When you look at what’s on the market for both the new generation of Xbox One hardware and old generation Xbox 360, it is hard to find many decent arcade racing games, they are a dying breed being over taken by the more serious hard-core simulation genre of gaming. Need for Speed: Rivals is the first title in the franchise to now be looked after and released by Ghost Games, and they seem to be a good pair of hands looking after everything.
Need for Speed: Rivals offers up some superb racing mechanics but from the offset is let down by a game world left feeling empty and devoid of character. It quite clearly draws on ideas and inspiration from the 2010 title, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which actually if we look closely, Need for Speed: Rivals almost acts as a sequel. Also clearly visible are features; the open world aspect especially, reminiscent of Need for Speed: Carbon, a launch title back on the Xbox 360. Don’t panic though, where Need for Speed: Rivals lets itself down in terms of a unique standalone personality, it does make up for in other areas.
In Need for Speed: Rivals players’ progress through two distinctly different careers – one as a street racer and the other a cop charged with taking down the latter. Both careers may be switched between at any time, meaning that getting bored of playing the good or bad guy never really becomes a problem. The game plays out in the fictional picturesque location of Redview County; a sprawling 160 kilometre area made up of snow-capped mountains, windy forest roads, fast highways and small village areas. This is larger than last year’s Need for Speed game; Most Wanted.
The storyline is pretty much a moot point, there isn’t one. OK, that’s not entirely true, whether as a racer or cop you’ll be treated to a collection of over-the-top cut scenes and voiceovers via faceless representatives from both sides. It’s standard affair; racer wants to push things to the limits whilst showing the authority who is the boss. Cops want to catch the bad guys. So ignoring that, players simply complete a Speed List (checklist) made up of specific races, pursuits, and other objectives in order to unlock cars and trigger the next brief story sequence. Of course, you don’t need to follow these all the time. If you just want to take your new ride out for a spin, then of course do so. They’ll still be plenty to do out on the roads and highways of Redview County. Speed Point are accumulated via in-game actions but particularly event completions, these are then spent on either gadgets for stopping racers (when playing as the cops), or spent on various new upgrades, cars, gadgets and visuals if playing as a racer. Need for Speed: Rivals also sees the return of Autolog which tracks the average and top speeds at specific points all over the map, these are then displayed on the in-game leader boards giving players bragging rights over their friends.
Once you get behind the wheel of your car and out and about in Redview County, races, time trial, pursuits and other events are started by driving to the requisite in-world icon and pressing the LB button. This is also the same button to use if you want to challenge other racers head-to-head, it is also used when as a cop to switch on your lights and start a pursuit. This is a great system made better by the ability to stack events; a race can be turned into a hot pursuit event should it catch the attention of the police.
Depending on whom you are playing as; racer or cop, you’ll have two distinctly different progression trees and customisations options. For instance the police have access to things like spike strips, roadblocks, and car-disabling EMPs. Although the police cars come in 3 varieties (Patrol, Enforcer & Undercover) they are unable to be upgraded other than the above toys. Racers however can upgrade each vehicle’s durability; ram strength, control, acceleration, and top speed. This being a Need for Speed game, there is a plethora of visual paint and decal customisation options included also. Where the cops have very offensive based gadgets to purchase and install, the racers are more defensive and include shields, radar jammers, stun mines, and a turbo boost for double quick getaways.
Need for Speed: Rivals is an always online, open world style racing title. This means a couple of things: 1) there is no pause feature. If you need to stop the action for any reason, you have to and literally have no other choice, find a hideout (racer) or command post (police). Because of this no pause option, players can be left vulnerable when browsing the map or delving into the games Easy Drive menu system with the d-pad. A dedicated button for “nearest safe house” would have been a great addition. 2) Connecting to an EA Server is dog shite. It is completely unacceptable to be waiting for 20 minutes and restarting 4-5 times before a connection can be found. Come on EA, it’s not just me with this problem.
Need for Speed: Rivals is as ‘arcade’ as you can come, the cars handle fantastically (far too easily in actual fact); a quick tap of the brakes while cornering allows for long, satisfying drifts, while sharper turns can be negotiated at speed using just the right amount of handbrake.
My biggest pet peeve coming up… this grinds my gears like you couldn’t believe… you see, there is this ‘issue’ with playbacks and dodgy camera views. The first is when you crash, but the car isn’t quite a total right off. The car is placed back into the race but facing the wrong direction. Now factor in the lack of mini map during these 10 second crash sequences, and you can quickly make racing destroying bad decisions on what direction you should be going. There is also this random tendency for the game camera to do a 360 of your car. This can happen at any point, but more frequently than most just as you are approaching a corner. Of course without being able to see where you are going, corners become incredibly difficult.
This is the first time out for Ghost Games with Need for Speed, and at a time where the industry sees new hardware and graphic capabilities it can be a daunting time. The game itself is a good looking one but when all is said and done the next-gen version isn’t much of a leap beyond what we have seen with the current gen. That said the Redview County always seems alive and full movement with some incredibly gorgeous weather effects.
Need for Speed: Rivals does a lot of things well, and right. The cars are an absolute joy to drive, customisation options are a plenty and upgrading is slick and easy. Things like the day and night cycle work extremely well and the weather simply gorgeous to beyond on the Xbox One. The Frostbite Engine has been really well implemented. Minor gripes and problems aside, Need for Speed: Rivals is a great game. A step up for the franchise and it’s exciting to see where Ghost Games will take things next.