Need for Speed: Rivals Review
Need for Speed: Rivals (Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Need for Speed (NFS) Rivals, Developed by Ghost Games, with additional work by Criterion, published by EA and released on the 21/11/2013, is a game about driving fast, breaking the rules and being a rebel, well, if you believe the overly dramatic cut scenes. Initially I had my doubts about how good this game would really be, having briefly tried it out previously during a gaming expo and found it to be not that much different from its predecessor, NFS Hot Pursuit. But after burning rubber while free roaming along the massive map of Redview County in NFS Rivals for several hours, I can safely say I got my money’s worth and then some.
The NFS Rivals free roam system, incorporating multiplayer and singleplayer elements all into the same server, is not only a brilliant idea, but has been pulled off by Ghost Games quite well. Before you jump into the main game, you must first select from either cop or racer and then, after about 30 minutes of watching tutorial cut scenes and doing practice missions, you’re thrown out into free roam to start whatever rival mayhem takes your fancy. As you complete the main chapter objectives and progress through the game there are many dramatic cut scenes with manly voiced actors trying to justify the actions of both sides, but this really just comes off as unintentionally amusing rather than serious, although it is entertaining nonetheless. There is usually a fair wait, staring at loading screens while waiting for the world to load you in, however this wait is well worth it and when you’re in, there is practically no loading in game.
Racers can challenge each other to a race (what else?), be forced into escaping from police or participate in time trials among other things. Cops can start pursuits by ramming other racers, participate in rapid responses, which are basically time trials to get from point A to B while minimising the number of times you crash into things, and gate crash racers to try and shut everyone down before the finish line. On top of this, both sides have challenges, such as attempting to go as fast as possible past a speed camera or maintain the highest possible average speed over a set distance, although it’s a bit odd how cops are encouraged to do this. There is plenty to do in the open world of Redview County with an extremely ginormous number of events to complete and while these activities might sound a tad repetitive (and to some extent they are), I still have yet to find this a problem and gleefully engage in either chases or races depending on the side I’m playing as at the time.
Strongholds or hideouts (again depending on your side) allow for players to access their garage, select from unlocked vehicles and purchase or equip gadgets to use on their rivals, from spike strips to EMPs. Cops also get access to a support helicopter and roadblocks while racers get access to a turbo ability. Some of the other noticeable differences between cop and racer are that cops are not required to use points to unlock vehicles and instead unlock them over time while racers must first purchase unlocked vehicles but can then personalise them with paint colours, decals and performance upgrades.
Put simply, the gameplay is great, other than the occasional glitch. A few times I’ve been unable to move, suffered from disconnects and had to stare at a screen for 30 seconds while the host is “migrated”. But this doesn’t occur frequently enough to be a major issue, and the gameplay is good enough to get away with it. Fans of Hot pursuit will be happy to know cut scenes, such as ones showing off your newly unlocked cars, are now skip-able, allowing players to get straight back into the action ASAP. I’ve been playing this with an Xbox controller and it works well enough. Those of you who have played hot pursuit should be right at home with the control set-up, although abilities have been changed to the Y and B buttons from the D-pad, but this doesn’t take long to get used to.
Another lot of good news is that internet strength doesn’t seem to have too much of an impact on gameplay with the exception of actually engaging other players. I was playing the game while a few things were downloading in the background and as far as taking on NPC’s the game still ran relatively well with little impact in the way of lag. Although watch out when you do engage other players on a poor connection; expect to see teleporting and to keep unintentionally hitting players on your side (I even wrecked an ally once… sorry my cop co-op buddy!). It’s possible to host private games though, so if you’ve got a big enough friends group you may be able to bypass this. The speedwall also makes a return, allowing you to challenge your friend’s best time set in events they have completed. On a side note, PC gamers will be frustrated to hear that the game has been locked to 30 frames per second, with any modifications to this essentially breaking the game by increasing player speed. While the game still functions smoothly for the most part, it’s disappointing that Ghost Games didn’t do more to optimise the experience for the hardware available to most PC gamers.
The music selection is decent and cars sound how they should. One minor complaint on sound though, being a cop can be annoying as you constantly get updates from other officers on chases going on regardless of whether your nearby or not which can make for a lot of annoying radio chatter. But overall everything sounds good and even if you’re not a fan of the one radio station that usually plays “duff duff” music, you can always flick it off and simply enjoy the sound of your engine roaring, or maybe your sirens blazing as the debris of the latest racer you wrecked flies all over the place.
Talking of debri, the game is a mixture of beautiful and average looking parts. The real time weather effects, such as Storms off in the distance, and the overall landscape usually look quite pretty, but other parts like random leaves blowing around don’t add much to the look of the game and instead just annoy you. I played this on PC and as far as I can tell, PC gamers don’t really get that much more of an advantage in terms of graphics options, with some limited options to change features such as lighting and ambient occlusion. There is also the occasional frame rate and texture pop-in problems that are common on primarily console developed games, but these are barely noticeable. Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to mention graphics in a racing game without talking about the cars, and I can confirm that these are as good to look at as ever.
I’ve had a lot of fun hours with this game and there seems to be the potential for more. The NPC’s do a good enough job of providing a challenge for those who wish to play offline and should hopefully allow for a decent experience even for those gamers who buy this game late and miss out on the larger crowds of online gamers near launch. In fact, newcomers later down the track will probably find themselves having to deal primarily with the AI before attempting to take on other players due to the huge difference in vehicle class made by those who have played the game much longer, an unfortunate but understandable flaw to the online system. However, on higher difficulties bots do prove challenging and the free roam bots do a decent job of fleeing from you or chasing you down as the situation calls for it.
So in summary, NFS Rivals is an extremely enjoyable free roam racer, with decent graphics, audio, gameplay and surprisingly good fusion of singleplayer and multiplayer gaming. There are hours upon hours of activities to be completed and even just randomly engaging NPC’s racers or cops can be quite entertaining. There are the occasional bug and online issue to be experienced, such as interactions with other players usually leading to a lot of teleporting cars and the load times can be a bit annoying, but the game is just so well done that these are, for the most part, ignorable. For those of you who played NFS Hot pursuit, you’re sure to find plenty to love in this game, and for those of you new to the series, this is defiantly a game worth adding to your collection.