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PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Need for Speed: Rivals’

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81iPyLRMv0L._SX425_As I have written before, the more I play Need for Speed: Most Wanted on the PS3, the more I love the title, and, as much as I know that the various NfS titles are different from each other, I harbored a desperate hope when I put Need for Speed: Rivals into my PS4 that it would, essentially, be Most Wanted updated for this new generation.  It isn’t far off, and some of the changes are successful.  Others less so.

Most Wanted asks that you go around as a baddie, racing, cruising, and generally trashing the world.  Rivals asks a lot of the same stuff, if you choose to play as the baddie, but also allows you to play as the police.  Those then are the titular rivals—the cops and the villains—and you can be either.  Each branch of the game is slightly, but not horribly, different from the other.

Rather than being as freewheeling as Most Wanted, with all cars available at the outset and the general goal being to hit 100% completion on each and every car by completing a handy-dandy to-do list for each, Rivals has distinct stages.  You start at a base and then have to go out and accomplish set tasks (you, usually, have a choice in what these tasks are).  Finish them, head to any of your bases (there are a lot), and move on.

One of the interesting things Rivals has going on is this return to base – you can do it in the middle of a set of tasks and bank (save) any experience points you’ve accrued (you need those to buy cars and weaponry), but you also reset your score multiplier.  Destroy a car or get busted by the cops and you keep your accomplished tasks, but lose all XP gained after your last save.

It is a fascinating way to proceed – asking players to make a true risk vs. reward decision.  Keep going with your 8x multiplier and you’re going to rake in tons of points, allowing you to buy more weaponry (called “pursuit tech”) and cars (on the baddie side).  But, if you end up in a chase you could lose everything.

What doesn’t work here in Rivals is the fact that, regularly, the races themselves don’t have to get run.  Some of your tasks are to bronze/silver/gold a specific kind of race, but many of them also simply require you to draft for x amount of time, hit a certain top speed, jump a specific distance, etc.  While I felt the impetuous to complete races in Most Wanted just to go for that 100% completion, the fact that Rivals regularly doesn’t care if I do any races (or do the same ones over and over again) in order to accomplish tasks really puts them on the back burner.

Another issue that arises from this to-do list is that it is, often, all too short.  If you’re dedicated to completing the tasks, you not only miss the world and the races, but also keep heading back to a base to get your next assignment.  It breaks up the game in a way that isn’t enjoyable, with too many loads and too much great and glorious new paraphernalia unlocked as you keep on leveling up after accomplishing little.

The map here in Rivals is relatively big, and there is some attempt to vary it, but not all that much.  There are no real cities you’ll find yourself driving through and not all that many roads.  You are, in short, going to travel to the same places over and over and over again.  New events will unlock as you level up, but as events aren’t hugely important in the first place, does that really matter?

On the upside, the places you visit are gorgeous.  Rivals is a beautiful title, and as an intro the PS4 really works well on that level.  From snow-capped peaks to sandy deserts to coastal rainstorms, it just looks great.

As with Most Wanted, there is an attempt here to allow one to bring up a map and choose a destination while the world continues to be active.  A HUD allows this to take place, but regularly requires far too much attention and, if you try to bring up the map while travelling at any sort of speed, you’re going to crash.  Worse, and maybe this isn’t Rivals’ fault, hit the PS button by accident and you’ll be brought out of the game and back to the PS4 home screen… with the game still live even though you can’t see it.  It is a great idea to allow people to switch in and out of things, but my goodness, there needs to be an autopause feature.  There needs to be any sort of pause feature, but none seems to exist.  If you’re not in a base, you’re fair game.

What about the racing itself?  It is utterly all-consuming.  It is incredibly fun, with each car behaving differently from the others.   Sliding around corners is joyful and jumping off of ramps, cliffs, dunes, and everything else thrilling.

The pursuit tech is a little too important within the game, taking power away from actual racing skills.  The game is simply not arcade enough in other ways to make pursuit tech feel anything other than an deleterious addition.  It is unnecessary clutter in an otherwise well-crafted world.

One other nagging issue – this would be a better game if you didn’t have to tell the game, every single time you load it, to opt out of the PlayStation Plus multiplayer.  Rivals should ask about PS+ once on entrance and then just accept your decision and move on.

I still want to see an updated Most Wanted hit the PS4, but Rivals isn’t a bad way to start, it just leaves me a little cold and wanting something more.

Need for Speed: Rivals is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PC.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Venks Dunson

    I’ve never really played any racers before (besides Mario Kart) and thought I might do so with the next-gen. But between this and Forza Motorsport I still don’t really see anything too interesing. The graphics are pretty nice though for what ever that’s worth.