Need for Speed Rivals review: the thrill of the chase

The end result is a game with crystal-clear vision and execution. Rivals ends up being a rather unique racing experience--one that isn't meant for everyone, but will be beloved by those that "get" it.

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Has a video game subtitle ever been so thoroughly explored before? No one expected actual ghosts to appears in the latest Call of Duty, for example. But Need for Speed Rivals completely embraces the concept of rivalry, integrating it into every aspect of the game. The end result is a game with crystal-clear vision and execution. Rivals ends up being a rather unique racing experience--one that isn't meant for everyone, but will be beloved by those that "get" it.

The entire game centers around competition. On the surface, there's the high-level battle between cops and racers. Players can align themselves with one of two factions, both which play quite differently. Racers will do what racers are so wont to do: go fast and try to beat other drivers to the finish line. Cops, on the other hand, will try to stop racers--any way they can. With the way rewards are divvied, the entire game has been designed to push players to race (and crash) with one another.

However, what makes Rivals so remarkable is that every other aspect of the game has been turned into an ongoing competition. Simply driving around the road will activate persistent challenges. Speed Cameras record the fastest speed at a certain point in the map; Speed Zones are stretches of road where the average speed is recorded; and there are plenty of jumps to see who can get the most airtime. As you drive around the environment, you'll see leaderboards pop up, showing who is dominating any one of these hundreds of challenges. You can set new times, speeds, and scores at any time--in or out of an active event--meaning that no matter what you're doing, you can continuously engage your friends and rivals (even if they're not playing). It quickly turns into an addictive battle to dominate as much of the map as possible.

Rivals simply drops you into the massive world of Redview County, and it can be overwhelming for players that see the hundreds of challenges that scatter the map. However, Ghost Games has created a progression system that offers structure, while affording the flexibility that an online-enabled game demands. If Rivals fit a more traditional racing mold, gamers would all be flocking to the same races on the map in the same order--and that would be quite boring. Instead, both cops and racers are given much more flexible objectives to complete. Racers may be tasked with "earning a Gold in a Medium Race" while Cops may have to "take down two Racers." The flexibility of the progression system means that--much like the other challenges that exist on the map--you can be completing your objectives at any time, even if you're caught in a high-speed pursuit with other human players, or if you're simply driving around the map to cruise around.

Ultimately, the refusal to adhere to rigid definitions of a "race" and "campaign" is what makes Rivals so special. There's a transient feeling to nearly everything you do in the game, and the way it seamlessly integrates online and offline elements, single and multiplayer goals, enables moments that are only possible in Rivals. For example, as a Cop, I was pursuing a speeding racer, and I was definitely losing him. However, another online-connected player came out of nowhere and unexpectedly rammed the racer off the road. That player had his own objective to complete, and it coincidentally happened to align with my objective as well. I couldn't help but think "anything is possible" in the world of Rivals.

The freeform nature of racing is Rivals' greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. Players wanting a more traditional driving experience won't find it in Rivals--even when playing offline. While the campaign offers structure, it can become repetitive when taken out of context of a dynamic online world. And as a Racer, you're going to be pestered by a lot of Cops. In fact, just driving around the world always increases your "Heat" meter, guaranteeing that you'll be pestered over time. You could do leisure drives around the world as a Cop, but your objectives typically don't veer into traditional racing territory.

But those that embrace what Rivals is trying to do will discover how smartly-designed the game is. Both Cops and Racers play completely differently, making it feel like two games in one. Racers will have a greater connection to their vehicles, as they can be far more deeply customized than cop cars. Each vehicle must be purchased, and there are various enhancements and personalizations that can be applied. All of these cost in-game money, which encourages racers to go out and earn SpeedPoints. A fascinating twist has racers earning a multiplier as they stay out in the world for longer. However, the higher the multiplier, the more visible you'll become to Cops. When busted by Cops, Racers will lose any money they've earned that session. They'll need to "bank" their loot and reset their multiplier to one if they want to secure any of their earnings. It's a classic example of risk-reward in action, one that ties perfectly into the rewards that Racers will want to get.

Cops, on the other hand, can play it far more safe. They don't even have to buy new vehicles, as they're unlocked as the campaign progresses. However, to get access to power-ups, they'll need SpeedPoints--and the best way to do that is to catch Racers. Racers lose all of their SpeedPoints when caught, and they go directly to the Cops that helped take them down. No wonder the Cops are so motivated to take down other players.

The rivalry between the two factions is powered by a racing engine that is a pure joy to play with, especially when driving the faster cars unlocked towards the end of the game. The sense of speed is absolutely terrific, and handling is perfectly arcadey, making it incredibly easy to boost, drift, and jump through the hundreds of miles of track. Powered by Frostbite 3, the next-gen version of the game is especially pretty to look at, particularly during rain storms at night.

Need for Speed Rivals is a unique, satisfying experience that's a sheer joy to play. It may not be able to scratch the itch that a more traditional racing fan may be looking for, but it sets the bar for what online-connected worlds should be about. As you try to dominate the map, take down racers, and unlock the fastest cars, you'll always be mindful while playing online: anything can happen, and that's pretty awesome. [9]


This review is based on early and retail PS4 code provided by the publisher. Need for Speed Rivals is now available on PS4 at retail and downloadable on PlayStation Network for $59.99. It will also be available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC on November 19th, and Xbox One on November 22nd. The game is rated E10.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 15, 2013 10:15 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Need for Speed Rivals review: the thrill of the chase.

    The end result is a game with crystal-clear vision and execution. Rivals ends up being a rather unique racing experience--one that isn't meant for everyone, but will be beloved by those that "get" it.

    • reply
      November 15, 2013 11:08 AM

      I sure wish the release hadn't been so screwed up that I still haven't seen a shipping notice from Amazon :(

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      November 15, 2013 11:26 AM

      This was my free game from the amazon deal. It still hasn't shipped though.

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        November 15, 2013 12:10 PM

        I actually read that the December 30 estimate listed on Amazon now may not be far from the actual shipping date.

        It just sucks cos I would have picked another game if I'd know this delay was going to happen.

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          November 15, 2013 12:22 PM

          That doesn't make any sense, why would it take more than a month to stick a game EA has likely produced millions of copies of?

        • reply
          November 15, 2013 6:50 PM

          I talked to their customer service, their next shipment is Nov. 23rd.

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      November 15, 2013 11:28 AM

      So where is the actual review?
      Readers want reviews to describe HOW not WHAT. If we want to know WHAT we can just visit the EA PR machine.

      HOW does this game play? Is it an arcade farce of a driving game or is there good physics and handling models? Damage modeling? Are there stupid inane jumps that would flatten the car that you just drive away from or is it sensible? And most important of all, is there a MANUAL transmission or not?

      Maybe these are considered moot to discuss, because just by Criterion being involved we should assume it's an arcadey POS like all their work to date. But tell us please so we know for sure.

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        November 15, 2013 11:33 AM

        It is an arcade racing game. I mention that it's all about crazy jumps and drifting in the review. It isn't trying to be Forza or Gran Turismo, and clearly you understand that too.

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          November 15, 2013 12:00 PM

          Ok, but we ask because there is a vast gray area ranging between downright Burnout-Stupid to NSF Shift level. At least let us know if they have brought back manual transmission... that's a big decider for most people who are sitting on the fence still on this title.

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            November 15, 2013 12:30 PM

            It's a NFS, so no, it won't have manual shifting. (NFS Shift and Shift 2 were sim games that got BioWare'd. They weren't actually from the NFS developers)

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            November 15, 2013 1:15 PM

            There is no manual transmission. This is an arcade racer from former developers of Burnout.

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              November 15, 2013 3:45 PM

              That's a real shame. Previous NFS titles until the most recent Most Wanted had such, even The Run (not that you could tell because it was hidden behind quicktime events that asked you to push non-existent buttons to get past). NFS Most Wanted was ruined by the lack of a manual transmission and so too is Rivals it looks like.

              Nobody expected this to rival the efforts of SimBin or Slightly Mad Studios, but to have sports cars that drive with automatic transition is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Yes it's an arcade racer, but even in the arcades you used to be able to select manual for such games.
              Guess we can expect not a single good racing title at all for the PC until Project Cars comes out.
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnRrgCWBugc

              • reply
                November 15, 2013 7:45 PM

                If you take it for what it is, it's pretty tight. It's Burnout but I love that style of game. If I want to get my sim racing boots out it's for iRacing anyway.

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      November 15, 2013 11:34 AM

      So what are the customization can you go into detail, is the customization like need for speed most wanted(the orig Xbox 360 game)?

      Body kits, mags, fins, hoods, neon, glass tint, noss kits, engine, suspension, etc?

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        November 15, 2013 1:16 PM

        The level of customization is not that deep. You can change your paint, tires, and overall stats of your cars (through level ups). Once again, meant to be an arcade experience, not a sim.

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          November 15, 2013 6:38 PM

          Cool, thanks, well that sucks, still getting it but I hoped for more.

    • reply
      November 15, 2013 11:40 AM

      With much respect, I like my arcade racers to NOT be open world. I like then on tracks and the only elements of surprise should be some destruction I cause a-la Split Second. Anything even appearing like Paradise City gets a thumbs down (for as much as I love Burnout). This apparent need to marry all things to open world has distance me further and further away from a genre I used to love so much. Guess it makes tit easier on my gaming dollars.

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        November 15, 2013 1:35 PM

        I agree completely.

      • reply
        November 15, 2013 7:00 PM

        open world arcade racers like the original most wanted and paradise are some of the best


        the burnout-most wanted didn't work.

      • reply
        November 15, 2013 7:47 PM

        It seems the point of the game is cruising the world and finding other drivers to challenge on the fly. That and setting speed records on roads or whatever you like for the competition.

    • reply
      November 15, 2013 12:24 PM

      i picked this for my free game over knack on a whim before the reviews were out. yesssd

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      November 15, 2013 1:18 PM

      Andrew, you sold me to bump this to the top of my "launch" Xbox One titles in my GameFly queue. Even though I've got Forza 5 LE, I think I'd like to play this as well.

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        November 15, 2013 1:29 PM

        I'm tempted to do the same. I'm also tempted by the ideas of a buy 2 get 1 next week on One games but even then I'm not sure of what I want because I'm interested in like 6 games.

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          November 15, 2013 2:01 PM

          I don't have any money left for a buy 2, get 1 promo, so I said fuck-it and re-upped my GameFly. Please get NFS so I'll have someone to race on the leaderboards that's not Lunatic.

          • reply
            November 15, 2013 4:08 PM

            mancide join the PSDF and we can be racing bros

            • reply
              November 15, 2013 4:08 PM

              although you will have to bow to my trophy collection

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      November 15, 2013 2:22 PM

      amazon i demand compensation for nto receiving this on launch day with my ps4!!!

    • reply
      November 15, 2013 2:57 PM

      Wow, this review piqued my interest. That screenshot at the top looks fantastic, but it looks like it's from a next-gen machine.

      • reply
        November 15, 2013 3:34 PM

        This review is based on the PS4 version of the game. I just received a PS3 copy, and will probably play around with it a bit over the weekend.

    • reply
      November 15, 2013 6:02 PM

      For some reason I wasn't really expecting much from this. I might pick it up now

    • reply
      November 15, 2013 6:49 PM

      Just played about an hour of this. IT'S FUN BUT INFURIATING!!

      The way they put other people into your game is pretty neat, but make sure to get back to your hideout OFTEN so you don't have some dick playing a cop ram you while you're looking up GPS destinations with 100K SP built up before claiming it.

      4 times I was wreck by cop players and got no SP at all. Kind bummer.

      This is Dark Sould, the driving simulator.

      • reply
        November 15, 2013 7:49 PM

        The cops got all your loot!

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      November 15, 2013 6:50 PM

      Sick.. I had no idea about the mp. So pumped I went strait the psn store and started the dl.

    • reply
      November 15, 2013 8:32 PM

      This is getting some pretty good reviews. Definitely piqued my interest for the PC version.

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