After being taken over by Criterion a few years back, the Need for Speed series has seen a slow evolution into an open-world experience. With this year’s entry, newcomer Ghost Games has finally realized that progression by melding single and multiplayer experiences into one cohesive game that focuses more on what I want to do, as opposed to what the game forced me to do. The result is yet another finely tuned racing experience with a mountain of content to keep players coming back for more.
The structure of Rivals feels familiar at first. The game starts off with a cheesy intro dubbed over by someone explaining how they will take me down, and the thrill of racing. It’s fluff that is disguised as a loading screen. Then the quintessential narrator blasts in, who sounds completely bored, to explain to me how the game works. After a lengthy tutorial featuring both the racer and the cop sides, I was finally dropped into the world, and able to start getting down to business.
Rivals is built on the idea that players can progress how they choose. Speed Points (essentially the game’s currency) are earned in a variety of ways. I had the option to do the events I enjoyed, while ignoring the ones that frustrated me. Think of it as checkboxes needing marked off to progress. I like the idea that I don’t have to drag myself through another Enforcer mode to level up my career, and Rivals doesn’t start to necessitate a grind until about three quarters of the way through the campaign.
Everything here is broken down into two core campaigns. The racer side of the story focuses on evading cops, racing and performing stunts such as jump distance. Any of these events can be part of your Speed List (your list of objectives). With so much to see and do it is easy to focus on what is fun, which Rivals excels at. It rarely blocks the player from jumping right into enjoyment.
Speed Points are earned for completing anything, and the racer side is the only one with a downfall. Players can actually lose their points if they are busted by the cops, or suffer a massive wreck. This isn’t an issue early on, as my heat levels were relatively low, giving me ample opportunity to bank my points at a hideout. Later on though, things get so hectic I could spend tons of time never progressing, and that is an issue with the system. Thankfully, I could grind some lower level objectives to progress, but it just wasn’t much fun.
The cop side fares better when talking about Speed Points, because they work almost exactly like XP. They are earned and can be spent whenever without having to bank them constantly. Again, on this side of the law, events are varied enough to keep things interesting from start to finish. I found myself enjoying this campaign far more, due to the frustrations on the racer side.
Rivals also introduces AllDrive, which melds the single and multiplayer game into one mode. Whenever booted up, it dropped me into one of EA’s online servers with other players. I could choose to ignore them, unless of course they were cops and attempting to bust me, or vice versa. It is a cool feature that keeps the dynamic feel of racing against real people. If I chose to, I could also opt to log out and go at it against bots. Autolog also returns giving me an opportunity to make my friends look good by comparing their times to mine. The social features are still fun, and sending/receiving challenges is as easy as it has always been.
Being developed by a new team, Ghost Games has done a great job at making the transition seamless. Handling of the cars still feels tight and smooth. I mastered the drift within the first hour or so of play. Some of the setbacks of the previous games also rear their ugly heads though. For starters EasyDrive is great, but useless during pursuits due to having to navigate a menu without being able to pause. It always ends in a crash. Also the mini-map is once again too zoomed out to help matters. These are minor annoyances that I just wish would get fixed.
Being one of the premier PS4 titles at launch, Rivals looks fantastic. Running at a slick 1080p and rarely missing a beat in the frame rate department, this is one slick-looking game. Seeing foliage flutter across the road, and getting that true sense of speed really makes me happy to have the new consoles here. This is one gorgeous game that finally lets console players see what running on a high-end PC has looked like for a while now.
Need for Speed: Rivals is one of the most impressive launch games for PS4. It is very pretty visually, and it has enough content to keep players busy for quite some time. There are some drawbacks to its design, but nothing that will derail the fun. For those looking for that next-gen racing experience…well this is really your only option on PS4. But I am glad it is an option, because it is incredibly impressive and fun.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.