Need for Speed: Rivals review

Tom Morgan
26 Dec 2013
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Drop-in multiplayer and hectic open world racing gives the Need for Speed series a much-needed nitrous boost


Read our full in-depth Xbox One review now.

The Need for Speed franchise has been somewhat variable ever since EA started releasing new games on a yearly basis. After last year's Most Wanted, which was well received by gamers and critics alike, things didn't look good for Rivals. Thankfully developer Ghost Games has delivered a brutally fast, incredibly fun racer that bodes well for the future of the series.

Need for Speed: Rivals

As the name suggests, Rivals pits players against each other as either street racers or the cops trying to take them down. The major change from previous games is that every other racer is controlled by another player; Rivals drops you into the open world of Redview County alongside other gamers, with each racer leaderboard and speed camera comparing your times and top speeds with each other as well as global leaderboards. Your Origin friends can drop in and out of games on the fly, so you may find yourself racing against someone you know at any point, and you can challenge anyone to a head to head race at any point -even while you're in the middle of a police pursuit.

Rockport County may not be a patch on Grand Theft Auto's San Andreas, but it has 100 miles of roads to race across. The varied terrain can see you flying through city streets one minute, then forests or deserts the next. There are plenty of jumps and hidden shortcuts to find, and you can access every bit of it from the outset, but certain races and events are locked until you increase your driver level. This is done by completing speed lists, groups of challenges that involve winning races, taking out other racers, hitting jumps and driving at a certain top speed.

Need for Speed: Rivals

Every time you complete a speed list you'll need to bank your accrued points at a safe house or Police checkpoint, as being taken out, busted by a cop or having a major crash will reset your score. These points are used to buy new cars and upgrades, so you'll want to back them as soon as possible, but this means frequent trips back and forth to the bank. The more speed points you have, the higher your wanted level, and the more police that will join a pursuit if you get their attention.

You can escape these using skill alone, but eventually you'll have to turn to pursuit technology. These upgrades let you sabotage enemy racers or cops using EMP pulses, electronic jamming mines or shock waves once you add them to your car. Racers get exclusive access to the Turbo upgrade, which helps you escape hectic police pursuits, while the cops have spike strips that can take out racers' tyres instantly. You can only pick two at once, and some cars are better suited to certain upgrades; larger cars can withstand more damage and are best used to ram opponents, whereas the lighter, faster coupes are better used to outrun your enemies.

Picking faster cars is ultimately the best way to increase your chances of evading capture, but unfortunately for anyone yearning for the Max Power-style car customisation and a garage full of hot hatchbacks, the selection of vehicles available in Rivals is exclusively high-end. American muscle cars like the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger are typically tail-happy and struggle when it comes to corners, European sports cars like the Porsche 911 and Ferrari 458 are much friendlier in the bends, and hypercars like the McLaren P1, Bugatti Veyron and Koenigsegg Agera can outrun just about everything on the road. Most cars are available to racers and cops alike, but certain models are exclusive to one side or the other.

Need for Speed: Rivals

Each car is beautifully modelled, at least from the outside as there's no cockpit view. Raindrops glisten off the paint as you drive through a storm and body panels fly off in a shower of carbon fibre and paint flecks when you crash at high speed. Rivals runs on the Frostbite engine, last seen powering Battlefield 4, and looks fantastic in motion. It may not have the precise detail of simulations like Forza Motorsport 5, but Rivals makes up for it with a dynamic weather system and a day/night cycle that makes the world feel a lot more alive than previous games.

Rivals technically is more alive than other titles with its multiplayer-focused AllDrive system, although when players drop out of your game and the AI drivers take over some of the excitement wears off. Now that there are no more instant takedowns, with every car having a health bar that gets steadily chipped down with each successful hit or Pursuit gadget, the spontaneous driving battles aren't quite as satisfying as they were in 2010's Hot Pursuit. The map feels a little too big for the number of players too, so you can find yourself half way across the county from your nearest rival racer.

Need for Speed: Rivals

Considering Rivals was the debut release for developer Ghost Games, who had the unenviable task of following Burnout creators Criterion, it's a fantastic effort that breaks the cycle of off-year Need for Speed games. It may not be the best in the series, but comes closest to bringing the arcade-style trills of classic racers like Outrun to the current gaming generation.