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Need for Speed Rivals preview: cops and robbers

by Andrew Yoon, Oct 18, 2013 6:00am PDT

Imagine, if you will, Journey reimagined with cars. Instead of a silent scarfed wanderer joining you on your quest, it's a sports car rushing at 100mph trying to take you down.

That's the promise of Need for Speed: Rivals, Ghost Games' first take on the EA racing franchise. Like the open-world Criterion games before it, you'll be able to drive around a massive map, discovering new races and objectives in the world. However, the seamless integration of online--which has friends and strangers dynamically populating your world--ensures that "a race will never, ever be the same."

Like in Burnout Paradise, you and your friends could meet up at a specific location at a specific time to do a specific race. However, what makes Rivals so interesting is the ability to instantly connect with other players on a whim. As a cop, you could hit L1 as you cruise behind a racer and initiate a chase. Or, you can take the less-subtle approach, where you ram the car to start a battle.

But couldn't the dynamic inclusion of online players also be considered a distraction--especially if you're playing the single-player campaign? Smartly, Rivals offers flexibility in its campaign so that you can progress regardless of if you're playing online or off. For example, the cop campaign is broken up into chapters. Each chapter has a few objectives you must complete: take down a rival, win a race, find a repair shop, use specific weapons, etc. These are objectives that you can complete in any time--whether you're playing with others online or not.

Both cops and racers will have their own campaigns, each telling the same story from a different perspective. Don't expect The Run, however. This isn't a character-based story, one with plot twists and turns. Instead, the short cinematics before each chapter simply set up an overarching tale of the clash between cops and racers--and the escalation that follows. As you complete each chapter, you'll unlock a new car. There are three variants of each car in each chapter in each campaign. You'll be able to go back and replay chapters to try and unlock every car, if you're the completionist.

As a cop, there are three variations you'll be able to focus on. Patrol is your standard black & white. Undercover kind of looks like a racer at a first glance, and is faster and offers better control. Finally, the Enforcer is a big bruiser, and will make it easier to ram other cars off the side of the road.

Playing as a patrol cop, I found myself always on the lookout for racers to catch. Best thing about snagging a racer is that if you take one down, you'll be able to score their loot. The money can then be used to upgrade your cars. One of the first things I purchased was a power-up. By drifting behind an opponent, I could unleash a shockwave that pushes forward, damaging the car and giving me an opportunity to slam into them.

The races were thrilling, and knowing that the online world can invite all sorts of unexpected chaos makes Rivals a rather thrilling prospect. It's also quite pretty, running at a smooth clip in the PS4 build I got to play. While my time with Rivals was short, it remains one of the most exciting racing games on the radar right now.





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