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Need for Speed: Rivals Review

Posted by Cha Holland On Tuesday 14 January 2014ADD COMMENTS

Available on XBO, PS4, 360, PS3 and PC l Published by EA l Developed by Ghost Games l Classified PG l Supports 1-6 players

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Need for Speed: Rivals is let down by bland implementation and a corny story involving street racing and social media. It plays with the possibility of combining a campaign story with open-world multiplayer, but it doesn’t completely work thanks to a low number of players and few methods to encourage coordination. There’s a fun game hiding under here somewhere, but it’s difficult to wholeheartedly recommend.

REVIEW IN FULL > Need for Speed: Rivals opens like a trashy action trailer, full of expensive cars and familiar camera angles. Cops and racers are the rivals of the piece, each with gruff identical voices spouting overblown phrases like “we are unbound, free, unshackled” and “you can’t catch devils with angels”. They’re not really people, more like the essence of car chases given human voice – the kind of car chases that come with a bucket of popcorn. My teenage self might have appreciated this, but so many games and movies have done a better job of turning fast cars into reckless spectacles of guilty pleasure.

…a hyper-masculine pissing contest dressed up in platitudes about freedom and safety…

Most people will just ignore the premise, skipping past the short, cheesy cutscenes and focusing on the driving and objectives. I feel like I need to get into a Need for Speed mindset, and race like I live for the competition and the fake adrenaline hit. The soundtrack hits the right notes, with electronic beats pounding through a drift. It’s music of the moment tying Rivals to this point in time, and that’s exactly where it wants to be. Racers fed on reality TV seek to build their own legend through viral videos and social media, as though the thrill doesn’t count unless it comes with an audience. The cops embrace force and intimidation to pursue order at any cost, though it seems more like an excuse to take up the fight. It’s a hyper-masculine pissing contest dressed up in platitudes about freedom and safety, managing to be simultaneously generic and nonsensical.

Everything is connected these days… though not always successfully. By default, Rivals jumps straight into multiplayer, but it’s capped at six players and doesn’t create much sense of interaction. Players are often scattered and going about their own business throughout the open-world map. The multiplayer can also cause issues with longer loading times and occasional lag, though thankfully the options do allow for offline or friends-only play.

Rivals looks and feels decent, with good car handling and visuals. Redview County is a fictional region inspired by the coastal California, with 100 miles of roads weaving their way through diverse scenery, from desert tracks to forest to beachfront. It all somehow links together organically within a relatively small area, and also experiences dynamic weather effects and day/night cycles. For all this effort, it ends up feeling rather lifeless. You can add on as many impressive lighting and particle effects as you like and it’s still not going to make a place any more satisfying to inhabit. Redview is a playground for racing and beyond that doesn’t feel much like a place.

Rivals would benefit from more systems to facilitate coordination between players.

The campaign is broken into cop and racer career pathways, which can be swapped between at any point. In general, racers are more about speed while cops are focused on aggressive tactics. Both careers involve completing a series of challenges such as time trials, head-to-head races, jumps, completing a patrol, or ramming other vehicles. These earn speed points to put towards new vehicles and upgrades, including offensive tech mods like stun mines or spike strips. Cops earn new vehicles automatically, while racers have to purchase their cars but have more customisation options.

The racer pathway is about balancing risk and reward. They can gain large numbers of speed points the longer they stay on the road, increasing their multiplier and heat level by outrunning the police and completing events. If they wreck their car or a cop catches them before they can get back to a hideout they lose all their accumulated points. The cop strategy is safer but less exciting. Cops are encouraged to cooperate, with rewards shared between the players, but in practice it’s unlikely to happen. Rivals would benefit from more systems to facilitate coordination between players.

There’s a lot of potential here for enjoyable open-world conflict between the two factions but it’s never completely realised. There are occasional moments of elation from outrunning a chase and evading roadblocks but more often it just doesn’t completely come together. The cutscenes talk about what it means to feel alive and break out of society’s shackles, but really it’s all firmly within paint-by-number media confines and rings especially hollow.

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