I ran out to rent it the day it came out. With the utter dearth of reviews online (only two were up on Metacritic as of its third day of availability) and "delays" in getting promo copies of the game out to review sites, it seemed that either Eden/Atari weren't really ready to release it, or they were deliberately preventing critical coverage of the game prior to getting early adopters and hype riders to pick it up and commit at least some earnings to the title that had been in development for quite a while. This lack of coverage smelled fishy to me, so a rental seemed the best option, especially after what a train wreck of disappointment Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was for me.
On first boot, it asked me to download a 383MB patch. On release day. OK, so problems were clearly afoot even on day one, but from all appearances, at least they took steps to remedy them. I initiated the patch download, and waited. And waited. And waited. After several minutes, the 1% indicator on the progress bar popped up. On my 12mbps Internet connection, I can download 2GB demos in less time than it was going to take to get this measly patch, so again, something was afoot. Either a billion people were hitting the download server at once, or the speed of it had been throttled down intentionally to prevent people from getting into the multiplayer — you can't go online unless you are fully patched in any PS3 game. I'm generally not one to be paranoid or suspicious and I try to assume that people have generally good intentions, but sitting here almost a week after release, patch installed (it took an overnight idle session to get it) and still being unable to join the multiplayer servers leads me to think differently.
Until I can get the multiplayer to work, what's the single player like? Let me first say that any time anyone in the game speaks — which is often — the voice acting is laughably, annoyingly bad, coupled with stiff, emotionless NPC character models. Having said that, the first couple of hours with the game are LOADED with these sorts of terrible interactions. You're given your choice of three low-end civvy cars to choose from, nothing that even with the best upgrades could be considered high performance, and shown the basics of how to drive. From there, you have to earn licenses, then on to specific challenges....for a game built on a non-linear free roam design, these early stretches of being told exactly what to do and in which order are tedious, even more so to seasoned racers as they lead you through tutorials on high speed braking, slaloming barrels, and the basics of power sliding. Racing on pavement doesn't feel quite as tight as it should be in some vehicles, but is much better than the impossibly loose and sloppy handling I found in Hot Pursuit. Off-road racing feels pretty good, though the several races winding between old demolished stone walls with tons of outcroppings to snag on sometimes require precision bordering on insane. It is worth mentioning that the high performance rides can be fun to blast down the open roads with; I finally saved up enough for a Ferrari 430 Scuderia, and I may not drive anything else now that I have this beaut.