Need for Speed Rivals
Developer: Ghost Games
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Release Date: Out Now
Install Size: 40GB (Xbox One), 16GB (PS4)
Price: $79.00 – Available Here
For many people video games are about escapism and racing games, especially the Need for Speed franchise embody that perfectly. I probably wont ever drive an emerald-green Aston Martin Vanquish down windy country roads, ducking police cruisers and dropping mines behind me – but in Need for Speed: Rivals I feel like I am. Not only does the latest installment in the arcade-styled racer let you dream big, but with its amazing visuals, top notch audio and two intertwined career paths that offer up far more depth and moral ambiguity than you would expect from a racer, Need for Speed: Rivals carves out its place as one of the most fun racers I have ever played.
Set in the fictional Redview Country, Need for Speed Rivals features the escalating war between street racers and the police. The two have been at odds for years, with the police feeling that the racers pose a threat to the society at large, while the racers believe it is the officer’s harsh tactics that are pose the real danger.
The two campaigns intersect nicely and show both opposing sides of the ongoing conflict. Neither side sees themselves as the “villain,” and each believe that the other is the true menace to society. It is actually a really cool way to present the story, as each side feels that they are in the right and that their rivals are dangerous. Showing us both sides of the coin really presents a moral ambiguity that you don’t usually see out of racing games. This gives the story a lot more depth than you would initially expect.
The campaign itself although thought provoking is only fleetingly referenced during actual gameplay. The last mission of any chapter is usually tied to the campaign and will have you performing the actions that were mentioned in the previous cinematic, but other than that there are no real strong ties between the two. This works in the game’s favor as it allows you to freely choose your path as you play.
Need for Speed: Rivals has more under its hood than your typical racing game. First and foremost is separates itself from most of its kin by staying as a true arcade style racer instead of the hardcore racing simulator that has become popular in recent years. This includes having access to weapons, scoring points for sweet air time after jumps and even being rewarded for ramming your opponents head-on.
The game is split into two different campaigns: Police or Racer. Each follows the same fundamentals, but has some serious differences that put them apart from one another. It can be broken down to the obvious – racers race and cops try to bust them but of course it runs a lot deeper than that.
Racers have three unique events that only they can compete in – races, time trials and hot pursuits. Races are your typical race from Point A to Point B before anyone else does, and time trials are the same but without the stress of other racers on your tail the whole time. Where the game gets really interesting is the hot pursuits – they are effectively races featuring multiple drivers with the added twist of cops chasing you from the start. This adds an extra element to the game where the officers are trying to ram you and your buddies off the road while you are trying to concentrate on the sharp turn ahead.
Racers also have the option of triggering head to head events against other racers. Driving near enough to another racer offers you the prompt to start a head to head race, which is a one on one event. These can be started anywhere, anytime as long as you find yourself near enough to another racer. They can even be triggered while you are running from the cops.
Racing, completing events, avoiding the cops and other activities will earn you SP, which serves as the game’s currency. The amount of SP you earn is determined by your Heat Meter, which is a steadily increasing multiplier that affects how you race. The higher your Heat Meter the more the cops will try to relentlessly hunt you down, but it will also improve the amount of SP you earn, so there is a massive risk vs reward element to the game.
Adding to the risk vs reward is the fact that if you are busted by a cop or your car is wrecked, any SP accrued since you last checked into your home base is completely lost. Knowing that at any second a cop car can T-bone you and you will lose all the SP that you spend ages collecting adds a real sense of tension to the game. Checking into a home base is the only way to bank your SP but doing so will reset your Heat Meter and multiplier back to neutral, so there is incentive to keep pushing yourself. However, I can tell you there is nothing more stressful than having over 100,000 SP collected, with a 6 Heat Rating, battling off cop cars and helicopters while your car is at critical damage. There is an absolute adrenaline rush that can’t be ignored – and making it back safely can be the greatest feeling in the world.
SP is primarily used in the purchasing and upgrading of cars. Everytime a racer completes one of their Speed Lists, they will be given another car that they can choose to purchase. Once they do, they can customise the colour, stripes, liveries, wraps, license plate and performance of their beautiful machine. Aside from performance upgrades, you will also find yourself buying and equipping Pursuit Tech (vehicle upgrades). This is where the arcadey nature of the game comes in; you can give your cars EMP blasters, stun mines and a whole wealth of other abilities that will make you more formidable on the race track, and make it easier to escape the fuzz.
Cops have a much easier time in Redview County. They have similar events, but mostly their job is to cruise around and bust racers. This means that everything you do is at your discretion, nobody is going to come around the corner and flick their lights at you to start a chase. If you don’t want to chase someone down then just don’t chase them. In much the same way that racers can trigger Head-to-Head challenges against other racers, Cops can flick a button to turn on their siren and from there the chase begins.
Cops also earn SP a little differently than the racers. Completing objectives, events and busting racers all give cops SP, but these are really only used to purchase additional Pursuit Tech (vehicle weapons). Cops get cars gifted to them from completing their Speed Lists, and never have to spend a cent on their rides. The downside is that you can’t upgrade the cop cars, aside from adding new pursuit tech. Their strength, steering, acceleration etc are all set. This further helps to separate the cops from the racers in terms of how they play.
In addition to the division between cop and racer, there is a further split within each faction that determines how you play the game and progress through the story. This split is in the form of your Speed List Objectives or Assignments. Each Speed List has a group of different objectives for you to complete and when you do you will unlock the next car and progress through the campaign. Each of the Speed Lists deals with a certain play style, so you can pick the missions that suit yourself.
The map itself – Redview County is a racer’s dream. Long stretches of open road, sharp twists, wicked S-bends and forest laden areas are all here. You can drive for hours and still accidentally end up in areas of the map you didn’t expect. I found that typically you will pass through some areas far more often than others, which allows you to become more acquainted to those areas while still finding new areas to explore. I found myself driving on the wings of an old abandoned plane that I randomly came across. I can’t even remember quite where it was, and that is part of the thrill.
The game integrates multiplayer into the single player experience, and tries to do so as seamlessly as possible. However sometimes it falls a little short of the mark. The game features the brand new All Drive system that puts you into a pre-existing game with other players either from your friends list or strangers from across the internet. If you want to interact with them you can, but often you wont even encounter them (unless you are playing as a cop, who wants to be a total jerk). This is a pretty cool feature, but it can sometimes take a considerable amount of time to find a game, and even when you are in-game you will randomly have to migrate host. Host migration is a pain in of itself as it takes you out of whatever you were doing at the time.
Need for Speed: Rivals is an absolutely beautiful game. Running natively at 1080p and frame-locked to 30fps means that everything runs smoothly and elegantly, no matter how intense the on-screen action is. Even when I was surrounded by 5 police cruises, with a helicopter flying overhead, there was no slow-down, lag or input delay. The game just worked and ran smoothly.
As for the visuals themselves, Need for Speed: Rivals is a treat to look at, and really shows how far the jump between generations really is. Not only are the cars magnificently drawn and detailed to perfection. Cars look how they do in the real world, and while they aren’t quite on-par with the insane amounts of detail that go into some of the racing sim games out there, there is nothing to complain about here. They all look wonderful as they zoom through the game’s winding roads and various terrains.
Redview County is a driver’s paradise. It looks and feels like a map made to be driven on. All of the game’s various environments from the barren deserts through to the lush forest-like foliage and even the incomplete on-ramps all look amazing. The versatility means that there is a heap to see and there is enough detail for it all to catch your eye without it ever becoming distracting. Although, it is some of the more subtle visual cues that really make the game pop. Things like leaves rolling across the road, and being swept up in your slipstream as you rocket through at 180mph or the way that the rain droplets form condensation on your windscreen all combine perfectly. Although it should be noted that although Redview County is a driver’s paradise, it is by and large a barren wasteland with only a few houses at all filling the landscape, so while it works as a great setting for a game where you drive cars really fast, it doesn’t ever feel like a real location.
The audio does have one hiccup though, and it is the fact that sometimes when entering the map or returning to your base of operations, textures can take a while to load up. I spent a few moments driving around in a dull, lifeless looking box for a car while it was slowly built around me. It didn’t take took long, and it was an infrequent enough occurrence that it wont impede on your gameplay experience too often, but when it does happen, it is really noticeable.
Audio in racing games is always so hard to talk about. The roar and hum of an engine sounds great to me as a casual fan, but I am sure it means a lot more to die-hard racing enthusiasts or motor-junkies out there. All I can tell you is that I know the sound a high-end car makes as it speeds up, and Need for Speed seems to have nailed that perfectly. The way the engine hums at you as it picks up speed really adds to the immersion and the escapism of the game, and lets you for those brief fleeting moments feel like you are actually driving your dream car.
In addition to your engine roaring under the hood, you also are treated to police radio communications (no matter which side you are on). These provide context for the high-speed chases, letting you know what is happening and how close you are to victory. These can get a little repetitive if you play for a long period of time, but in small bursts they are a fun way to let you in on what’s going on around you.
While the roar of the engine and police radios communication can be fun, they quickly grow monotonous. Luckily, Rivals has you covered there and provides a killer soundtrack filled with licensed music to help you get into gear. The tunes are all relatively high tempo and make you want to put pedal to the metal and floor it through Redview County.
The racing game genre to me has always felt like it fits that niche market. Sure lots of people will flock to grab the latest and greatest game, but just as many will never be interested in picking up a racer. Well Need for Speed: Rivals aims to do away with that – its split campaign lets you play far more open-endedly and free than most modern racers (with the cop campaign not being about racing at all – just destroying people who want to race). With its impressive visuals, strong gameplay and a map that any driver would kill to take a spin on, Need for Speed: Rivals defines itself as one of the most fun racers in recent times.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.