The concept is wonderfully simple: let the player choose whether they want to be the racer or the cops, pitting one against the other. Sound familiar? That’s right, it’s straight out of 2010’s Hot Pursuit. So begins a trend that plagues Need for Speed Rivals. As exciting and pretty as the game is, there really isn’t much that’s new here. A few exceptions aside, Rivals feels more like an amalgamation of features from the previous 19 games in the series and, as impressive as it is to see, it soon becomes repetitive in its execution of previous formulae.
If you haven’t played Hot Pursuit, you’ll likely bypass the inherent powerful advantages of the law and order side and begin with the fast and flashy racer career in Rivals. You’ll then begin the journey through chapters of objectives, leveling up to unlock cars and skills, building your repertoire of upgrades towards creating your own customized, hyperbolized, beautified supercar.
Once you hit the streets, you’ll be privy to the beauty of this open world. As would be expected, this is the best looking in the Need for Speed franchise, even if it does borrow the open-world concept of Most Wanted and the car customization options of Underground. This means you’re greeted with near photo-realistic cars, as well as an immense map filled with highways, byways and landscapes that are superb in their design and execution.
Graphics aside, the best aspect of the game is the sheer adrenaline you’ll experience once you start racing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing as a racer or a cop, whether you’re doing race-based or destruction-based events, the sheer speed of the game is incredible. Aided by the visual presentation, the day-and-night cycles as well as the dynamic weather effects, there’s a lot happening all at once and it will have your heart racing. In-game races and challenges, in-game multiplayer racers everywhere, and causing chaos with the various gadgets at your disposal. Locked into these moments, you’ll see why Rivals was voted “Best Racing Game” at E3. There are few experiences greater than racing in the rain along winding roads and tunnels at 200 kph, a mesmerizing mountain vista towering over you.
Yet after the initial amazement, smaller nuances and annoyances begin to rise up. While you can go off the beaten path, the game seems to insist on you staying on the highways. Off-roading invariably scoots you right back to the main stretches. And with fewer jumps and fewer hidden paths, there is less incentive for exploration. As pretty as they are, the diverse locales – mountain ranges, forest trails, small towns – lack the larger, urban sprawls of previous games. With time, you’ll become tired of racing the same roads over and over.
When the racer side becomes repetitive, you’ll turn to the cop career. This freshens things up a bit with new objectives, stronger cars, and new gadgets to take down those pesky racers. And when this gets old, you’ve got multiplayer to keep you going. I have to admit, chasing down other racers was pretty sweet, but the icing on the multiplayer cake is that you don’t need to exit the game to go into multiplayer, that the in-world transition is a seamless one.
Rivals does the super fast and super fun formula very well. However, adrenaline is fickle and soon the rush you felt will start to dwindle. Even the return of Ferrari to the franchise can’t save it from the lack of immersive elements and inevitable repetition in the gameplay. True racing fans should leave Need for Speed Rivals for casual Friday nights with friends.
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.
Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4
+ adrenaline-pumping action and presentation
- gameplay soon becomes repetitive
- less possibility for exploration
- lacks immersion