Need for Speed Rivals Review
When you launch Need for Speed Rivals the first thing you see is a screen informing you that it's looking for a game to join. There is no distinction between single player and multiplayer modes in Need for Speed Rivals - it's all multiplayer, all the time, even if the other players are AI controlled. There's no story to speak of, which is no big loss considering that we could do without another "unknown but talented street racer comes out of nowhere to race his way to the top" story. Instead, there's a tiered series of challenges divided into chapters that serve to mark your progression as a street racer or cop, and you're free to jump between the two at any time. There's not really a need for more than that because Need for Speed Rivals is designed to be played with friends and strangers online, all the time.
As a racer, your goal is to race (duh) and avoid getting stopped by the cops in the process. There are numerous race and time trial events scattered across the map and more are added as you advance through the racer tiers. An in-game GPS locator makes it easy to find these events and you're free to start them whenever you'd like, either with other players or AI racers. If you come across another racer a challenge can be issued with a press of a bumper, and if your challenge is accepted a race begins right then and there, with the route generated for you automatically. As you race (and drive dangerously while doing so) you'll earn Speed Points, and the longer you stay out racing before banking them at a hideout the more points you'll earn and the higher bonus multiplier you'll build. The catch is that if you're busted by a cop, then you'll lose all of those points. Since points are used to unlock new cars and buy upgrades for existing ones, staying out too long and losing a large number of points is more than an emotional setback. This also means that as a racer you can never rest. A cop can spot you at any time and begin a pursuit, so you must always be on the move and aware of what's going on around you.
For cops the experience is a little different. First of all, cops get their cars for free as soon as they reach the requisite level so there's no need to worry about collecting Speed Points to unlock a faster set of wheels. Secondly, while there are events on the map for cops as well as racers, being a cop is really all about busting racers. You can join in on a pursuit in progress or begin a new one by bumping a racer's car. Once started, a pursuit can end in one of two ways. The racer(s) can successfully evade you by putting too much distance between your cars or you can wreck the racers being pursued. Taking the racers out is more challenging than you would guess because the cars in this game can take a supernatural amount of damage. Push a racer into a concrete divider at over 100 MPH and you're just getting started. It's going to take several more major hits or a lot more minor ones to finally bust a racer. The game's repair shops instantly repair all damage and can be driven through at full speed, so if a racer speeds through one of these during a pursuit you'll be back at square one.
Both cops and racers have access to their own sets of weapons tech, although we're not talking machine guns or missiles here. These weapons are of the tactical variety - EMP blasters, spike strips, and such - designed to disable both pursuers and the pursued. The weapons aren't so overpowered that they can compensate for a lack of driving skills, but they can come in handy when you need just a bit of help.
As you've probably guessed by now, the game is purely an arcade style racer. Curves can be negotiated at very high speeds using just a bit of drift and most of the driving challenge comes from not trying to hit anything while you're flying down the road well north of 100 MPH. As I mentioned earlier, the cars can take a great deal of damage and it doesn't seem to have too much of an effect on handling until the damage is critical. It's also a little hard to tell just how damaged your car is and how much more it can take - the game will inform you when damage is getting critical, but that's about it.
The game is set in the fictional Redview County, a place that provides an extreme diversity of racing environments. Winding mountain roads, desert byways, expressways, coastal communities, ... just about the only thing missing is an urban environment. While Review County is diverse, it's relatively compact and you can race through large chunks of it in a single play session. I would have liked to see more in the way of shortcuts and jumps, both of which are present but in pretty small numbers. Also, the lookahead on the GPS is too small for the speeds at which you race in the game. When approaching complex intersections like a freeway interchange I found myself either having to slow down or guess which way to go while waiting for the GPS to show the intersection and the route to take through it.
The concept of a racing world always populated with other gamers is an enticing one, but Need for Speed Rivals only supports six total players and even then there were times when I found myself playing on my own. If you play with friends it's fun to team up as racers or cops, or split up and alternate between the roles. When playing with strangers, though, it's often not that much different than playing against a world full of AI players. Even if you're on your own, though, the game has many ways of letting you know how your friends fared with challenges, speed cameras, and the like, so you can play for some 'onemanupship' while your friends are away.
Need for Speed Rivals is a fun race and chase driving game. Its unabashed love of speed is infectious, and sometimes it's simply a blast to go flying down the road, laws of physics be damned. I wish that it supported more players at a time, though, and that it was easier to tell just when your car will finally fall apart into pieces. Overall, though, it's easy to recommend to anyone who enjoys the thrill of a high speed chase.
Final Rating: 80%. A game that takes its name to heart.