Need for Speed is one of the most storied franchises within the EA library. The first one released way back in 1994 on the 3DO, it has gone through numerous changes, plot re-writes and been designed by a host of different companies. This year we find ourselves picking up another iteration designed by an entirely new developer, Ghost Games. Having played pretty much every single NFS that’s hit our consoles (Hot Pursuit & Underground being my favourites) it intrigued me to see what way Ghost Games would go with NFS: Rivals. Ultimately would the end product elevate the gaming community’s view of one of EA’s most popular franchises, or would the release of Rivals leave a black stain on the new developer’s rather blank resume?
As with a number of previous titles there is a plot, but in all honesty it has no bearing on the game and very little thought has gone into it. The main aim or goal of your time on Rivals is to unlock new vehicles. Be it the Lamborghini Murcielago for your illegal street racing days or a Mustang Enforcer for those times when you fancy being the hand of the law.
This leads me nicely onto the main way the game plays out, in that you can choose to either be a racer or a cop (rivals, get it?). If you choose to play as a racer you can participate in races, head-to-heads and pursuits. You can also upgrade your vehicles with decals, engine upgrades and most importantly your defensive weapons such as mines.
On the other hand you may want to be on the right side of the law and be a cop. In which case you get the chance to takedown racers in interceptor mode, pursuit, and you can even find yourself embroiled in another police chases. As you can imagine, you cannot customise your police car, though you can purchase Spike Strips, EMP’s and Shockwaves to help you in your quest to take down the racing world. All of the games added extras are bought with speed points, these are tallied up as you race, though be warned if you’re busted or your car becomes unserviceable, you lose everything, so it’s always a good idea to bank your winnings at the earliest opportunity.
The All-Drive world that you race (or patrol) in is live with other human players roaming your streets. When you get three cops and three racers controlled by humans all on one stretch of road Rivals truly comes into its own. Taking down an real-life racer is far more entertaining than it’s CPU counter-part. Naturally, when you first hit the streets you’ll be generally smashed to pieces by guys with Ferraris and Lambos as you hobble along in your Aston Martin Vanquish. It’s never easy in such games and EA could have done a better job pairing up similarly skilled players.
Another issue is the constant faux-pas with hosts dropping mid-game. This will result in your entire party being migrated to a new host. This always seems to happen right in the middle of a race and can often lead to you being busted as you spawn in next to a cop – Not ideal. My other major gripe is the crash screen, which just doesn’t look all that good in all honesty. The animation seems too quick and plays out for too long, something you don’t need when in an entirely online world.
The story mode will see you trying to take down the underground racing world as a cop and as a racer your aim is to spread the word via social media (like I said, nothing ground-breaking here). It’s through the campaign that you can unlock new cars.
After each rank you’re given three differing lists. As a member of the law you’ll be asked to take down ‘x’ amount of racers or complete a pursuit in a set amount of time. On the other side of the law you’ll be asked to win head-to-heads or perform a set amount of side slams. After ten or twenty ranks it does feel the same and can become somewhat laborious.
When it comes to the cops each car has three different models, the aforementioned list that you choose to complete will dictate which cop car you get. There’s the patrol car, it’s not overly fast or overly thick skinned, it’s the best all-around option. The undercover cars are all black with no markings, they lack the ability to take as much of a hiding but are quicker. Finally there is the Enforcer, which lasts the longest when being smashed about but its speed takes a bit of a hit.
There are a few issues with the online map. Firstly, naturally you can’t pause the game. This is most annoying when you need to find the best route to a safe house but can’t risk to press pause. Its developers have tried to simplify things by making it possible to set a route to your nearest repair shop or safe house using your D-pad. Sadly, it is somewhat flawed in that it’s a little fiddly and is never a good thing in the heat of a pursuit. Secondly you’ll sometimes be given incorrect routes. I found myself a number of times setting it to the nearest repair shop only to drive past one on the way to the ‘closest’ one.
The game’s issues don’t stop there, as the weapons that were mentioned earlier are not nearly effective enough. Also, whilst I realise it’s just a game, a massive head-on crash should wipeout both vehicles, and a powerful T-Bone should take down the car that’s been hit. Sadly, in both cases both players can simply brush themselves off and continue on.
Graphically speaking the game is stunning. The cars are gleaming and they all feel unique when you’re behind the wheel. Redview County has also been mapped out very well, though it can look incredibly sparse at times. Considering that your little party can only consist of six players you’ll find yourself struggling to navigate the myriad of roads trying to find an actual challenge. This also means that you’ll rarely find yourself teaming up to take down opposing players.
Although there are a number of issues with NFS: Rivals, be it the stupid migrating screens, the ineffective weapons or the lack of any real teamwork in an online world, the game is still thoroughly enjoyable. When you do happen to pass by a player as skilled as you, you’ll both be in your element, drifting in and out of traffic on three-lane highways or jumping through forests with a cop on your tail trying to set down spike-strips or road blocks.
The vehicles and Redview County both look sublime, Ghost Games have truly outdone themselves graphically speaking. Whilst All-Drive can be extremely quiet it is a great idea and perhaps they will learn from Rivals and come back with an even better version of it with their next Need for Speed game. It may not be perfect, but it’s well worth a race or two.