January 16, 2014
Need for Speed: Rivals was worked on primarily by Ghost Games, a new studio based in Sweden. However, it also had additional work done by Criterion Games and Ghost Games UK. Much like other recent Need for Speed games (excluding The Run), Rivals doesn’t focus too much on the story. Instead, it almost instantly puts you in the seat of a car you could only dream of owning. From here, you are given a large, open world full of challenges to compete in and can switch between a Racer or Cop campaign at any moment while playing the game.
Playing on both sides of the law can create some rather different experiences. When playing as a Racer you are able always on the lookout for any nearby Cops and vice versa when playing as a Cop. The game never allows you to pause as long as you are connected online and while it is possible to play offline, online completely transforms Rivals into something totally new for the series. When you are out driving, in chases, taking down other players and much more, you are constantly building up a multiplier. At the same time, the game is allowing you to build up SP, which can be spend on new cars. However, it’s worth noting that if you do get caught or wrecked, you lose all of your stored SP. In a way, it’s kind of like the racing equivalent of Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls.
The feeling of risk/reward keeps you going on and when you have been driving for over 2 hours straight, have a ridiculous multiplier and more SP than you could imagine, the race to bank your points can feel like a scene lifted right out of Face and Furious. Even in those soul crushing moments of losing it all, you continue to want to keep going at it because there’s always the lure of getting even more points back this time. Also if you get sick of getting caught by the Cops, then just switch over to their campaign and get some revenge on some unsuspecting Racers.
Rivals is still, first and foremost a racing game. This means it offers much more than just car chases. Racers can compete in many different races, time trials, hot pursuits, and more, while Cops can take part in interceptor and hot pursuit races. Along with the hundreds of challenges, each side has a speedwall they both need to complete in order to rank up and unlock new cars. These challenges range from getting a gold to taking out other players in ridiculous ways.
It’s worth noting that you are also timed on how long it takes for you to finish your list of challenges. Much like the past Need for Speed games, Autolog continues to be a great way to motivate you to beat your friends’ times. If you also don’t have any friends with a copy of Rivals, the game samples top times near yours to compete against and even recommends potential friends similar to you that you can ask to add.
The sprawling open world of Rivals takes a step back from the urban jungle seen in Most Wanted. One moment you can be racing alongside a beautiful beach vista and then a few crashes later you might wind up in a snowy mountain. The environmental variety is extremely welcome and looks breath taking on DICE’s new Frostbite 3 engine. No matter if you play on current gen, next gen or even PC, the game is a visual delight as you speed down streets avoiding other cars.
Each game can have six players be a Cop or Racer, while there are plenty of other AI controlled cars to be on the lookout for. But setting up a race with friends surprisingly felt like an afterthought. Still, with such a tight single player experience integrated into the multiplayer, Rivals never seems to suffer from difficulty in terms of matching up with friends. Leaderboards lead to a much more satisfying experience than setting up a run of the mill race with friends anyway.
Rivals places a rather large focus on dynamic events happening as you explore the game’s world. Besides moments like the police starting a chase as you drive around, you can now turn a standard race into a hot pursuit just by getting the attention of the law. Even more impressive is the fact that you can start a race with any other car as a racer or start a chase as a cop with the hit of a single button. After that happens the two of you are immediately thrown into the thick of it and without a single loading screen. The seamless nature of starting races or chases like this can lead to some of the game’s best moments.
Despite the game’s heavy online focuses, there are some problems which can lead to some headaches. Launch server crashes during gameplay happen rarely, but when they do the game not only kicks you out, it also acts like you just got wrecked. This means all of your SP you may have just had is gone with no way of getting it back. It’s a rather frustrating occurrence that should have never existed.
The soundtrack features more than 30 songs from artists like Knife Party, Gary Numan, Bastille, and many more. These songs range from dubstep, electronic, rock and will either be a hit or miss with you depending on how you feel about these genres – it’s pretty standard for this type of game. The option for custom soundtracks actually brings a breath of fresh air with it, so be sure to set up your own person playlists to accompany your races and it will help you get even more out of Rivals, but this isn’t available on every platform.
When Need for Speed: Rivals is working, it’s great. If you can imagine being in a race with a double digit multiplier, over 100k in SP, and some high octane music, this is Need for Speed: Rivals. It’s just not a fixture that’s common enough to make it a stellar experience. Ghosts Studio has done a decent job with the franchise, and make no mistake, it’s a great introduction for a new generation, but the game still suffers from online server issues and some stop-start issues. Still, you can could do worse than have Need for Speed: Rivals to show off your new next gen system.
Need for Speed: Rivals was reviewed on the PS4. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.