I Fought the Law and the Law Won
I’ve never been a huge racing game fan. Sure, they’re fun enough to play for a little while, but I have found myself getting bored of them pretty quickly in the past. The typical circuit of race tracks that you blindly traverse to unlock new cars, modes, and other tracks holds little appeal for me, outside of the occasional living-room showdown with a buddy. But, in recent years, a new racing game formula has emerged, one I find much more engaging–open-world racing. These racing games, such as Need for Speed: Rivals , let you loose on the roads of a dynamic map that leaves the decisions of what, when, and how you do something up to you. This is the type of gameplay I want in a racing game.
At the core of Need for Speed: Rivals , you have a choice–Cop or Racer. Which one you choose is entirely up to you, but it will determine how you play the game, so choose wisely. As you would imagine, both paths tell different stories, but this doesn’t necessarily add up to two different experiences. While there are differences in the gameplay of each side, the game feels largely the same as you play through either mode. The major differences are in how you play, not what you play. For instance, as a Cop, you can engage in pursuits of Racers, in which you have to wreck the Racer to bust them. As a racer, you must evade and escape from the Cops. So, even though you are taking part in the same event, the two sides take on different roles, which makes for interesting and diverse gameplay within the same event. But, if you are worried about being stuck on one side of the law or the other, don’t be, you can switch between Cops and Racers at any time via the pause menu. The game will save your progress in each, so you won’t miss any gameplay in either mode.
As the fuzz, you can take part in time trials that test your response time, scripted pursuits, or you can just drive around Redview County looking for Racers to bust, delivering your own brand of wheeled justice. As a Racer, you can participate in time trials as well, and of course races, during which your reckless driving antics will raise your heat level. Your heat level determines how big of a Cop-magnet you are, similar to the wanted level of a Grand Theft Auto game. The persistence of the heat level carries over into races and time trials as well, so it is possible (and probable) that you will be involved in a high-speed chase while in the middle of another event, which makes for some seriously epic driving. At the core of the game, you have to make one major decision–do you want to be the hunter or the prey? Being a Cop pretty much gives you free reign on the streets of Redview, while being a Racer will cause you to continually look over your shoulder and evade the smell of crispy bacon.
Game progression is a fairly simple process, complete milestones in the game to raise your level and unlock new cars. They are simple in the beginning, such as placing bronze in an event or scoring a certain amount of credit, but they become increasingly more difficult as time progresses. Unlocking new cars as you go makes your life a little easier, since new cars typically bring a little more to the table as you move on. The “story” (if you want to call it that) is little more than a collection of cutscenes that give a little background to rivalry that has been brewing in Redview County, and you never truly take on the role of a character, which is probably a good thing. Racing games aren’t made for stories, and taking on the role of a character would probably have felt generic, off-putting, and half-baked. Who plays racing games for the story, right?
Then, there’s Alldrive. Alldrive breaks down the multiplayer barrier by integrating it seamlessly into the single-player mode. Your friends will populate the game world with their own adventures, simply by playing, giving you the opportunity to interact with them at any given time. Of course, if you want to keep others out, that option is available to you, but Alldrive adds another layer to an already polished racing game that creates unique experiences that you couldn’t have otherwise.
The control scheme of Need for Speed: Rivals is tight and refined, complex enough to remain interesting and simple enough for almost anyone to pick up and play. I found drifting in corners to be especially clean, something that can be a serious pain in some racers. Every car feels at least slightly different, and upgrades change how your car handles, as it should. On each car, you have two slots for pursuit tech (which are mapped to the face buttons) that give you an edge against any opponent you might find yourself flying down the highway with.
Visually, Need for Speed: Rivals really shines, especially on next-gen. The environment is sharp and interactive; leaves and trash blow through the wind around you, and the cars look absolutely gorgeous. Additionally, Ghost Games really nailed the “speed factor” in rivals. Meaning, through the visuals, they have achieved a feeling of speed that becomes increasingly frantic the longer and faster you drive without slowing down. This is something that the series has always done astoundingly well, and Rivals is no exception. However, one thing is missing from the visual formula that I always find annoying if absent–real-time car damage. When you’re involved in a big wreck, your car will show damage as it lands in pieces after its 150 MPH collision, but is then magically restored to its former glory and returned to the road, even though it is still technically damaged and may require you to drive through a repair station. This annoyance is minor, but it did make it difficult to keep track of my car’s durability sometimes, and well, I just want to see the damage effects, especially on next-gen.
As with many games of this type, EA delivers a solid soundtrack for you to tear up the streets of Redview County to. A hip-hop/pop mix littered with other genres to fill it out, the soundtrack is diverse enough to have a little something for everyone, without being distracting to the gameplay. The rest of the soundscape does its job admirably, with a collection of sounds and effects that keep you immersed in the game.
Overall, Need for Speed: Rivals delivers the most solid racer to come from EA in a long time. The ability to play as both Cops and Racers is a welcome gameplay diversity that gives you the power to choose how to play the game. Back that up with a seamless multiplayer, a solid audio foundation, and killer visuals, and what you get is one of the best racing games to come out in recent years. Whether you choose to be a Cop or a Racer, either way you’re going to have a lot of fun, which is what gaming is all about.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
Beautiful next-gen graphics with tons of detail. 4.5 Control
Tight controls are easy to pick up and each car feels different. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The hip-hop/pop soundtrack is pretty decent and the sounds of need for speed integrate well for a solid soundscape. 4.0 Play Value
As a Cop or Racer, there is plenty to do in Rivals . 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best