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PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Need for Speed: Rivals’

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Need for Speed: Rivals cannot be paused. The game is a living world, intoxicated with cars. Even in sessions played disconnected from the internet and therefore sans opposing online racers, breaks for phone calls, impromptu itches, or a call of nature are disallowed.

Nothing exists to Rivals beyond its chase, not even the real world. It is difficult to discern what generation this game was made for, but certainly not one bred with an IV line connected to their mobile devices. Pulling over to check Twitter updates or peruse emails is deadly. Police scan Redview County via overwhelming presence. Tax dollars in Redview have been unusually placed to saturate roadways with more hyper-powered cop cars than pedestrian vehicles.

Everything in Rivals connects to safe houses, places where police cannot roam nor racers torment. Consider this a pause. These are banks, where after risky chases in-game currency (known as SP) is deposited. Cars can be upgraded and vehicles equipped with sci-fi like powers. EMPs and other assorted tools are installed to force anyone off roadways as if Rivals was a hashed out Mario Kart.

Ghost Games crafts a splashy, aggressive racing engine if offering minimal identity over 2012’s Most Wanted. No surprise since Ghost houses a fleet of ex-Criterion devs. The undercurrent of Burnout is unavoidable, with dramatic collisions and powerful sense of acceleration. EA’s published franchise has become situated into its arcade framing and in the process, become comfortable with its shimmering light show coupled with open world travels.

Rivals builds on dangerous ideals of viral YouTube culture. A disembodied voice spurts nonsense to justify races spread across pedestrian roadways. On the conflicting playable side, officers yammer on about justice, both mindsets delusional and delirious with regards to their power. Rivals is bassy and overcompensating to accentuate strife with Hollywood gloss. Sensationalist exaggeration – going far enough to parade unlocked cars on concrete garage runways – cannot cover the level of genuine idiocy in trying to turn this serious.

It is unclear why Redview becomes a horse powered battleground. YouTube views in the millions would likely spread this infection of self indulgent street racers worldwide, but they bunch up here in this conveniently varied west coast vista. Etched forests and wave slammed beaches create a crisscross of sightseeing potential, even when blistering past at 200 mph and under constant barrage. You can murder someone in Grand Theft Auto and receive less police response than you do here for clipping a bystander transport. Police are always watching.

Risk is central to Rivals, where SP is negated in crashing out or being busted. Travel this open world freely, but be aware one chase can swipe earned funds. Given the general antagonistic approach, Rivals never feels safe. It becomes bothered by necessitated trips to safe houses to ensure satisfying progression while breaking down into clumsy structure. Back and forth trips turn the title into a slog, draining the provided energy of the racing world. There is no generosity at play, and merely enjoying the fundamentally strong racing mechanics is near impossibility.

This framework is disjointed, slightly changed from the obnoxious car unlock method of Need for Speed Most Wanted last year. Most Wanted held the promise of fresh wheels when aimlessly cruising its world. In Rivals, you become a target and hope life’s interruptions don’t interfere.

Rivals is smooth in transition without safe houses in play. Sharply designed d-pad guidance (find races, repair shops, challenges, etc.) and on road, spontaneous head-to-head battles with online players prove rapidly accessible. Between the police and innocent witnesses sit random real life drivers. They can forcibly ambush and impact this shared MMO-esque world, and versus play is generated on the move. Tap a trigger and races begin when accepted, courses flashed to the GPS with minimal other navigational assistance. Merely finding the makeshift track becomes burdensome. Rivals does not provide roadside arrows, instead choosing to create a “text while driving” scenario where eyes shift from the road to peek at upcoming lanes in the bottom left map.

When Rivals is working, battling racers are scuffing paint for position or police are tearing into such reckless behavior.  It is beautiful arcade racing. EA bumps next gen simulations such as Forza from graphical highs, extending visual punch with hyper contrast and crushed blacks to better sell this unreality. There is unwavering style embedded into the textures and glamorous reflections.

Unfortunately, design ideas stunt growth and impede smooth progress. Open world intrusions bog Rivals down into unwanted encounters with a constant squeeze coming from potentially harsh penalties. Rivals is a racing game where it is often inconceivable to merely race. This is a rivalry driven with negligent intensity.

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 Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
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