The Need For Speed franchise has always been a good racing series for those who think that Gran Turismo and Forza are too hardcore and console-exclusive for their taste. The titles that come out are mostly hit-or-miss, with some being hits during release while others not being very good. There’s also the Need For Speed movie coming up (as of writing), which is both exciting and facepalm-inducing at the same time. The last few titles, especially those by Criterion, were pretty good in that they got back to the original NFS Underground formula and made it better. With Need For Speed: Rivals, what we have here is the further refining of the open world racer.
Need For Speed: Rivals by Ghost Games is the newest installment of the prolific NFS franchise, which has virtually annual releases. The previous ones were the new Most Wanted, The Run, Shift 2: Unleashed, and the remake of Hot Pursuit. Most Wanted and Hot Pursuit were made by Criterion Games, famous for the Burnout series. Those were pretty good, as well as Shift 2: Unleashed by Slightly Mad Studios, while The Run by EA Black Box was rather confusing and suffered the same fate as Need For Speed: Undercover. Having a franchise shared by different in-house and third-party developers results in mixed results, but at least gems do come out for this one.
At the start, you go through an extensive tutorial that shows you how to play as both a racer and a cop, then you have to choose between them to begin. To do events or quickly find your way around, you have the EasyDrive system that lets you access various functions while you’re driving. Unless you’re a godly multitasker who can somehow avoid simulating what happens when someone texts while they drive, you may find it a bit challenging to use while going at over 120mph, but it does its job without having to pause the game for a more seamless gameplay experience. You then gain access to more cars from various manufacturers by unlocking them as you finish more events and earn more in-game points.
The game does look pretty good, with good graphics courtesy of EA’s Frostbite 3 engine, which is the same used to develop Battlefield 4. You can see how it renders the tracks and backgrounds quite nicely, but it’s in the cars where the visuals really shine. Being able to drive cars that look this good is a big part of the appeal when it comes to racing titles like Need For Speed. That is then coupled with accurate car physics that behave as expected whenever you’re being pitted by a pursuing cop car or when you shunt an opponent in a race.
Rivals is basically a lot like its predecessors Hot Pursuit 2010 and Most Wanted 2012, both of which were developed by Criterion Games. The thing about Ghost Games, the British developers for this game, is that 80% of its staff came from Criterion, which is also a British studio. On April 2013, Criterion Vice President and Creative Director Alex Ward had stated that they were shifting their direction away from racing games and towards developing for other genres. As a result, Criterion got downsized and those who got let go moved to Ghost Games to work on future Need For Speed titles. That explains this title’s similarities with its predecessors, which could be a good thing for fans of the series.
If what you want is unadulterated arcade racing action, then perhaps you can go for Forza Motorsport 5 if you have an Xbox One, either GRID 2 or F1 2013 by Codemasters if you only have a PC, or wait for Gran Turismo 6 if you have a PS3. But if you like the idea of open world racing, then this game is pretty good at what it does since it’s less forgiving than most other NFS titles. If you like being a cop in this game, then you are the Burnout type of person, and that’s good too.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 7.5/10