Need For Speed Rivals review

The Need for Speed series has been about for several console generations now, and Need for Speed Rivals is the 20th racer in this long-running series. As well as being available for current-gen platforms it’s also one of many titles to land on the next-gen consoles for launch.

2010’s release of NFS Hot Pursuit marked an all-time high for the iconic racing franchise. Now, Need for Speed: Rivals takes this cop vs. racer premise, breaks down the walls, and gives us a fully-fleshed out open-world – it’s perhaps best described as Burnout Paradise crashing with Hot Pursuit. It certainly sounds like an incredible combination, but does it speed ahead of the pack?

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First and foremost, let’s discuss the Xbox One’s next-gen difference: Rivals is of course a damn pretty racer, with lush polished visuals rendering at a native 1080p, with impressive dynamic weather effects and insane amounts of motion blur and flashing lights from the speeding police. It is certainly a visual delight, and it’s the dynamic weather – with wind blasting the trees, litter, rain and storms that impress and ultimately makes for a more visually spectacular and thrilling racer amidst the flashing red and blue lights of pursuing police cars. If there’s any short-comings on the visual front it’s that it can look a little jagged in places with a lack of anti-aliasing, and more to the point the game runs at 30 frames-per-second, and not 60 – the latter may have been expected given Need for Speed’s title alone. The iconic title obviously hints at a fast-paced, twitchy arcade racer, and that sense of speed is delivered with a heavy dose of motion-blur which fits the bill adequately. Although there is certainly scenery worth pulling up for to admire the view, and for its very few visual issues it makes up for in an incredibly detailed open-world and attempts to merge both single-player and multiplayer into one.

It seems the next generation however is not defined by merely larger-worlds and a bump in visual fidelity alone, it’s more about breaking down barriers and making for more accessible gaming that keeps you where you belong – and that’s speeding along, and as far away from looking at maps and plotting routes as is humanly possible – that’s now made redundant with Xbox One’s voice-commands for the all-new Kinect 2.0. It’s by no means forced and is entirely optional, but it works, and works well. Much like Mass Effect 3 made a good case for voice commands on Xbox 360, NFS Rivals offers up similar conveniences by enabling you to plant routes with your voice as opposed to having to bring up the map, and spot the nearest location and plot it on the map manually before resuming your game – you can even skip between the game’s soundtrack on the fly with your voice, ensuring your thumbs are always on the analogue sticks. If you want to find the nearest Hideout, Race or Pursuit etc. you can simply just say “GPS Hideout” to have it instantly marked to your map as you continue to speed through traffic, with no messing about in menus necessary, which is especially handy as it’s not possible to pause the game. For those less confident in barking orders at their Xbox, such tasks have also been simplified and can also be triggered via. the D-pad, thus still keeping you in the action, although ultimately the Kinect is king as it keeps you focused on the road at all times.

I do tend to enjoy a good arcade racer, and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was in my opinion the best arcade racer of the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation. It offered up thrilling races, the feeling of being hunted by the police, and also being the hunter as you can play as both sides, and each was as entertaining as the other – especially the online portion. Furthermore, it was incredibly approachable with a view of the map enabling you to pick what you want and launch you straight into that event.

NFS Rivals is much the same but in this large open-world – upon booting up the game you can certainly navigate the map and start off where you please, but from their you are left out in the wild to complete marked objectives and tackle events at your leisure before cashing out via. a Hideout/Command Post, which is where you return to the menu and can spend your earnings. The typical Chapter-based scenario is that you have a set of objectives to complete to progress through chapters of Racer and Cop campaigns – such as earn a set amount of Speed Points (SP), ram X amount of racers etc. and make it back to the Hideout to bank the Speed Points.

In doing chapter-based objectives or various events you gain SP, which in turn can be used to buy new vehicles, Pursuit Tech weapons: such as EMPs, shock-waves, roadblocks etc. of which you have two slots and a limited amount of uses. Though these can be replenished and your car fixed up by driving through a Repair Shop (again seamless with Kinect “GPS Repair Shop”) – the only time you really need to cash-out is when you want to move onto the next chapter. The longer you stay in the world though the higher the risk you have of getting busted and losing any earned SP, so it certainly doesn’t pay to go wondering around for too long.

The big catch-22 with the open-world, especially as a racer, is the inability to pause the game. As soon as you launch into the world you’re active and can be detained by the police at any time – there’s no leaving your game idle as a racer to have a break, as chances are you will return minutes later to find your SP bonus lost as you are surround by several police vehicles. It’s perhaps expected in a game that prides itself on a connected state where players are match-made and added into the game automatically. Although even when set to a Private or Single-Player offline game, there is still an inability to pause the game which is what can prove so frustrating – you really have to make a conscious effort once objectives are complete to cash-out via. a Hideout location to bank your earnings or else leave them at risk. And there’s certainly distractions aplenty, with jumps, speed cameras, head-to-head encounters, and of course besting the times of your friends, who will be visibly marked in the world on such events to tempt you to keep going and risk it all.

If you grow tired of being pursued and want to mix things up and become the pursuer, you can easily switch between the Racer and Cop campaigns from the main menu – in between each chapter there is a brief cinematic which painfully attempts to tell a story, so alternating between Cop and Racer may make this aspect somewhat more confusing. This weak and meaningless attempt at a story obviously failed to grab my attention, and that’s fine, it’s not something I expect from what should be a thrilling, heart-ponding racer.

Microsoft may be lacking in striking Kinect-based games at launch, but there’s a few titles for Xbox One that push the Kinect in ways that make sense, that focus on keeping the gameplay immersive, and keeping you in the action. If Need for Speed: Rivals is an early indication, it’s that Microsoft’s big bet of bundling in Kinect with every Xbox One may yet prove dividends. It’s by no means necessary for NFS Rivals, but it compliments and makes for a much more seamless experience, and really regardless of the game, if voice-commands can work well enough to keep you out of the tedium of menus, and just leave you to play the game, then it’s something well worth utilising.

The big question mark is whether or not Need for Speed: Rivals maintains those thrills that we’ve come to expect, and if it offers up enough bells and whistles to make it a viable purchase for the all-new Xbox One. As a game on its own merits Rivals is a worthy purchase for the right audience – although it does fall short of the grandure set by 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. One of the more intriguing aspects about the open-world is that it can essentially be littered with random players, both racers and cops amongst all the A.I. and other traffic – although sadly this connected offering is by no means flawless.

Rival’s most highly-touted feature is the large open-world that seamlessly blends single-player and multiplayer into one, and it’s this that is the biggest deal-breaker. If you’re going to push for an open-world in a connected state, as NFS Rivals does, then you would likely expect it to be on dedicated servers, especially on the Xbox One, which Microsoft boasts that developers have the option of using their own servers for such tasks. For whatever reason, the game is hosted by an individual player, and if that host drops out of the session, whether you’re minding your own business and just focusing on single-player events you will get dropped to a Migrating Host screen before launching back into the game. It’s just not something that screams ‘next-gen’ and it makes for an awkward experience to the point where you may just rather play with the more restricted Private or Single-Player settings instead.

Ultimately the connected and open-world ambitions and aspirations for NFS Rivals, while extremely promising on paper, they’re just too hit and miss without persistent servers. It’s an incredibly short-sighted omission to even anticipate it to work in a consistent manner, to the point that it may have been better off ditching the open-world in favour of a traditional Hot Pursuit-esque, non-open-world structured sequel – at least until the effort of such a stunning open-world is matched by the backing of servers.

Fortunately the solo offering is of a high-standard, the open-world vast, well detailed, and frankly thrilling, with tense pursuits made all the more dramatic by heavy dynamic weather changes and brute force from the opposing side, whether Racer or Cop. It is such a shame that the online experience that was intended is left hanging in the balance dependant on a random player host – especially when the online aspect of NFS Hot Pursuit was so stellar. If arcade and single-player racing is very much what you love, then there is very little else to rival this Need for Speed outing.
Score –  7.5/10 – Review by Wayne Julian

Written by: Rob Cram

Rob Cram has hundreds of video game reviews, thousands of articles under his belt with years of experience in gaming and tech. He aims to remain fair and free from publisher/developer influence. With his extensive knowledge, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement with his views are entirely optional. He might have a bias towards cyberpunk.

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