Electronic Arts released their new title in the Need For Speed (NFS) franchise to much excitement late last year. Being a spiritual successor to the publisher’s Hot Pursuit title, Rivals takes on a similar racer vs cop mechanic to enthral gamers. But is it what players were hoping for, or does it serve as just another instalment in the ever-growing franchise?
What we like about it
The fact that NFS remained an arcade-like racer is both a boon and a bit of a problem. In order not to be seen as a competitor to Microsoft’s hugely-popular Forza title, NFS opted to give users a bit more freedom in terms of vehicle behaviour.
This makes it easier for anybody to pick up and jump straight in, even if they have no previous driving experience. The vehicles in the title definitely don’t behave the same way as they would in the real world, but the lack of realism is almost refreshing.
Players start the game by selecting whether they would like to play as an illegal street racer, or as a cop who needs to enforce the law and bring these racers to book. Playing as a racer is certainly the more rewarding option, but where cop cars are unlocked and made available for free, racers have to fork out their hard-earned in-game cash to purchase them. But that does come with some benefits. Racer cars can be upgraded in a number as ways, such as Acceleration, Top Speed and Durability, whereas cop cars are issued with standard specs and can’t be upgraded.
Players accumulate Speed Points by perfroming various vehicular actions, such as driving at top speed, drifting, jumping over ramps and evading the cops, and it’s these Speed Points that are used to purchase upgrades.
But every good racer needs an arsenal of weaponry to keep the cops at bay, and here the game provides a number of options. Gamers can buy EMP strikes, electro-mines and police jammers to hinder their pursuit. But equally, the police also have a number of tricks up their sleeve to make it harder for the racers to get away.
Players will have to progress through a number of chapters in order to complete the game, and each chapter has a number of requirements that need to be fulfilled to continue. Players can choose between three different sets of tasks, and completing them will drive the chapters forward. It doesn’t add up to the game’s plot, but then again, does anything in Rivals?
What we don’t like about it
In terms of plot, there is a loose story about racers trying to teach the police a lesson and by a show of force, they try to persuade the pursuing cops to leave them alone. The story doesn’t actually matter in Rivals, as it adds nothing to the actual game play and serves merely as the glue between chapters as the levels of difficulty increases.
As mentioned, players can’t upgrade the cop cars and this creates a number of problems for lower-ranking players. Since the title makes use of an always-on multiplayer system, lower level cops are at a severe disadvantage when trying to take on racer players with much better technology. It can be a bit frustrating, but at least the title actively tries to place gamers in a multiplayer game where everybody is on the same level.
In terms of controls, the title is incredibly easy to handle and this stems from the arcade-like background of the NFS series. There is very little that players will have to remember as the controls are as standard as all the other games before it.
For in-game vehicles, there are a host of cars to choose from, but Ferrari officially returns to the franchise in Rivals – which creates a bit of confusion. While cars like the Lamborghini Aventador LP 720-4, Pagani Huayra and Audi R8 Coupe V10 plus 5.2 FSI quattro are available, the Ferrari vehicles seem to be more powerful than the rest of the cars in their respective unlock segments. Ferrari-sponsored, or honest specifications?
Players looking for something a bit less serious than Forza will seem right at home with Rivals. The controls are easy, the game play isn’t very difficult to figure out, and the graphics are pretty good (even on the Xbox360).
The only real problem is that besides the tasks that need to be completed, there is nothing that drives the plot – not that it needs a plot worthy of an Academy Award, but it would have made things a bit less laborious.
In addition, by giving players a choice of tasks, it is actually possible to complete the game and unlock the fastest cars by only ever competing in about five actual races – that doesn’t bode well for a title very savvy gamers are supposed to race.
But with that said, the multiplayer is always available, and gamers can challenge others in Head-to-Head races by simply pressing one button – or chasing down online players as a ruthless cop while cruising the vast map.
As a Need For Speed title, Rivals is pretty good, and should keep fans busy for a number of hours. There are a number of glitches here and there, but that is to be expected – and it’s definitely not game-breaking. Packing in a solid experience, players will find some form of accomplishment when they unlock the last car, and eventually complete the title.
Our score: 8/10
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor