Need for Speed is a series known by most gamers, and many non-gamers. The franchise was in production from 1994 and has featured in every major console generation since . However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for EA’s popular franchise as Need for Speed titles following Need for Speed: Most Wanted have often lacked the spark that made that title so spectacular. Need for Speed Rivals may well have been the best Need for Speed of this console generation, but unfortunately is held back by constant glitches and crashes; marring what would have otherwise been quite a spectacular arcade racing title.
Need for Speed was never known for its narrative quality, but that doesn’t mean it won’t try to tack on a half-baked storyline. Ghost Games’ racing title presents a dichotomy of Racers – who race because they can and evade the cops for the sake of chaos, anarchy, and general disorder, and Cops, who speed for the sake of keeping order, chasing down racers, and protecting the general public from the reckless nature of the drivers. Both drive high-end, incredibly fast cars, and both have access to technology to debilitate their rivals in pursuits. However, the story is largely in the background for most of the title – appearing only in brief, vague clips between chapters.
The title’s main appeal comes from its gameplay; focused on multiplayer, open-world exploration, and Autolog integration, Need For Speed Rivals is an all-encompassing arcade driving experience. The driving mechanics never stray close to realism and as a result, the title is filled with high speed drifting, nitrous-fueled stretches of road, and an unmistakable focus on providing a fun experience to the player, whether in a Corvette or a Ferrari. However, the title does still feel remarkably similar to the Criterion-developed Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Need for Speed: Most Wanted reboots – tumbling crash animations and takedowns included. Like these titles, Need For Speed: Rivals lacks the spark, or the fresh ideas which made late PS2-era EA Black Box NFS titles so successful.
Players can choose to play as either police or racers and are able to switch between the careers at any hideout. The careers run parallel to one another and can be played in any order. The variety between the objectives of each cop, and the way they integrate into gameplay (Player cops can chase Player racers, for example) add a lot of appeal to the title and make the multiplayer a more dynamic – and stressful experience, especially when other players are constantly spawning on you and your car is critically damaged. The damage model in the title is fairly limited, unfortunately, so many crashes and wreckages lack the impact they could have had, and damage never seems to affect the handling of the car you are currently driving. Therefore, other than cause for profanity during races, the cinematic crashes and damage features feel tacked on and unneeded.
The multiplayer links intrinsically with the standard campaign in that they are the same modes with and without matchmaking. Whether or not you’re dropped into a multiplayer lobby on launch is entirely up to you, and you can change these settings in the Garage menus. This multiplayer integration gives rise to a new system called “AllDrive”, which allows players to track one another, join friends’ public games, and begin events together by simply being in close proximity to one another in-game. The AllDrive system links quite closely with Autolog, which tracks your driving stats in races and on certain points such as speed traps and speed cameras, compares them to your friends’ times, speeds, and performances, and recommends events and challenges for you.
The last new feature in Need for Speed Rivals is the EasyDrive feature, which allows you to interact with players and navigate to events and map points with very few button presses. The system uses the arrow keys to navigate a small menu in the top left of the screen, while still in real-time gameplay. The experience of using this feature should be closely compared to texting while driving, as it often ends up with you embedded within the nearest barrier, if you’re lucky, or submerged in the closest ocean.
Although these features aren’t quite perfect, they fit quite seamlessly into Need for Speed Rivals. Along with the new HUD and quick event starts, the title works very smoothly and transitions quite easily. There are only two complaints in this department – glitches and load times. Compared to the seamless transitioning of the EasyDrive menus and AutoLog stats, the load times seem endless when entering or leaving a garage. Additionally, when you come out of the garage, things aren’t always right. Sometimes cars haven’t spawned properly, other times you spawn knee-deep in the ground, and lastly, and most seriously, often the game freezes and you don’t spawn at all. The freezing is very common, very frustrating, and a very good reason to shelf this game, despite all its redeeming qualities.
Visually, the game looks astoundingly good – but once again is marred by glitches. Car models are rendered excellently, the environment and the weather effects look contrastingly beautiful, and the aforementioned HUD blends very subtly into the backdrop. The biggest errors in the graphics department are textures which load sluggishly and pop up incorrectly or in the wrong place.
The audio is superb, barring the uninspired dialogue sequences. The cars roar cacophonously and echo realistically, the sound of skidding tyres blends in excellently, and the soundtrack – while not entirely to my personal taste – fits almost perfectly. Need for Speed Rivals is very loud, and very immersive. An excellent in-game audio performance almost made me completely forget about the shoddy voice work.
Unfortunately, a lot of the title’s immersive quality is undone by the horrific tendency that the game has to freeze. While not all users will experience this (I have only experienced it consistently on one of the two PS3 consoles on which I tested the game), it’s unnervingly common when it does happen and ruins the game. This also tears any lasting appeal the title had apart, as it is incredibly frustrating to have to repeatedly restart your console to try and cope with a glitchy game. It’s a shame, as Need for Speed Rivals, instead of being the best quality of this generation’s NFS titles, now feels like a rushed gem with tons of soiled potential.
Need for Speed Rivals is fun; it’s most certainly a casual game, it’s accessible, it’s streamlined, and it’s immersive. Unfortunately, at this point it’s also broken, undermining the title’s compelling arcade gameplay, highly detailed visuals, and superb sound performance. While by no means the only issue in a title rife with niggling problems, the constant crashing I experienced while reviewing this game made playing it seem laborious, instead of fun and seamless. There are other issues – texture pop-ups, failed or glitchy spawns, and some balancing issues when it comes to PvP pursuits.
However, with a little more polish and a bit more time in development, Need for Speed Rivals would have been the series’ star turn on the current gen consoles and booming introduction to the next generation. Unfortunately, Need for Speed Rivals instead feels like a rushed gem, with none of the individuality that it’s Black Box predecessors had. Make no mistake, Ghost Games’ introduction into the Need for Speed franchise is by no means bad, but it definitely isn’t a series high.
Lasting Appeal: 5.5/10