Need for Speed: Rivals - Review


With Sony's Next-Gen racing game Drive Club being delayed, Need for Speed: Rivals (next to Forza 5) has the privilege of being the first next-gen racing game.
Building its concept on top of the legacy left behind by 2010's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Rivals picks up the theme of cops vs. racers, in which races and high octane chases go hand in hand.
Focussing not primarily on hyper-realistic driving but more on arcade-racing gameplay, the Need for Speed franchise managed to establish an own character among other racing titles.
With the new studio Ghost Games in control and Rivals once again focussing on cops vs. racers, does Need for Speed: Rivals have some new tricks up its sleeve? Or is it really just a Hot Pursuit 2 in disguise? 



Story
 

The Need for Speed franchise never had a real spot-on storyline in its main singleplayer career mode, but instead a narrative backdrop to give context to the game's theme and situation.
This tradition is of course also followed on in NFS: Rivals.
There, taking place in fictional Redview County, an underground group of rebellous racers intentionally provoke the police through various reckless racing activities to protest against the supposedly unjust government.
While the intentions of both sides of the law (cops and racers) are surprisingly deeply explained in some cut-scenes, they expectedly play second fiddle to NFS: Rivals' real essence - the gameplay.
Although a real story has never been really necessary for any good racing game to date, Rivals' narrative backdrop is of course far from being truely investing but offers a welcome backdrop to explain the aggressive nature of the cops and racers to successfully further distinguish itself from 2010's Hot Pursuit.


Gameplay
 

As with any racing game, the gameplay is Rivals' meat and bones and turns out to be a grand mixture of 2010's Hot Pursuit and 2012's Most Wanted. The battle between cops vs. racers in an open world is the name of the game.


Open World - "Brave New World"

One of the biggest changes from Hot Pursuit's established cops vs. racers formula is Rivals' open world.
Taking place in fictional Redview County, the game's new map differs a lot compared to previous NFS outings. Instead of a focus on urban sprawls with cars jumping the roofs and racing through crowded city streets, Redview County is certainly not an overwhelmingly big map but convinces through its variety of colorful nature landscapes.
Exploring and racing through forests, deserts, snowy mountains, the coastside or ocassionally some buildings that you can bust through, makes races and happenings in the game always a bit different and is necessary when all of the game's challenges are not seperately triggered but set in an interconnected open world map. Of course it is all complete with a day and night cycle.

I take nature- over city-races any day.


Career Modes - "Freelancers"

The Career Mode in Rivals is expectedly split up into two distinct sides: cops and racers.
Whereas you can pick either side you prefer, you are never forced to play as a side you don't like, due to each side having its own chapter-structured career mode with a beginning and end (although you can of course still keep playing after all chapters are finished).

Instead of preceeding through a specific set of races, the player progresses through the game's story/career by picking either one of three different sets of goals to clear the current chapter.
These so-called Speed Lists consist out of a set of specific challenges you have to complete to get to the next chapter.
Checklists usually consist out of rankings in various events, using specific weapons, smashing a certain amount of cars or performing various kinds of skillful driving.
Except for when you have to do a specific kind of race, you are never strictly forced to do a challenge in a specific event as long as you complete the challenge in any way. Therefore, the player can do this either in events or just by himself while free roaming the world.
Yet still, there are of course several specific points scattered throughout the map which you can drive to to trigger certain events like races, hot pursuits, timed races, etc. at anytime you like, just as it is handled in 2012's Most Wanted.

However, due to the fact that some challenge-lists can stack up so many challenges at once that its often hard to survive them in one try, repair stations are scattered throughout the map, which repair your car and restock your ammo when driving through them. 

Furthermore, hideouts (for racers) or command centers (for cops) represent important safezones which are scattered throughout specific locations on the map and seperate the open world gameplay from the game's (garage-like) menu. Entering the open world therefore is done in sessions in which you roam freely and earn points, and get back to your safezone/garage to put them to use and save the game. 

Overall, the great thing about the way Rivals handles its career strucutre is how much freedom it gives you to play just how you want to play it. Annoying events or races that you don't want to do can easily just be skipped or avoided by pursuing certaing goals/challenges through other ways.

"Gimme' your Speed Points!"


Scores and Upgrades - "Missed Me?"

Each accomplished challenge in Rivals earns you points which you can use to upgrade cars, regarding their weapons, performance upgrades as well as appearance.
While the changes you can do to your cars are always fairly basic, Rivals does a great job in offering many options for the player to influence how he wants to tackle challenges or events without overwhelming him with an overload of customizing options.
Next to the new open world, the newly added upgrade system is where Most Wanted's welcome influence shows the most.

While spending earned points on upgrading and changing cars feels intuitive and fun, looking at the grand roster of various cars, which you very quickly unlock one after the other, makes investing much points in one car very risky and often unwise considering that you would unlock an even better car just after the next speed-list is done.
Of course this is just a minor nitpick and completely up to player's preference, but bigger gaps to unlocking the next better car would've decreased this feeling more.

But with so many variables and options regarding how you want to hunt racers or defend yourself against cops in Rivals' open world, it gives pursuit races and other events much more personality and character, especially compared to 2010's NFS: Hot Pursuit.
It all makes the already frantic and intense trademark pursuits or chases of Rivals even more intense than ever before in the franchise's history.

Also, Ferrari cars make a very welcome comeback!


Differences Between Cops and Racers - "Easy or Hard?"

Not only the way rivals handles scores makes sure that cops and racers both have their distinctive roles but also how the open world is experienced and how the enitrety of the game is played.

While it's still a matter of preference, whether you play as a cop or racer, racers are quite more challenging to play as considering that all of your collected points in your open-world-session can get lost if a cop busts you before you can get to a hideout point (safe-zone savepoints).
Therefore, since racers are constantly at risk of getting caught, doing exploration as a cop is heavily suggested and much much easier. With cops clearly being the hunters here, they can freely explore the world and enter events without being affraid of any consequences other than getting "wrecked" (irreperably crashing your car and losing all your points of the session).

Additionally, cops in Rivals are always extremely highly aware of a racer's presence. Especially regarding the fact that open world sessions play without any real pause-button (for some reason), let alone looking at a map as a racer can be dangerous if any cop is nearby to instantly ram you to bits.
In most occasions even hiding behind buildings doesn't make that much difference due to the cops knowing almost always where you are when nearby.

However hard the racer career in Rivals may seem, it is neatly balanced through the fact that racers can stack up score-multipliers for being very long on the road without getting busted, putting risk against high rewards. Cops therefore always earn the same amount of points through their actions, while racers can upgrade way faster to new and better cars.
Another form of balance comes through the fact that racers (other than the cops) can upgrade their cars performance (speed, durability, etc.) while cop-cars have unchangable preset characteristics for each car (except changeable weapons).

Although it might certainly feel a bit overpowered to play as a cop, Rivals overall does a very good job balancing the two sides, giving each side unique and exclusive privileges and powers the other side doesn't have.
Not only is it therefore a fairly great balance but also just very different and refreshing to play as either side with its own character.

Some might still argue that Rivals could as well be called Hot Pursuit 2, but especially looking at the dualism of the gamestyle the title of "Rivals" becomes truely more fitting to the game after all.

Other A.I. cops can also support you on your pursuit.


Multiplayer 

With the new All-Drive feature, NFS: Rivals makes sure that there's no divide between singleplayer and multiplayer gameplay (except when you are offline).
In this multiplayer feature, a set of up to five players is put onto the map with you, whereas each player, as either a racer or cop, can freely pursue his/her own goals on the map or trigger competetive events with other players.
Considering how often random encounters with other racers or cops (either A.I. or real player) happen, it is practically guaranteed that you will cross paths with other players pretty often.
Despite its competitive nature however, organizing a specific event with a large group other human players can be quite tricky due to the game's unlucky tendency to scatter players across the entire map at the beginning of the session.

Yet nevertheless, the use of the All-Drive feature feels very fluent and intuitive due to its heavy resemblence to the standard singleplayer gameplay and makes playing with other players easier and quicker than ever in NFS. 

*Play "Shock me" by Kiss here.*


Graphics
 

Having DICE's remarkable Frostbite 3 engine under its hood, NFS: Rivals is a very beautiful game.
Next to the incredibly detailed car models (along with their distinct damage models), the vivid vast world and landscapes as well as single details like raindrops and dust on the car and its windows make Rivals a very visually appealing game.

However, this does not come with a few shortcomings. 
Whereas the majority of the game looks great, often some glitches and bugs are apparent.
Frequent pop-in issues (especially on last-gen versions) as well as some glitchy resets of your car make the game's world sometimes unfortunately feel quite unstable, which pulls you out of an otherwise great racing immersion.

While still appealing on last-gen consoles, the next-gen versions of NFS:Rivals are notably superior with a smoother framerate, sharper textures/models and slightly more detailed lighting effects.


Sound
 

Along with distinct and great sounds for each car, NFS: Rivals boasts another great soundtrack incorporating various genres (although it still mostly prefers the Pop-genre).
Luckily though, dramatic music cues are back, being triggered when in intense races or pursuits, which has been made a standard by NFS: Hot Pursuit and is of course followed up on here.

Next-Gen is looking really good so far.


The Verdict

All in all, Need for Speed: Rivals is a terrific game, which successfully blends the themes and gameplay of 2010's Hot Pursuit with the open world and customizing options of last year's Most Wanted.
Although it still resembles much more the likes of Hot Pursuit with its returning cops vs. racers theme, Rivals' new additions to the gameplay highly improve upon the strictly structured gamestyle of Hot Pursuit to a big interconnected open world with much freedom of choice for the player both on- and offline.
This is further underlined by Rivals offering the player two very distinct playstyles as a cop or racer, which both are fairly well balanced in the longrun.
With only some graphical hickups in an otherwise great racing game, both visually and gameplaywise, Need for Speed: Rivals turns out to be another successful entry in its established arcade-racing franchise.

          
  
 Final Verdict: 8 out of 10 

Status: Great




Big thanks goes out to EA for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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