I wanted to love Need for Speed: Rivals. Granted, I’m not a massive racing fan, but everything here seemed perfect to me. Having a massive map filled with what’s essentially just an extended game of cops and robbers at breakneck speeds with some ludicrous jumps thrown in told me everything I needed to know to be excited to play the game. That was before I opened it, though. Now that I’m looking back, I didn’t have those moments of pure exhilaration that I expected to. What I had was a few moments of fantastic gameplay wrapped up in a game that was often frustrating, if not outright boring.
One of Rivals‘ biggest selling points is that you’re instantly thrown into a living world with up to five other players who can be driving around completing missions on their own. You can help each other complete missions, or you may find yourself competing against someone who is trying to complete their own story.
Speaking of story, Need for Speed: Rivals is split right down the middle here, as half of the game has you playing as a racer speeding around the map completing races and time trials while the other half has you taking the reigns as a cop as you try to shut down those same racers. When you’re out as a racer, you’ll earn “speed points” by setting records, completing events, and for several other minor things. The longer you’re on the road the more points you’ll be able to rack up, but should the cops take you down, you’ll lose everything from the current trip, turning the game into gamble of just how much more are you willing to risk. With those points, you’ll be able to increase your car’s performance and unlock a few new vehicles, so there’s a definite incentive to try to gain just a few more points before heading back to the safe house. Cops earn those same points by taking down racers, but they’re gifted cars as they progress, albeit without the ability to upgrade their performance.
Criterion tried to make Need for Speed: Rivals a multiplayer centric game, and that’s largely the downfall of the title. When you first boot it up, it will automatically attempt to find a game to join, leading to what can be a sizeable delay before you actually are doing anything if you’re not playing at a peak time. Once you do hop in, up to five other players will be racing around the massive world and mostly doing their own thing. While there is an incentive to team up and complete objectives together, it’s extremely difficult to get everyone on the same page. You can set your GPS to another player, but since they’re also running around at full speed it’s damn near impossible to actually catch up to them.
The other massive knock against the multiplayer is the sheer size of the map. It’s great being able to race around the expansive land, and Criterion did a fantastic job by having “zones” bleed into each other realistically, giving you the feeling that you’re really navigating a small countryside, but with only 6 people in a game it becomes outright lonely. Finding players who aren’t interested in being found involves no small amount of luck, and more often than not I felt like I was playing single player.
Admittedly, there is a story to be found here, although I’m not 100% sure that I can articulate what it is. While there isn’t much to it, as you level up you’ll be granted a quick cutscene that shows your motivation as either a cop or a racer. Frankly, the writing is a bit embarrassing. The cops sound like they have serious anger management issues and the racers will sound exactly like your libertarian friend from high school who thinks Anonymous is the best thing to ever happen and is just waiting for an armed revolt to occur. I’m not sure what the writers were trying to go for here, but I think they may be overdue for a vacation.
Thankfully, the game itself looks absolutely outstanding on the Xbox One. Watching the snow gently fall around you as the sun beams through the clouds really shows the power found in the next-gen system, and considering this is a launch title, it should really leave gamers optimistic about the future of the new generation.
Need for Speed: Rivals also controls beautifully. Even when careening around a hairpin turn, I felt that every minute adjustment I had made on the sticks was being accurately portrayed on my screen. It really was remarkable to see the in game vehicles handle so brilliantly.
There is Kinect integration included as well, however its usefulness was hit and miss. If I was the only one playing, being able to simply say “GPS: Go to repair shop” did help keep me in the game a bit longer, but when talking to a friend in the room the Kinect would sometimes mistake my conversation for a command and decide to give me a 360 panoramic view of my car, for instance. While this was a great way to show off the game’s beauty, it was an even better way to lose control of my racer and fly off a bridge, costing me a race and SP.
When all is said and done, Need for Speed: Rivals misses the mark in too many ways for me to really recommend it to anyone outside of the series’ group of hardcore fans. There’s a lack of variety in missions, while the lacklustre multiplayer and the cringe worthy writing just overpower the fantastic controls and sense of speed that is presented. Don’t get me wrong, there’s loads of potential here, but just not a good enough game to really highlight it.
This review is based on an Xbox One version of the game.
Need for Speed: Rivals will wow you initially, but there are too many missteps for it to keep you engaged for a sizeable length of time. The nonsensical story, surprising lack of features and an online component that may as well not be there overshadow the fantastic driving mechanics and lead to a rather monotonous game.