from ramming Cops, winning races and hitting opponents with certain abilities – just be wary of staying on the open roads for too long because if you don’t return to one of several hideouts scattered around the world without banking your points, you’ll lose them all if you’re busted by a Cop.

As a Cop, you’ll need to complete activities on an ‘Assignments’ list – similar to a Speedlist except for Cops – which can be completed without fear of losing Speed Points if you wreck your car.

What’s the Same?

Similar to the last three Need For Speed games, Rivals makes use of the stat tracking and social online tool, Autolog, which records your times and accomplishments in the game to easily compare with those of your friends. Rivals will often pop up the ‘Speedwall’ to show you who on your friends list has the best times and furthest jumps, which you’re able to challenge and best at any time – a keen motivator even for a non-competitive player like myself.

Also similar to Need For Speed: Most Wanted last year, Rivals uses the ‘Easydrive’ system, a quickly accessible menu that can be navigated at any time using the D-pad to find routes to safehouses, repair shops and events around Redview, which are then shown on your mini-map.

You’ll Enjoy Need For Speed: Rivals If You Liked…

… Test Drive Unlimited 2

… The open world of Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) and the driving of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)

… Forza Horizon

… Burnout Paradise

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What I Liked

5.) I always enjoy listening to the Cop chatter as they frantically call in infractions and let me know how difficult I’m making it for them to take me down. On the flip side while playing as a Cop, it’s super satisfying hearing that I’ve successfully shut down a race.

4.) The customisable nature of a career as a Cop or a Racer is very interesting, ably allowing me to choose which activities that most appeal to me to further my progression. The options may not be wildly different, but it’s a system that I’d like to see in the future.

3.) The open world that has been built for Rivals is huge and extremely varied – I almost forgot I was racing when speeding along the coast with waves crashing against the shore and zipping through seaside towns, and it’s possible to go from winding mountain passes to flat stretches of desert tarmac in minutes.

2.) The risk/reward of points accumulation and the points multiplier made for some intense moments as I pushed to earn more currency while in danger of being wrecked by a Cop at any second.

1.) When it’s at its best, Rivals does a terrific job of instilling me with a feeling of genuine speed while making split-second decisions over when and where to use my Pursuit Tech gadgets like mines, spike strips and energy shoves, while unleashing a search helicopter and calling for a roadblock in the heat of a chase can be exhilarating.

Favourite Moment

The open-world nature of Need For Speed: Rivals lends itself to some ’emergent’ (blegh) scenes of chaos, and my most favourite moments have sprung from times where six Racers are speeding around corners between claustrophobic canyon walls or over winding coastal roads overlooking the sea, while a bunch of Cops do their best to smash the speedsters into submission by working themselves into the pack hurtling ahead at 180 miles an hour.

Showers of sparks, explosions of carbon fibre and metallic carcasses violently tumbling out of the race are the norm.

The feeling of raw speed and the sights of chaos erupting all around me during these sequences is thrilling, to say the least, and happen often enough that I always look forward to the more frenzied Hot Pursuit events.

Need for Speed Rivals Screenshot 3

What I Didn’t Like

4.) The soundtrack in Rivals is rather schizophrenic and comprises dance and dubstep versions of fairly well-known songs, made almost unrecognisable.

3.) It may sound like a nit-pick, but there’s no way to directly compare the statistics of one car over the other so it’s frustrating trying to determine which is better when I need to scroll past ten (and more) options and remember their stats.

2.) After a few hours, I would have liked the range of events to become more varied than they currently are instead of jumping into the same sorts of races, time trials and Hot Pursuit challenges over and over at different difficulties. It’s also a bit of a drag having to stop in the middle of the road to initiate an event – it would have been cool to speed along and set it off with a rolling start to keep the momentum going.

1.) The seamless connectivity of Rivals is a good first step, but has nowhere near met its potential. A total of six online players is simply not enough and its frustratingly difficult trying to engage with them – stranger or friend – even when co-ordinating. The inability to directly challenge a player from the map (instead of driving to their position) or seamlessly jump into one of their active events is a massive missed opportunity and feels as though these players may as well not be in your game at all.

Least Favourite Moment

Having earned 300 000 Speed Points (which is a lot to begin with) sitting at a Heat level of 10, my car was at a dangerously critical level of damage and I was trying to limp home to the safety of a Hideout to bank my points.

Unfortunately my attempts to stay under the radar and away from the Cops were for nought as a pack of ravenous law enforcers pounced on me less than a mile away from my destination and crushed my car into the side of the road, meaning I lost all of my points. Lesson learned.

What’s Extra?

Rivals includes the option to download the ‘OverWatch’ app on smartphones and tablets through which you’re able to either help or hinder your friends in their games, providing health and ammunition or calling attention to them so the Cops will barrel down on their location, all presented on a map of Redview on your device of choice.

Other than that, there are many levels of progression to rank up through on both the Cop and Racer side, with lots of upgrades to purchase as a Racer and cars to experiment with on both sides.

The Bottom Line

At its best, Need For Speed: Rivals is a thrilling arcade racer set in an impressive open world filled with adrenaline-fuelled chases and races, but a disappointingly limited range of ways to interact with online players holds it back from greatness – my impressions of the game haven’t improved even while playing on a new generation console.

Need For Speed: Rivals was reviewed on PlayStation 4

Note: This review has been updated with features and impressions from the PlayStation 4 version of the game – read the original review over here.

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