Established in 1994, the Need for Speed franchise has seen it’s ups and downs but it is one of the longest living franchises in video game history.
In 2012 it was announced that Criterion Games was in full control of Need for Speed, following Black Box’s restructuring. The British developer went on to release what, in this reviewer’s humble opinion as a avid Need for Speed fan, was arguably the best in the franchise with Need for Speed: Most Wanted. This game utilised the skills and design Criterion had picked up from their other racing masterpiece, Burnout Paradise, to create an open-world venture worthy of the Need for Speed name.
Fast forward to August 2013 and another developer joined forces with Criterion in preparation for a multi-generation release. Ghost Games UK, a developer made up almost entirely of ex-Criterion staff was given the bewildering task of creating a new Need for Speed that could comfortably port to the now current generation of games consoles whilst performing well on the previous models. From this Need for Speed: Rivals was born.
Need for Speed: Rivals tells a story from two perspectives, a racer determined to become a legend and a cop out to rid the streets of racing criminals and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Fusing the cop vs racer dynamic made popular in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit with the open world freedom of Need for Speed: Most Wanted the game offers the player the option to follow both careers and work through a series of objectives to rank up and progress through the story.
Choose a side
With two sides of the story to play, the game features a number of different event styles to test the players skill at every level. From Hot Pursuits, that’s a race where the cops have to take down the racers before they finish a race for those not familiar, to career themed time trials, the gameplay is not ground-breaking but instead attempts to build on what it’s predecessors made great.
Vehicles are a plenty across both career paths and range from muscle cars like the Ford Mustang to hyper cars such as the Veyron, all of which are unlocked as the user progresses through the story, either way there is something to suit every racing style.
The visuals are impressive, especially on the new consoles and although the games engine occasionally falters, the glorious high definition, faster frame-rate experience is incredibly enjoyable. In addition to the beautiful setting is the usual Need for Speed soundtrack, filled with high speed, bass fueled tunes which compliment the overall gameplay.
Much like Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the open-world map allows the player to drive to any location and start an event without the need to return to the familiar birds-eye map view we’ve saw in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Where Rivals differs however is that even once an event has started the player is not sand-boxed in their own separate racing reality and so other players can interfere with the outcome of the event. Although this adds to the theme of a seamless, realistic environment this can also be the games downfall.
For those players who like to focus on game progression and enjoy the perks of achieving the best possible statistics there can be nothing more annoying then another player joining in and taking you out half a mile from the end of a race. For those players Rivals seems to force you out of the social world and into your own fortress of solitude for the sake of a happy gaming experience. At the other end of the gaming scale however, this game can also encourage weaker players to work with the Need for Speed elite to progress faster through the game in cooperative gaming modes.
The single most annoying feature, all lack there of, with the seamless environment of Rivals is that no pause function exists, even in single player. This may not sound like such a big problem but when you reach a point in the game where the objective is to accumulate 250,000 points before you can return to your hideout, you’re up to 150,000 and decide to sneak off to use the toilet only to return to find that a cop has busted you, it will make you miss this simplest of features.
The games AI can be both a challenge to beat as a racer, which is a good thing, yet a severe hindrance as a cop. Whilst playing as a racer I was treated to a number of occasions where the other racers would use their tech to take down cops in my way and ultimately, if not intentionally, help me win. When I moved over to the light side of the law however the “back-up” was less than helpful and in many circumstances actually made the event harder then it needed to be by getting in the way, cutting me off, spike-stripping me and testing my patience to the limit.
Not giving the option as to whether or not additional cop cars should join the event can do more damage then good and lead to many players giving in and avoiding that side of the game altogether. If the player had more control over this in the same way they can request roadblocks and helicopters then this would definitely improve that aspect of the game considerably.
The Social Racer
Where this game really stands out compared to the previous incarnations is in the way it integrates social gaming, this game was made with social interaction in mind, something Sony and Microsoft have both been plugging for the last 12 months in relation to the current gen machines we saw released in November 2013.
Although a single player option is available the game will make every effort to throw you straight into a shared map filled with other players from the off. These shared worlds will usually be populated with a relatively even spread of cops and racers and you’re encouraged to meet up with your allies and take on the other side. Every event in the game can be started cooperatively and the more players involved, the more points you receive towards your next ranking. Bored of the events? Why not become a cop and go on an open world rampage against the players racing.
In addition to the social experience online with other players Rivals goes all out to make you want to do better. Powered by EA’s own Autolog, a social network created specifically for Need for Speed, the game continually compares your results to your friends and offers the player challenges to overcome based on those statistics. Each speed race, speed camera, jump and rank has it’s own leaderboard and so there’s always someone from your own social circles to overcome if you’d rather go it alone.
Worthy of a podium place?
Need for Speed: Rivals has taken the best elements from two of the most revered games in the franchise, mashed them into one game which, although a high quality and fun experience, is lacking something.
The games story progression can become very tedious over time with the objectives for each rank never drastically changing and some players will lose interest very quickly.
The saving grace with this game is the social interaction through a fully open-world environment where multiple players can work together or challenge each other in a way that seems natural and seamless. Though this does have it’s flaws and can cause frustration there is a glimmer of hope for the future of Need for Speed.[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]The visuals and soundtrack
Extensive list of cars to drive
Seamless social interaction
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]The lack of a pause option
The ally AI can cause more problems then solve
When playing solo the game shows little or no challenge