Format Reviewed: PS4
Other Formats: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Release: Out Now
Players: 1 (1-6 online)
Online Reviewed: Yes
Back when EA split the Need For Speed franchise down the middle and made Shift the designated simulator branch of the series, it meant the other side could go as arcade-y as it wanted. We saw that ideology materialise in Hot Pursuit, strengthen itself in Most Wanted and now we’re seeing it blossom into the nitrous-filled powerhouse that is Rivals.
We played this game on PS4, and it’s a marked difference from anything we’ve played on the 360 or PS3 – it’s like a PC game with everything turned up to ultra, and then some. The texture detail in incredible, right down to the jagged edges of broken glass that littered the floor whenever we totalled our car (which wasn’t that often). The lighting bounces and refracts as you’d expect in real life – at one point, we were driving through an open desert, and the bruise-coloured light of the setting sun caught our vehicle at such an angle that it made us pull over and just admire the vista. Sunbeams diffused through the swirling dust of the desert, highlighting how dirty our car had gotten in the off-road drive to the American wilderness. This game is an exhibition of the Frostbite 3 engine – a true taste of the graphical fidelity we can expect to see on this new generation.
Ghost knows this, too. When you unlock a new car in your police career (or buy it in your racer career), there will be a jump-cut montage of your new vehicle, showcased alongside pumping, bass-heavy music, neon strip lights flashing on and off in a wind-tunnel somewhere as a camera circles your new toy. It’s adult entertainment on a vehicular level – the sort of thing you’d probably find on Jeremy Clarkson’s hard-drive. These little snippets are indulgent, even clichéd, but you can forgive Ghost’s motives in programming them, because even non-motor enthusiasts will be impressed by the engine powering the visuals.
Once we stopped ogling our car, we took to the open roads of Redview – a condensed America, inspired heavily by Californian coastlines. But the world extends beyond languid beaches and winding roads – there are town sections, mountainous paths and the aforementioned desert, all knitted together in a map that feels authentic and vibrant. This sense of life is galvanised by the inclusion of the AllDrive feature – an online system that will pair you up with drivers from your Live or PSN friend list by default. Their inclusion in your game can be minimal – other players can passively populate your world and do their own thing, or you can team up with them on the fly to initiate a race, or work together to take down other racers. Everything in the game can be done in co-op, with bonus points awarded for playing with more people.
It’s this feature that showed off how fun the game can be. When we played online, we were playing as the only cop on a server full of racers – three of which chose to initiate their own head-to-head race when we left our garage. With a quick tap of L1, we started up our sirens and lights and began pursuing them. At the time, our cop car (an Aston Martin One-77) out-powered most of the other racers, and we had little trouble stalking along the roads and powering up our pursuit tech to tactically eliminate the speeders from the race, one car at a time.
Pursuit tech is an upgradable weapons system that’s vital to either defend yourself from pursuers or take out opposing vehicles. With options ranging from EMPs to electo-static fields, turbo boosts to roadblocks, the tech throws in an element of tactical gameplay to the races – with a limited amount of ammo, you must consider whether or not you want to risk missing a car that seems adept at dodging your advances whilst also fighting against the clock to take them out as quickly as possible. Cops and racers have access to different tech, so the cat-and-mouse dynamic is beautifully balanced. Our server eventually wrangled itself to three cops vs. three racers, and we all engaged in a hectic Hot Pursuit through an agricultural area and into the snow-capped mountains. It was frenetic, six cars clipping each others’ bumpers and firing up their tech in a desperate bid to outrun the others. At one point, we ran out of ‘ammo’ and resorted to burning through our nitrous boosts to get ahead of the competition before slamming on our handbrakes, sacrificing our own chassis to impede the progress of another racer.
The dual dynamic of being able to progress as either a cop or street racer at the same time prevents the game from ever becoming too stale. Despite the multitude of game modes, though, you’re effectively always doing the same thing, no matter how it’s dressed up: you’re either racing, being chased or pursuing. The tasks available to you becoming increasingly more challenging, and the placement of objectives and checkpoints guides you through Redview County, showing off its incredible vistas, varied landmarks and diverse road surfaces. But it still doesn’t detract from the lack of diversity in game modes.
To be honest, we spent the majority of our time just cruising around the county, drooling over the views and picking off random racers that happened across our patrols. Need For Speed: Rivals had Marcus Nilsson as an executive producer – who’s previously worked with EA and Dice on the Battlefield franchise. It’s clear his philosophy for online gaming has carried over to Need For Speed – though there is an option for solo play, this game is a far better entity when you’ve got friends on the server. That’s what it was made for, and that’s where it excels.