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Need for Speed: Rivals review

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Need for Speed Rivals

Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Seamless single-player/multiplayer racing
  • Gorgeous game world that’s a joy to race in
  • Furious cops vs. racers driving
  • Good handling and a strong line-up of cars

Cons

  • Online glitches can lose you progress
  • Other players spoiling wins

Available on Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Criterion’s stewardship of Need for Speed has been the best thing to happen to EA’s venerable racing franchise, transforming a tired, has-been, trying-too-hard-to-be-cool arcade racer into a revitalised contender that actually deserves its mammoth sales. 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was comfortably the best Need for Speed of the HD console era, while 2012’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted was a gripping remake of a flawed classic. It’s a bit of a concern, then, that the Need for Speed: Rivals isn’t a Criterion production, but the work of a new studio, Ghost Games. Are we back to the horrors of Need for Speed: Underground 2, or – worse – the woeful Need for Speed: The Run?

Thankfully not. Amongst the staff at Ghost Games you’ll find alumni from the Need for Speed team at Criterion, plus developers who worked on Forza Horizon, Project Gotham Racing, Shift 2: Unleashed and RACE Pro, and that experience shows. Need for Speed: Rivals isn’t just a stunning next-gen debut for Need for Speed, but an arcade racer worthy of comparison with the best of the Burnout series, Forza Horizon, the sadly overlooked Split/Second and the aforementioned Hot Pursuit. Give us a little more time before we say for definite, but it might even be the best Need for Speed ever made.

SEE ALSO: 10 best games of 2013

Need for Speed Rivals

The basic setup takes the best from Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Like the former, it focuses on the war between cops and illegal racers over vast stretches of open road – in this case 100 miles of dirt and tarmac crossing the fictional Redview County. Like Most Wanted the open world is packed with ready-made events, which you can trigger as you pass through their markers with a tap of a bumper. Like Hot Pursuit, it has careers for both cops and racers, giving you two different sets of events, missions, cars to unlock and ‘pursuit tech’ upgrades to install. The game even has a kind of storyline, though it’s an onobtrusive effort that doesn’t force you to watch endless z-movie cut scenes.

What Rivals brings that’s new to the part is a system it calls AllDrive. Hot Pursuit introduced the idea of Autolog, where the game actively pits you against your Xbox Live or PSN friends, comparing achievements, finishing times and progress so that you were playing with each other, even when you weren’t doing so at the same time. AllDrive takes a different tack, signing up to six racers into its open world, and breaking down all the barriers between solo and online play.

SEE ALSO: Best PS4 games

Need for Speed Rivals

The nearest comparison point is Test Drive Unlimited 1 and 2, which allowed larger groups of players to roam their Hawaiian and Balearic settings. But where the TDU games instanced off their events, temporarily separating you from the other racers, Rivals keeps it all live, all of the time. That means that player A, driving as a racer, can be motoring from their safehouse to a neaby time trial event when they find player B, also a racer, speeding past them with an angry bunch of CPU-controlled cop cars on their tail. Player A can jump in and help player B out, challenge them to a head-to-head race, or meanly use an EMP blast to bring them to a halt. Meanwhile, Player C, working as a cop, might join in the chase, bring player B down, or start harassing Player A until they get their just deserts.

If it sounds potentially chaotic, then it’s often genuinely chaotic, but in a way that breathes life and energy into the Need for Speed world. You don’t have to play with AllDrive on if you don’t want to, but if you don’t you’re missing out on something special.

And what a world it is in Rivals. It has some nice beachside towns and coastal scenery, but also forests, rugged mountains, rural farmlands and backwoods tracks, all criss-crossed by the kinds of sinuous, winding roads that tempt you to go really, really fast before whacking you in the face with a sudden right turn. It's glorious stuff.

SEE ALSO: Best Xbox One games

Need for Speed Rivals

It also has the best dynamic weather we’ve seen in an arcade racer, as heavy rain, sudden squalls and blinding early-morning sunshine come in to transform the whole experience in a moment. Does Rivals have the hyper-detailed cars, stunning lighting or authentic tracks of Forza 5? Not on your nelly, but it has huge landscapes, massive draw distances and an abundance of textural detail. Running at 1080p at a smooth 30fps on Xbox One and PS4, it’s an incredibly compelling racing game.

The joy of Rivals’ structure is that it encourages you to just drive around and explore, finding hidden tracks and daredevil, chasm-spanning jumps, or just enjoying the feel of high-speeds on the open road. Meanwhile, the advantage of point-to-point, open-road racing over the courses you’d find in a more serious racing sim is that you can’t learn the tracks. Instead, you learn how to respond to sudden changes of direction, pitch or camber, and how to push each car to the edge of its performance. The result is an arcade racer where everything flows, whether you’re simply racing your way from checkpoint to checkpoint, bearing down on an illegal racer or driving frantically to give the cops the slip.

Need for Speed Rivals

It’s furiously addictive, too. Each career is divided into chapters, and each chapter has you moving through the cop or racer ranks by completing several to do lists of objectives, that might be as simple as just getting silver in a time trial event, or as tricky as hitting five racers with pursuit tech upgrades. Completing lists and ranking up unlocks new cars, liveries, events and upgrades, and it’s not long before you’re trapped in a cycle of competing to get a new car and new upgrades, then seeing what you can do with your new car, then working again to go up the next level.

You also need to balance risk and reward, particularly if you’re driving as a racer. Events and activities earn you points, but you can only bank those points when you successfully reach a safehouse. On the other hand, while you race you accumulate bonuses, meaning those points rack up faster. Knowing when to keep racing and when to lay low is one of the tricks of the game.

The cars themselves are all real production models, albeit more exotic motors than most of us will ever afford, or most police departments might justify, for that matter. The handling isn’t exactly authentic – which is where Microsoft’s Forza Horizon has the edge – but it is believable. High-performance front-wheel drive cars feel precise and speedy. More muscular American models have more grunt, but can be a handful.

The important thing is that, like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Project Gotham Racing or the Burnout series before it, Rivals makes driving fantasy supercars feel great. The more time you spend pushing a Ford Mustang GT down twisting downhill tracks or a Ferrari 458 through sweeping valley turns, the more you enjoy the simple pleasures of driving really, really fast.

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Need for Speed Rivals

Is it faultless? Nope, and a lot depends on how much you’re frustrated by the occasional technical niggle. At one point we lost connection to our shared game, dropping us mid-event back into a single player game world, and forcing us to find and start the event again. It can also be annoying to be a whisker away from winning when some clown comes out of nowhere and – whether by accident or design – smacks you clean off the road. A handful of objectives are peculiarly difficult to manage, and sometimes you wish the cops would just leave you alone while you finish your time trial or race.

Yet, overall Need for Speed: Rivals is everything you might want from an arcade racer. It’s ridiculously fast, ridiculously thrilling and a wonder to play. It brings single-player and multiplayer together, but in a way that enhances both. In our honest opinion, it’s the best time you can have on a new next-gen console, putting even the flagship launch titles to shame.

Verdict

A cracking next-gen debut for Need for Speed, and an open-road arcade racer to rival the mighty Forza Horizon. Rivals betters the cops vs. robbers angle of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and the new AllDrive feature does a fantastic job of blending the pleasures of single-player racing with the excitement of online play. If you want to buy something brilliant for your brand new super-console, take Rivals out for a spin.

Next, read our Xbox One vs PS4 comparison

Overall Score

9

Anthony Maddison

November 28, 2013, 1:27 pm

I'm not sure I can take this review seriously, “Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012)was a gripping remake of a flawed classic”. MW 2012 was the most soulless NFS I’ve ever played, it was an utter chore to grind through and I couldn't wait to finish it so I could get rid. “Gripping” certainly isn't a term I’d have used anywhere near that game. “…the woeful Need for Speed: The Run?” Again I have to ask the question, do you actually play these games prior to a review? The Run was probably the best of recent NFS. The comments are absolutely laughable.

In fact the more I think about it the more I know I can’t take this review, and
perhaps anything you review in future, seriously.

Stuart Andrews

November 28, 2013, 1:48 pm

Hi Anthony. As I never tire of saying, reviews are always personal opinions, and your opinion happens to differ from mine. Still, taking a quick squint at Metacritic, I see my opinion on Most Wanted 2012 isn't vastly out of whack with the general consensus, while most people seem to regard The Run as the worst of recent Need for Speed games. Who knows? I might be wrong and I certainly don't take Metacritic as the source of all wisdom, but in the end it's just my opinion, though I do take these things quite seriously.

Anthony Maddison

November 28, 2013, 2:38 pm

Hi Stuart, totally understand that there are differences of opinion out there and I appreciate more than most that people will see two different things when looking at the same picture. However, while I’m pleased to hear you do take the reviews seriously (to be honest I wasn’t questioning your professionalism, just your verdict), I do feel somewhat concerned that there is such a difference of opinion
here, in fact we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum on this one. Perhaps we just look for different things in racing games, I don’t know, what I do know is that I’d have to strongly disagree with your opinion on this.

Also I notice that the user reviews on Metacritic show The Run 0.1 ahead of Most Wanted 2012 though, not much I know but the point stands.

Finally, don’t feel I’m slating your review here, I’m not. I haven’t played the game yet and I’m not in a position to comment one way or another. I’m simply saying that I personally wouldn’t be comfortable taking your opinion on the game after bearing in mind your opinion on the others in the series being so different from my own.

Stuart Andrews

November 28, 2013, 3:04 pm

Hi Anthony. Thanks for the considered reply. You're welcome to strongly disagree with my opinion and let that influence your decision on whether or not to buy a game. All the same, I think it would be a shame if you missed out on this one. I still think The Run was a poor Need for Speed (bad structure, endless rubbish cut-scenes), but Rivals is the best since Hot Pursuit - and at the moment I think I like it more.

Anthony Maddison

November 28, 2013, 3:14 pm

Thanks for the reply Stuart, at the least I'll almost certainly try it, I've not missed a NFS game in years.

Once I've had a chance to play through I'll put another comment on as to how I find the game, who know's, I might even agree with you after playing it!

Cheers
Anth

Ethaniel Ayala

November 30, 2013, 3:05 am

Hi, I will get this game for Christmas, I really liked Hot Pursuit, I love being a cop and ramming the racers,flipping them and junk. Will it have some decent crash scenes? Just wanted to know because Forza Horizon bored me, I didn't like that the crashes and stuff weren't realistic,but the races were eh. They had an amazing array of cars. Plus, what do you mean by the horrors of need for speed underground 2, I loved that game. In fact, I still have that game. I really liked the in depth customization. The game was fun, but we all have the opinions? Is this a good game?

biggiep

December 1, 2013, 5:12 am

I literally stopped reading after the first few sentences because no matter what score or what the reviewer says about Rivals, I know his priorities are horribly messed up. Underground 2 was a great game, and the original Most Wanted is quite possibly the best Need for Speed of all time. The remake of that was a huge disappointment, so I know this dude has no idea what he's talking about.

Skinny Pete

December 20, 2013, 4:37 am

Hi Anthony & Stuart, Donkey was the best videogame ever

D-Man1996

January 3, 2014, 9:07 am

I have to agree with you somewhat. NFS Most Wanted (original) was undoubtedly one of the best NFS games out there, and the remake of it was an absolute joke. But then came Rivals and I was a little skeptical about it because I hated the remake of Most Wanted but Rivals was definitely worth it. Although I do have to say I really miss the extreme customizations you could do to you car like in Undercover, Most Wanted (original), Underground 2, etc. The customization in Rivals is a little better comparing to Most Wanted (2012). I have to say I was expecting more. But its great that you can upgrade you engine, strength, etc. to make your ride tougher and faster.

Daniel Brito

February 4, 2014, 2:02 pm

Did you just diss NFS Underground 2 and the original Most Wanted?! To pile on you praise the HORIBLE Most Wanted remake?! This is obviously written by something (not someone) who has no idea what there talking about. This isn't even compatible to Forza Horizon! The only reason I got this game was for cop chases and cause Xbox gave it for 30$ & even so I feel I overpayed. You need to just stop writing reviews, at leastbflr racing games. I cannot believe you just dissed the best & then saidnthia crap was good and compared it to forza! Horrible just horrible!

Kevin

February 26, 2014, 6:39 pm

Underground 2, Most Wanted (2005) and Carbon in my opinion was probably the best ones ever made, many of which would agree also. The fact that Slightly Mad studios (SHIFT - was bad), Ghost games and Especially Criterion games (developers) have contributed in making horrible remakes of the legendary Most Wanted and Hot Pursuit games In hopes to outshine its predecessors. Sadly I find it tragic In what they've done to the game and its reputation. Sure their graphics and handling were smoother but everything else sucked. We need EA Black Box and EA Canada back to make an Underground 3! seeing as criterion already killed Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted. Also this reviewer is terrible, I Still can't believe he trash talked Underground 2 and The Run. What makes it worse is that the reviewer is even more wrong claiming Rivals isn't a Criterion production, but the work of a new studio, Ghost Games. Right... Ghost studios is 80% criterion and a few others from EA Gothenburg. I'm actually glad its a little bit of an improvement.

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