Need for Speed: Rivals (PS4) Review
Ben Sheene / Nov 29th, 2013 No Comments
When the PlayStation 4 released on Nov. 15, DriveClub was supposed to be Sony’s answer for racing fans to invest in the next generation. It was also an answer to Microsoft’s Forza 5. More importantly, it was an exclusive title that left a gaping hole in the launch lineup after its delay. Meanwhile, Need for Speed: Rivals flew under the radar for several months. But as time went on and more was seen out of the game, it began to raise a lot of heads. How would the franchise’s voyage into the next generation fare? It might not be a realistic racing simulator but it held potential and, more than anything, looked like it could be a load of fun. So is it?
While the general premise of a racing game is easy enough to nail down, there is one thing that should be mentioned first: the story. In Rivals, players have a Cop storyline and a Racer storyline they can play through. The game takes place in Redview County where street racing is becoming increasingly popular yet dangerous to the public. Viral footage of racers eluding the cops paves way for more reckless stunts. It’s up to the cops to bust these racers, to serve and protect a public that judges them for being too forceful. For what it is, Rivals has a decent plot but, more than anything, it just stands as a device to initiate gameplay. The escalating situation between the cops and street racers is easy enough to follow even through the overly dramatic yet monotone male narrators’ dialogue.
Let’s be real, though. What’s important here is the racing. Not some yarn about why you do it (you’re doing it because it’s probably going to be fun right?). Thankfully, it is easy to become invested in the open streets of Redview. Rivals starts out by throwing players into a tutorial for both sides where the basics are explained.
[adsense250itp]As a cop, the player is constantly patrolling the roads in search of racers with “Heat” levels. The higher the Heat, the more dangerous and skilled the racer is. Using brute force and Pursuit Tech such as EMP blasts, shock rams and spike strips, cops must damage a racer enough to wreck their car and bust them. Losing sight of a racer requires the player to find them again quickly or lose the suspect for good.
Where the cops are about brute force and slamming their way through the streets, racers are about going as fast as possible while avoiding arrest. As a racer, players have a combo counter that slowly rises while doing things such as reaching top speeds, completing challenges and racing others. The higher the combo, the higher the Heat level. More Heat means that the cops are going to become increasingly aggressive against the player.
The fuel behind all of this is Speed Points. Speed Points are rewarded for simple things like drifting or perfectly boosting with nitrous. Ranking higher in challenges is the ideal way to go to maximize Speed Points, though. For a racer, Speed Points are used to purchase new cars that become unlocked, permanent performance upgrades, Pursuit Tech and aesthetic customization like stripes or decals. Cops use their Speed Points to purchase Pursuit Tech as cars are automatically unlocked as they increase in rank.
The real draw of the Speed Points system is that they reward progress for just about everything. Players who aren’t great at racing games can actually earn and keep their Speed Points quite easily. At any time, a player can bank their Speed Points if they think they will lose them by finding a Command Post or Hideout. Rivals rewards risk but if a racer gets busted they lose all their Speed Points. It’s a smart system of progression that works quite well. Tossing in various challenges for the player to complete allows the player to choose the path they want to take and what kind of driver they want to be.
Enjoying racing at high speeds is also easy because of the simple control scheme. Rather than having complex controls and shooting for the realism of other simulators, Rivals lets players quickly learn how to put on the gas, drift and boost. Figuring out the subtleties is easy to the point where an inexperienced player will feel like they are driving like a pro.
The open world approach of Rivals is one of its biggest draws. The team at Ghost Games use it to enhance multiplayer while also allowing lone wolves the freedom to still have fun. While the A.I. is quite exceptional and fast, it’s cool being dropped into a world where other players are participating. Want to bust human racers or challenge them in a Head-to-Head just by driving up behind them and pressing L1? Go ahead. If not, that’s fine too. Rivals’ online portion merely supplements the fun. Losing time whizzing past the sights and challenges of Redview is never a chore.
Graphics & Sound
Under the hood, Rivals uses the Frostbite 3 engine which also powered heavy-hitter Battlefield 4. Though the two games are nothing alike, they are cut from the same beautiful cloth. Rivals is undoubtedly one of the prettiest racing games ever. It serves as an excellent showpiece for the PS4 with incredible lighting and particle effects. These are best displayed with the use of the dynamic weather system.
Driving around Redview isn’t just a static experience. Rain, thunderstorms and even snow make for stunning particle effects. Seeing the game’s lighting, especially as the police sirens go off during a storm or during a sunset, make it hard not to just slow down and take in the scenery. The impressive setpieces of Redview not only make the county feel vibrant and real, it makes the player want to scope out the entire map for things to look at.
As wonderful as the game’s environment looks, there are a few rough patches tucked away in the game. From time to time, cars don’t always feel as breathtaking as they could be. Part of this might be due to the fact that vehicles are only seen from a few angles for the bulk of the experience. A more detailed showroom would have been a good feature to include. One nice touch, however, is the flashy introduction a newly unlocked car gets. Complete with music and dazzling lighting, those moments feel incredibly rewarding on a sensory level.
Almost every car in Rivals sounds unique. The way they shift gears and rev up the engine changes from car to car. After a point, it might sound the same to the untrained ear but a car enthusiast will likely be able to spot the differences. Vehicles should sound powerful, especially if they are reaching 200 miles per hour. Rivals doesn’t let down in that sense.
Music for the game is hard to judge as each player has varying tastes in what they enjoy. The soundtrack in Rivals has no room for subtlety as each track is either meant to get the adrenaline flowing or make the player feel like a badass with their flashy cars. If a track isn’t your cup of tea, a press on the directional pad can change it. The weakest aspect of the audio work is actually the voice-acting during cutscenes and tutorials. The woman doing the tutorial has an almost robotic tone where she sounds bored, not excited. As for the cop and racer “protagonists,” both give off a macho vibe where they throw out often heavy dialogue that is very serious. It isn’t terrible but certainly could have felt more natural.
The sheer amount of stuff to do and unlock in Rivals is definitely worth a mention. Players who enjoy a steep grind will be able to unlock 60 ranks for both cop and racer careers. A host of performance and tech upgrades will supplement the thirst for Speed Points. Scattered around Redview are Speed Cameras, jumps and other little challenge areas that all track progress. How fast can you race through this zone? What is the maximum distance you can jump across a highway? Rivals tracks all of these things and allows players to compete with other players in their session. Bragging rights are easy to go after but not always easy to maintain. In other words, Rivals is a packed experience and not a mere hollow driving game.
Need for Speed: Rivals sets the bar pretty high for what players should expect from a next gen racing game. Stuffed to the brim with content and unlockables, the game will keep the devoted busy for quite some time. Where it really shines though, is in its open world design and ease of use. The quest for Speed Points makes any player feel like an excellent driver capable of climbing the leaderboards. Additionally, not enough can be said about the stunning visuals on display. Looking away from Need for Speed: Rivals is no easy task. Just keep your finger on the gas trigger and be sure not to crash.
tags: ea , Ghost Games , need for speed , need for speed rivals , ps4 , review