I was doing well. After chasing a ‘Vette for several miles, sirens blaring atop my police-liveried Merc C63 AMG Black Series, I was finally closing the gap between us. But then, as I crested a hill – on the right side of the road may I add – I was involved in a head-on collision with another cop car that was traveling at speed in the opposite direction, on the wrong side of the road. In the split second I had to react and then realize there was nothing I could about the impending epic crash, I noticed the car I was about to hit was labeled “OXM Rival.”
That’s because I was at a recent review event where a large contingent of West Coast game reporters had been brought together to play Electronic Arts’ latest entry into its storied Need for Speed series. This time around it’s called Rivals, and it follows very much in the tire tracks of prior franchise darlings, Most Wanted, Hot Pursuit, and High Stakes.
It’s not a huge step forward for the series, to be blunt, but more of a rock solid refinement of many of the features seen in prior games. That might sound a little disappointing, but it’s really not – because this strange sort of “greatest bits” flows together very well to create a phenomenally fun, open-world game of cops and racers.
As you’d expect, there are two ways to play the game: slip behind the wheel of high-powered sports car and drive around like a lead-footed psychopath trying to escape from the law. Or be the law, and ruin those speeders’ fun while having a ton of your own.
Before you can do either, you have to complete a fairly basic training mode that takes little more than a few minutes, and once that’s dispatched, you can choose a role and roll out onto the open road. Whether you’re a cop or a racer, the gameplay follows a similar career path where progress is made by completing mission objectives, whereupon new cars, cash and upgrades are made available. If you so desire, you can switch roles at any time, and if you’re playing a cop, you can also further specialize by selecting enforcer, undercover or patrol missions, which offer slightly different flavors of objectives.
However, Need for Speed: Rivals is not all missions and objectives, as you’ll discover moments after burning off up the highway for the very first time. Anyone familiar with Autolog will know exactly what’s going on when they go past a checkpoint and see their speed recorded and posted for posterity. Mission completion speeds are also tracked, along with sundry other data, so that you can compare your scores against your friends.
Further enhancing this social aspect of the game is the new AllDrive system, a feature that helped facilitate my unfortunate encounter with the driver from the Official Xbox Magazine that I outlined in the first paragraph of this review. While you’re racing around completing your own missions and objectives in single-player fashion, you’ll inevitably cross paths with friends who are doing the same. And this is where the game gets rather entertaining, which I discovered as I was chasing a racer along a section of freeway and saw a friendly cop going past me in the other direction chasing two cars. One quick handbrake turn across the median and a nitrous boost later, and I was alongside her, helping smash the ne’er do well speeders off the road. It was instant, seamless and really fun. Once we’d taken both cars out, we went our separate ways.
This merging of single and multiplayer modes is extremely well designed, and is ultimately a recipe for mayhem. Cops can get together to chase down particularly challenging racers, while racers can challenge each other for glory and money. The combination of Autolog-style functionality and seamless AllDrive multiplayer results in a really dynamic-feeling game where there always seems to be something to do, whether it’s co-operating with or racing against other players, or simply trying to beat your friend’s top speed along a particular stretch of road. Oh, and don’t forget that there’s a whole single-player game to get on with too!
Like other Need for Speed games, Rivals features an impressive range of desirable vehicles from such marques as Bugatti, Bentley and Ferrari. But while the roster is varied, I didn’t feel a huge amount of difference in terms of handling and feel when I switched between a Dodge Charger SRT8, a Mercedes C63 AMG Black Series and an Aston Martin Vanquish. I can understand that, because having particularly overpowered cars would result in unbalanced gameplay, so it’s not a huge gripe – but it does make car collecting a little superficial. But something I do like is that you can customize your car to make it your own.
Handling is, as you’d expect, very arcadey. Generally, cars have a tendency to understeer until you snap it into cartoon-like, but entertainingly drifty oversteer. It’s predictable and easy to learn, and suits the action well – which is always larger than life. There are all sorts of short cuts to be found across the map, along with some insane jumps, and that helps make racing and pursuit constantly entertaining. This is further enhanced by a large open world that takes in the full spectrum of road types, from open freeways to twisting mountain roads. Dynamic weather also helps mix things up a little. During a particularly long chase, it started to rain and I had to pursue my quarry along soaked, slippery roads. That's a neat touch.
What impresses me most about Need for Speed: Rivals is the ease with which everything comes together. The seamless integration of single and multiplayer modes. Being able to switch from cop to racer and back. The mission structure, which is simple and logical. Car unlocks, customizations and pursuit tech that you can add to your car to help take down chasers or repel cops. It all works beautifully to deliver an easy and intuitive experience that spares you having to think about anything other than jumping into a car and going hell for leather.
Whether you’re pursuing a perp and trying to smash them up enough so they’re forced to pull over, or you’re burning nitrous trying to get those pesky cops off your tail, Need for Speed: Rivals offers the best race-and-chase action out there. It'll do things like make you twitch involuntarily because you somehow just managed to miss an oncoming car while you were powersliding around a corner at 125 mph, or take a deep breath as you watch your car smash into pieces and roll down the road because you didn’t. It’s all just ridiculously exciting.
If I have any concerns, it’s simply with the relentless gameplay. Complaining about a racing game being non-stop racing might sound stupid, and indeed if I wasn’t thinking that myself, I wouldn’t be writing this caveat, but I do think it’s fair to say that there is the possibility that the crashing and bashing action might become wearing over a long period. The game has plenty of depth, but those who might enjoy the more subtle variability of class and horsepower you see in traditional racing games might miss that in Rivals. There’s also the roll-the-dice factor that comes part and parcel of this game. A long chase could be about to come to its conclusion when you’re suddenly wrecked by circumstances outside of your control – like the sort of thing I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Something like that could result in a controller being thrown across the room, but if you’re used to Need for Speed’s occasional random hazards, you should already know that’s what you’re getting into with Rivals.
But if too much of a good thing and occasionally crashing head-on into an obstacle are the only things I’ve got to complain about, I think it’s safe to say that Rivals is in pretty fine shape. And I haven’t even talked about how freakin’ awesome it looks, and how raucously rorty the sound is. The screenshots really don’t do the game justice, as what you can’t see are the subtle lighting and atmospheric effects that lift this game out of the last generation and into the next.
Ultimately, Need for Speed: Rivals is top stuff - and is without doubt the PS4's very first "must have" game.
With the next generation of consoles coming, I was looking forward to a head-to-head battle between Ubisoft's The Crew and EA Ghost's Need for Speed: Rivals. Unfortunately, The Crew has been delayed into the third quarter of 2014, leaving Rivals to own the arcade-style racing genre for almost nine months. Is EA Ghost's first game worthy enough to ride out those nine months?
It's worth noting that I followed Burnout developer Criterion to the Need for Speed franchise and I felt both Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted were uniformly excellent. Rivals kicks those games up a notch with the brand-new AllDrive feature, which melds single-player and multiplayer in a single open world. It's pretty awesome and seamless, but there is one big drawback: griefing. As Jaz points out, your race or chase can be ruined at any moment by another player. Of course, that's true of the AI players as well, because in the absence of real players the game fills in the gaps.
During one head-to-head race while I was on the Racer side of things, I was firmly in the lead, only to come around a hairpin and catch a cop's attention. This added a snag in my race because the best line was no longer an option. Cops have EMP and other goodies to force you off the road, so your best bet is to stick to turns and hidden paths. It made a relatively simple race much harder, but when I won and lost the cop, it felt amazing.
One problem with AllDrive is that the game doesn't stop. There's no pausing here. Once you're out of the Garage and you begin driving, that's it. The action keeps on going when you're in what would normally be the pause menu, so if you have to stop you either need to head back to the Garage or be prepared to have your idling vehicle get totaled. I wish there was some pause option, but with AllDrive the game is essentially an MMO, so I understand why there isn't.
Racing on either side nets you Speed Points, which you use to purchase performance and visual car upgrades. Cops steal points by taking down racers, and racers get points by winning and driving recklessly. Fair warning: racers lose all their points if they're busted. Depending on how long you've been playing, this can be a minor annoyance or devastating loss. I lost around 30,000 speed points once because I was driving with maximum car damage and another racer took me out. Always head back to your hideout to bank your points if you want to get far in Rivals.
Need for Speed: Rivals is gorgeous on the PlayStation 4. It's bright, fast, and running at that full 1080p that makes techheads swoon (reportedly 30fps if you were wondering). The cars all look true to real life, even if they seem like they're wet all the time. Seriously, they're always wet when you're looking at them in the Garage for some reason. It's odd. But, you don't have to feel bad about picking up this one on next-gen because Ghost Games has brought the goods on its first outing.
If there's one thing that's worth a chuckle, it's the overly-serious presentation that surrounds the entire game. The opening begins with a somber tradeoff of spoken word poetry about justice and freedom, as shown in the trailer above. That's carried forward into the game, as the campaign on either side gives you different mission options. Each option has its own short phrase, delivered with all the seriousness of a Michael Bay action film. Folks, we're racing here, you can turn it down a notch.
Next-gen racing has officially left the starting line, and Need for Speed: Rivals is a damn good start. I probably wouldn't have given it perfect score like Jaz did, but it's more than worth a purchase.