Electronic Arts’ annual racing franchise has made an unsurprising early debut on next-generation consoles, and unsurprisingly is a visually upgraded version of the videogame that’s also available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation. What is surprising is that Need for Speed: Rivals has ignored much of what Need for Speed: Most Wanted aimed to achieve and instead refers to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it does retain a feeling of appealing to the lowest common denominator in that which it does borrow from the more recent franchise outings.
Autolog, cops and racers, instant friend scores and access to a myriad of weapons to use against criminals are direct imports from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and Need for Speed: Rivals is better for it. Sadly, it’s been implanted into an open world based on that of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, but minus the inspiring variation afforded by a city locale. It’s a mixed bag of great mechanics and poor execution which means Need for Speed: Rivals never reaches the height of Criterion Games’ revolutionised vision of Need for Speed, but remains enjoyable in its own right.
Need for Speed: Rivals does use this open world for a number of innovative gameplay mechanics. The usual speed cameras, jumps and shortcuts are all present and correct, but more interesting is the incorporation of other players. Need for Speed: Rivals is always online. Players will connect to an online world consisting of up to five other players as soon as they begin playing the videogame, and these players are available for head-to-head races as well as potentially playing a part in your single-player events. It’s an entertaining way if incorporating multiplayer gameplay and is undoubtedly Need for Speed: Rivals’ strongest achievement, but whether or not this is a good thing sits next to your assessment of the quality of its borrowed mechanics.
Playing as a racer sees you competing time trails, point-to-point races, escapes and the aforementioned head-to-head events. The escapes (aka Infiltrator events) see you running from the law with the task of losing your pursuer(s) within a set time limit, however chases can be emergent also. Your heat level increases as you drive dangerously and commit criminal acts, and the higher it rises the more likely cops patrolling are likely to be in engaging in a pursuit. Get caught and you’ll lose all of your hard earned SP (the in-game currency) rather than just a portion of it, which does seem somewhat overly punishing. As the racer however, you are able to equip weapons also, meaning that the only difference between cops and racers are the selection of cars and events.
As a cop Need for Speed: Rivals flips the coin. The objectives will all be familiar as they are closely related to those of the racer, either the same with a different name or reversed, though of course there is no threat of pursuit as, this time, you are the pursuer. There’s a decent selection of upgradeable weapons available and unlocking a new car for use as a cop is just as thrilling as it is within the racer mode.
The visual quality of Need for Speed: Rivals is comfortable, but far from astounding. The new generation editions have literally been given a likeable spit-polish and little else, like most of Electronic Arts’ launch titles, but the netcode doesn’t seem to have been improved upon. A major issue with Need for Speed: Rivals is the fact that the videogame uses a peer-to-peer system, and as such when your host decides to stop playing your race or event will end without hesitation. With a title as big as Need for Speed: Rivals it undeniably feels cheap for such an issue to occur at all, let alone with the frequency at which it does on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Need for Speed: Rivals is never going to reinvent the wheel, in fact it’s about as straight forward a virtual representation of vehicular cops-and-robbers that you could get. It’s an enjoyable experience in both its racer and cop modes, and despite the major technical issues it remains a compelling challenge. Both modes have advantages and disadvantages, and the fact that players will quickly develop a favourite suggest that Need for Speed: Rivals has more than enough quality to make its mark.