Need For Speed: Rivals on the PC is a mixed bag. It seems for every good thing about the game, there’s some other problem hindering it. Over the last few days playing it, I kept leaving the game more conflicted about whether or not I was actually having fun, and whether or not I wanted to return.
The game is split up into two careers, cop, or racer. As a racer you compete in races and time trials while outrunning the omnipresent police force. Driving dangerously and causing trouble earns you speed points, or SP. You can use SP to buy and upgrade new cars as you unlock them by completing speed lists. Speed lists are a set of three goal sheets you can choose from depending on what you want to do. The lists seem pretty arbitrary since if you keep yourself busy you’ll naturally complete them just playing normally. Some are more tedious, like slipstreaming for 60 seconds.
As a cop, you play as the chaser. You chase racers down and earn an amount of SP depending on their heat level. You unlock new cars by completing a different set of speed lists relating to catching racers and rapid response missions, which is like time trials, but collisions result in a time penalty. Cops cannot upgrade their vehicles, but they have access to ‘pursuit tech’ to counteract that.
The more you drive around before going back to your hideout to bank your SP, the higher your ‘heat’ goes up. Heat is the amount of police attention you have. The higher the heat, the more police resistance you’ll face. This part of the game is done really well. If there was anything that captured what made 2005 Most Wanted so popular, this is it. Police will deploy roadblocks, spike strips, helicopters and power-ups called ‘pursuit tech’. These range from EMP mines and fields to shockwaves and turbo boosts. They can be used by both racers and cops, making it the main way to take out other drivers. Getting hit by spike strips isn’t a game over because after a little while your tires re-inflate, which shows they put thought into the power ups.
Ramming other players is rewarded with SP, but rather confusingly, they’ve opted for a damage meter, which even with full durability upgrades, depletes rather quickly. It makes sense design wise, because players as cops can more easily immobilise racers and vice versa, without having to bring them to a standstill. But it makes no sense to reward ramming with SP when it damages your car.
Earning SP as part of progression seems largely unbalanced, especially as a racer. If you keep racing in a session long enough, eventually you’ll have a ton of points. Of course, the police are supposed to stop you before you can bank your points, but it’s not until the very high heat levels when they actually become a problem. Pursuits start the moment you drive past a cop, so you’re constantly escaping from police and levelling up your heat.
As far as progression through the career goes, the speed lists is it. Once you’ve completed nine or ten chapters of speed lists, you’ve unlocked every car. You can keep playing to unlock ‘elite’ upgrades, but I wasn’t particularly compelled to. Because the computer opponents scale with what car you have, you can complete the entire game with the first car if you really wanted. Which I like because if you really happen to like one of the starter cars, you can essentially beat the game with it if you upgrade its performance.
Rivals’ ‘story’ is really just an outline to set up the cop and racer rivalry. The cheesiest voice acting ensues. If I hear one more thing about ‘the limit’ I’ll cry. There’s no characters because your rivals are your friends you play online with. It’s nice to see they didn’t try and shoehorn a story where it didn’t need one.
The selection of cars is almost exclusively exotic sports cars and hyper-cars, straying from the familiar tuners and muscle cars. It harks back to the original hot pursuit where all the cars were very exclusive and expensive. There’s not many however, only 23 for racer cars and 24 cop cars if you don’t count the undercover variants. There’s a nice range though, all modelled very faithfully.
One of the biggest disappointments in Rivals is the lack of visual modifications for your car. You’re limited to paints in the common variants of gloss, metallic, matte, colour shift and so on. There’s a very limited selection of rim paints, stripes, vinyl wraps and licence plates, but other than that, there’s not much to differentiate yourself from the crowd. As an aspect of racing games that is universally desired, it’s a shame that it’s missing in Rivals.
As far as driving games go, both simulation and arcade, I’m a huge fan. Rivals has stuck to the plan of being predominantly arcade with very few simulation elements. The first sign; no manual transmission, which (if I may break into rhyme for a moment) felt like an odd omission .For the bulk of the experience you’re braking and accelerating before a corner to drift around it, similar to a burnout game. It’s a satisfying driving feel, but I can’t help but feel that your hand is being held a little too tight.
There’s not much challenge to manoeuvring your vehicle, to the point that the counter steer while drifting is done automatically with little need for correction on your part. The handbrake is used for quick 180 turns which is immensely useful, both racer and cop. There are only two cameras, 3rd person and bumper view. I preferred the bumper view but both are totally serviceable. Nonetheless, every car is fun to drive and slightly different in characteristics, and that’s the most important part. It’s a solid feel so no real complaints that don’t transcend my personal preference.
The map is decently large and offers some nice driving roads. They range from highways, to mountain passes, dirt, and narrow country roads. The many ramps and jump opportunities and destructible scenery keep you busy.
Rivals looks fantastic in the Frostbite 3 engine. Cars are lovingly detailed and always wet! No, I’m serious, I took all these screenshots myself. Try and pick one out where a car is dry. They really like the rainwater dripping effect, it does look great admittedly. Speaking of weather effects, the dynamic weather and time cycle is really well done. The weather conditions don’t affect gameplay, but it’s a nice touch to make the landscape more varied. Glowing brake discs and punchy exhaust notes is where Rivals really shines. The damage model is limited to bumpers falling off, scrapes and dirt, but crashes at high speeds are still spectacular.
The sense of speed is in the subtle things. The camera shake when someone roars past, to the dip in the camera under heavy braking. Unfortunately, all versions of Rivals are stuck at 30fps, which doesn’t ruin it in any way, but the higher frame rate for a racer especially on PC would have been preferred.
But with PC ports come glitches, tons of glitches. Some are funny, some are just weird visual quirks and artefacts. There was nothing that stopped progress so it’s not a huge deal. Just a tiny blemish on an otherwise beautiful game.
One of the cardinal sins of gaming is not being able to pause – and I regret to inform you that Rivals does indeed not have a pause menu. Which would make sense for online, but even in the single player, there is no way to pause! I understand they are trying to incentivise rushing back to your hideout or station to bank your SP, but it’s just inconvenient. My ‘seamless’ multiplayer experience isn’t so seamless when I need to empty my bowels and can’t pause the game.
It’s even less seamless when it continually disconnects. I’m willing to give Rivals the benefit of the doubt due to my often unreliable internet connection, but even when I was in a stable lobby, I was confronted with multiple disconnects from the host, which resulted in me losing my progress for that session. As far as interactions with other players, I was never joined by a human player for races. The only time I crossed a human’s path is when they appeared out of nowhere and smashed into me, wrecking my car. It seems no matter what side you’re on, racer or cop, people seem hell bent on just ramming everyone. So it’s safe to say that I didn’t get the full experience when it comes to multiplayer. But if the single player experience is anything to go by, all I missed was less predictable drivers than the AI.
At the end of the day, Rivals is a launch title racer. it knows exactly what it wants to be. But what it wants to be hasn’t got much scope to it. I don’t think there’s enough here to not make this another forgettable racer. It’s really pushing the social aspect, almost to the point where it could’ve been a pure multiplayer game. If Need for Speed World wasn’t so plagued with cheaters and pay to win crap, I would call it a superior game. If you’re a diehard fan of Need for Speed, you’ll still have some fun with online, but don’t expect it to last long. If all its problems were ironed out, it would still be forgettable – but beyond that, it’s still a lot of fun.