These days, you just can’t go wrong with Need for Speed . Aside from a small slip-up several years back with The Run , this franchise has delivered a very high level of entertainment and quality throughout the generation. This time around, experienced racing developer Criterion teams up with new studio Ghost Games, and the result is another adrenaline-filled, extraordinarily energetic racer with a huge amount of content, fantastic style, and a critical pick-up-and-play quality.
I suppose one could make the argument that Rivals on the PlayStation 4 doesn’t exactly epitomize the term “next-gen” in our minds. But you know, that’s very subjective and if we obsess about expectations, we lose sight of the fact that this game looks beautiful. There’s a wonderful amount of background and environmental detail, the startling effects come into play during spectacular crashes, and the weather elements are a really nice touch. With a wide variety of locales and all sorts of great tracks, the game is brimming with polished, vibrant visuals.
The sound equals the high production values of the graphics, as racing enthusiasts will love the throaty growl of a powerful sports car and the gut-wrenching metal-on-metal collisions. The soundtrack lends more fuel to an already thumping presentation, so every event is accompanied by authentic effects, along with a score that fits the game’s ceaseless nature. This is the kind of overtly in-your-face technical tour de force that doesn’t necessarily break new ground, but still manages to shine. And it shines so brightly that you forget about the minor drawbacks, and you forget about all your lofty next-gen expectations. It just looks and sounds too good to be all anal.
A combination of Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted , you can opt to run or be chased in a lush, engaging open world setting. Whether you choose to evade the law or enforce it, you will always experience that patented NFS adrenaline rush that permeates every instant of every event. While assuming the role of a cop, you may be required to be a bit more tactful as you strategize while chasing. And there are some events that, due to the objectives, task you with a slightly different approach or driving style. But basically, the entire purpose of the game, as you might expect, is to leave you breathless and wanting more. A racing pulse is a given.
You know you’ve got a balanced, constantly entertaining game when you can’t decide if it’s more fun to chase or evade. I think it depends on my mood, really. Sometimes, I just want to hit ridiculous speeds and drive like a relatively skillful maniac until I lose my pursuers. Other times, I want to take down a fleeing miscreant with precision and power. Both sides have their toys, too; cops can use spike strips and shock rams, while drivers have access to jammers that won’t let chasers use their weapons, and shockwaves, that repel close-running vehicles. The best part is that regardless of which side you choose, you always have to rely on your driving ability. This is a racing game and we never forget that.
There’s nothing particularly innovative about the event types but then again, how many different racing modes can there be? Across Redview County, you will locate simple races, time trials and hot pursuits, and there’s plenty to do. You’ve done it all before but there’s one significant feature that we’ve never seen before, and it sets Rivals apart: Similar to games like Demon’s Souls , where other players can and do inhabit the world in which you virtually exist, the latest NFS entry features a dynamic environment that is always changing. This means the action never stops and you must always remain vigilant, lest you get caught unawares.
If you allow human players to be part of it, someone who has assumed the role of a cop might start chasing you out of the blue. You may also encounter other high-speed pursuits as you drive around the city. However, even if you choose not to allow other humans into the experience, there are AI cops and drivers, which means the metropolis still feels amazingly alive, even if the AI is nowhere near as challenging as other humans. I must add, though, that I might’ve preferred to be left well enough alone when I’m playing solo; having the option to usher in other players whenever I want is great, but I don’t necessarily want to deal with all this AI action all the time. It just feels a little too chaotic for my tastes.
On top of which, other problems can arise from the integration of open-world features and distinct events. For instance, if you make the mistake of starting an event when you’ve got half a dozen cops on your tail, those cops might just be all over you when that event starts. Granted, the AI slows down to compensate for your lagging, but they don’t slow down that much. These are the dangers of trying to make a game as seamless as possible, and blurring the lines between a campaign and multiplayer. It’s important to strike the right balance and despite my complaints, I think Rivals does a decent job of that, even if it can get annoying.
But that’s not where the new stuff ends. As you build up a score multiplier, you’ll earn crucial speed points faster and faster. However, the more the heat level rises, the more cops will be hunting you down, and they’ll be increasingly aggressive. If you can make it back to your hideout without getting busted, you can spend those points on nifty new cars and upgrades. But if you get busted, you lose ‘em all. It’s a definite gamble, and one that adds to the all-encompassing nonstop energy with which the game is infused. I tend to be a little more conservative just because I hate to lose what I’ve earned, but the option to push your luck is always tempting…
As for control, it’s about what you’d expect. It’s mostly arcade-style driving with a few nods to realism depending on the car. Some cars feel a tad loose but other than that, and especially given the sheer number of cars available, the developer did a good job reproducing what it’s like to drive high-end vehicles. Well, with a whole lot of leniency worked in, of course. I still say they could give us a little better direction in certain events (those green arrows aren’t always abundant), though, because losing your way can be incredibly frustrating. Still, it’s always fun to learn the course and master a particular route, and it’s awfully rewarding to outshine the competition.
Need for Speed: Rivals is an exceedingly high-powered racer with all sorts of flash and panache. It insists that you pay attention; it demands that you continually seek out the next adrenaline rush, and it pushes you to take bigger and bigger risks. When there’s a little too much overlap between the open-world action and the single events, I get irritated, but it’s a worthy sacrifice. It looks great, it plays great, and it’s one of those games that you can just pick up and play at a moment’s notice. That’s precisely what I ask for from this series, so I’d have to say I’m quite satisfied.
The Good: Slick visuals and generally high production value. Crisp effects and a driving soundtrack. Solid, responsive control. Huge amount of cars and content. Integration of the solo and multiplayer experience is wicked dynamic.
The Bad: Roving AI can be a huge pain. Can be easy to lose your way on a complex route. Events can feel repetitive.
The Ugly: “Oh my God, all I want to do is get to the next event…leave me the hell alone!”