Review: Need for Speed: Rivals (PS4)

Need for Speed rivals logo

Similar to Hot Pursuit, Need for Speed: Rivals sees you can take on the role of Cop or Racer in the fictional Redview County. There is a story but it’s faceless (literally, it’s just a voiceover) and is a bit like The Fast and The Furious where ex racers are part of a special police division to bring down the racing circuit plaguing the city and cops go undercover and become racers. It’s only there to serve up more and more justification for the action on the roads but to me it distracts from what you really want to do and that’s race around the city. Burnout Paradise and Need for Speed: Most Wanted were straightforward, get out there and race games and they were both brilliant racers. Gran Turismo is a different kind of racer and that s excels in its own (serious) way. With Rivals I didn’t care an ounce about what was being said in cutscenes as it kept me from racing about.

I can only imagine the cops and racer campaigns were decided upon as the developers thought it would naturally mix up the gameplay. With a full campaign for both you’d think you’re going to be taking part in a good mixture of races and events but in practice it’s essentially the same as any other racing game that’s come before it. When you’re playing as a Cop you bring down racers in Hot Pursuit mode whereas when taking part as a racer you have to get to the finish line before you’re taken out. But as you use very similar gadgets to play with these modes don’t really have their own sense of identity.  Other open world activities such as Cops’ Rapid Responses are basically time trials but you get penalised if you hit sign posts and knock into other cars. Nobody likes getting penalised and this only serves to make the game less enjoyable. Some people may enjoy that but I’m sure most would just like a standard, balls to the wall time trial that you get with the Racer option. And that’s were the fun is, simply racing about at breakneck speed.

Need for Speed rivals screenshot 2

The actual objectives of the game include a selection of very similar tasks. Get six seconds of air, drift for 100m, get three hits with Pursuit technology, get at least silver in a head to head race.  You also have to bank any points you’re earned by returning to the safehouse. It’s something that just adds the little bit of extra annoyance as you can loose points because some cop car crashed into you just after you’ve finished a race in first place. The aforementioned Pursuit tech like EMP devices, jammers which defend from attacks and shock blast technology is a bit Mario Kart and while it does spice up the gameplay a little on the whole it doesn’t make the game all that different. Too be honest I found these gadgets more annoying than a welcome new features.

Yet despite my criticism, the game is still fun to play. You don’t wipe yourself out as much as you do in Most Wanted, there’s oodles to do and it’s all wrapped up in a rewarding manner. With constant stats being complied about your timings and speed, it’s fun to compare how you stand against your friends. Plus whenever you complete a set of objectives you level up and as you’d expect you unlock new cars, customisation options ann new sets of objectives. If you can cast your mind back to 2003, the Need for Speed that year was Underground, a personal favourite of mine. In that game you could customise your set of wheels a fair amount with the ability to do paint jobs, add decals, change rims and all that jazz. And for better or for worse, no neon lighting.

When you’re on the road it’s even easier than before to do what you want to do and this is thanks to Easydrive. Making some annoying aspects of open world racers much easier and more enjoyable, you’re able to quickly select the nearest hideout and repair shop, race, time trial and anything that you want to do. This removes a little bit of faffing meaning you’re on the move that bit more and not manually select waypoints on the map. It’s a very easy and user friendly system and a system that all open world racing games should strive to emulate.

I’ve also given the game for a spin on the PlayStation Vita via the remote play function and it works a dream. Sure, the graphics do take a bit of a hit but it’s a compromise that I’m sure everyone can take as it allows you to play the game away from the main TV.

Need for Speed rivals screenshot

Racing games live and die by the tracks/streets that players race on. Whether it’s a simulation title like Gran Turismo and its intricate gameplay or the out and out fun of Burnout Paradise, if you’re racing in some dull boring city or some uninspired track the game will fail to meet expectations. Thankfully Rival’s Redview County is bigger and more varied than last year’s Most Wanted. It’s not much different in size compared to Hot Pursuit but the world is more detailed than ever before. One corner of the map is all desert like and another corner is mountainous and covered with pine forests. Putting aside how those geographies can physically exist alongside each other aside, it does make for a more interesting game.

It’s made even better due to the fact Rivals is the first game in the series to be in full 1080p. Combined with the wondering Frostbite 3 engine from Battlefield 4 and a dynamic weather system, this game is a treat for your eyes. Yet despite this there are some pop-in problems that shouldn’t exist. So many times barriers suddenly materialised a few car lengths in front of me. Thankfully they’re smash-able barriers but it is very off putting and shows too much effort has gone in making this game prettier rather than fixing some of the more essential areas.

Of course, the cars are important to and if you’re a fan of cars bearing a black prancing stallions, you’ll be very happy. Half a dozen Ferraris appear in the series properly for the first time since 2002. Other than that it’s a healthy mix of Aston Martins, Porsches and Mustangs.

The Autolog system has made its way to the latest title, offering you a good way to see how you compare to your friends and others around the world. It’s such as seamless way to integrate loads of different times, stats and scores that between competitive friends it can really extend the life of Rivals. Spinning off that is a new social system called AllDrive which allow you to seamlessly transition from playing alone to playing with friends. This does technically make single player and multiplayer one and the same as it blurs the lines so they almost can’t be considered separate entities. Expect that to be a defining feature of the next generation.

Anyway it allows you to play against each other in races and also dabble in some co-op gameplay too. It’s core mechanics and structure are the same as the the singleplayer missions but you’re rewarded for working together in co-op missions. A good example is when you’re playing as the Cops and you work together to take down a Racer. It’s a great way for games to be and Rivals implements it perfectly. However the world can only cope with 12 people. In a world as big as Redview County it means it’s sparsely populated and not brimming with activity like it should be, especially with Battlefield 4 supporting 64 people online on next gen consoles.

One last thing that bugged me was host migration. There were several instances when the host changed causing the event I was in to start from scratch. It didn’t happen too often but when it does and you’re close to the finish line it is frustrating.

To sum up
All in all Need for Speed: Rivals is a perfectly good racer but one that plays exactly like so many others. The improvements to the mission structure and in-car navigation/waypoint system is superior to other titles but that’s no reason to pick up this game alone. However the Need for Speed series does continue to offer some exciting thrills even without any major gameplay development. Here’s to hoping the next title makes use of the PS4 and Xbox One’s full capabilities.

PopBucket Review Score 8Version reviewed: PlayStation 4

Need for Speed: Rivals is out now on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.

Author: Martyn Newton

Overlord of PopBucket and a gamer from a very young age with earliest memories including Theme Park, Detroit (look it up), Sim City, Championship Manager 2, The Lion King and Command & Conquer.

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