The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
A burst of turbo ignites a blue flame from my Dodge Challenger’s exhaust. At 150 mph, my eyes are fixated on the straightaway ahead. A slow-moving pedestrian vehicle forces me into oncoming traffic. If I can hold onto this lead, I’ll grasp gold in under a mile. The police aren’t going to make this easy. A spike strip forces me back into the right lane. This evasive maneuver couldn’t have come at a worse time; another player-controlled car roars off of a side street and is heading straight towards me. His race is colliding with mine. We’re both towing rival racers and police platoons towards one another. We narrowly avoid exchanging paint, but my quick juke to the left sends me sailing headfirst into one of the other player’s opponents. My car is mangled beyond belief, and I wreck out of the race. I didn’t just miss the gold – I lost all of the Speed Points I was banking. The player I avoided laughs into the headset, thanking me for helping him in his race. I vow revenge. With one click of the button, I switch to my police campaign and begin my pursuit to interfere with his next race.
This dynamic series of events is a common occurrence in Need for Speed: Rivals, a racer that brilliantly blurs the lines between single- and multiplayer experiences. Through a feature called “AllDrive,” up to six-players can race in the same world, and all of their activity is applied to their individual campaigns’ progress. It’s like six parallel worlds overlapping.
In a couple of sessions, my friends and I drove around in a pack to tackle challenges cooperatively. In these moments, with six rambunctious drivers smashing into each other and turning Redview City’s streets into junkyards, the scale of Rivals’ open-world chaos is put on display, and it’s glorious. Whether I was minding my own business, gunning for other players, competing against them, or helping get police off of their tails, being able to switch gears so quickly is an amazing thing.
Developer Ghost Games has forged a sprawling open world that impresses with its harrowing track designs. Many of the longer events evolve as they unfold. A Pursuit challenge that starts on a wide-open highway could conclude in a dense redwood forest packed with tight turns and difficult visual conditions.
The sense of speed achieved at any given moment is intoxicating and somewhat terrifying. The stunning surroundings are unfairly distracting in a game where disaster can strike at any given second. Fog rolls down mountains, light dances through rustling trees, and you see beads of water rolling down your windshield. I also like how Ghost handles its track indicators, only displaying light (almost translucent) arrows on the road for hard turns.
Since this is an open world, getting to desired destinations can be a time-consuming pain, but garages and command posts allow for fast travel to any event, and AI-controlled opponents are always around for impromptu races should you not want to take any uneventful drives.
Rivals is almost two games in one, with independent police and racer campaigns. The racers try to evade the cops, and the cops try to bust the racers. Both avenues of play are exciting, but light on challenge variety. This isn’t always a bad thing, since track conditions and the competitive AI do a nice job of pulling you into the moment and upping the intensity as the finish line draws near. Hot Pursuit races are the best of the batch, as they pull no punches, and throw you directly into high-speed chases. Through one of the coolest little touches in a game, certain events can transform mid-action. If a player is on the side of a law, and they interfere with another player’s race, that event will automatically shift into a Hot Pursuit event.
Gunning for first isn’t your only goal for the racing campaign. Rivals offers a fascinating risk/reward system tied to Speed Points, the currency you use to purchase new vehicles, upgrades, and tech. All of your points accumulate, and can only be banked when you return to a garage or command post. Staying in the world and completing events raises a multiplier, but also brings more trouble your way. If you wreck or get busted, you lose it all. If you make it to safety, a shopping spree awaits. This system is amazing when it works in your advantage, and crushing when it strips you of all of your hard work. The police campaign is a little simpler in scope, stripping away the multiplier and giving players non-upgradeable cars as rewards.
Seeing that all of Rivals’ cars are equipped with crazy gadgets and weapons, Electronic Arts should consider obtaining the James Bond license again. Any car can be outfitted with two Pursuit Tech items, allowing for the deployment of mines, shockwaves, EMP blasts, electrostatic fields, and jammers. If your car hits a spike trap, its tires will re-inflate in time. All of these powers are ridiculous and fun, periodically producing a cackle-worthy wreck. As powerful as they may sound, these limited-use items rarely immobilize opponents unless you hit them at the right time to send them hurtling into a wall or over a cliff.
New cars are unlocked often, but switching to them is somewhat deflating, mostly because you have to purchase new Pursuit Tech and upgrades for each vehicle. I spent a good amount of time driving like a maniac with a 10x multiplier just to raise enough funds to get my new rides competition ready. It becomes a bit of a grind, especially in the later stages of the game. Faster cars carry a higher Heat Level and are almost always on the run from police, making bigger runs more difficult. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the same car for hours on end – you just have to switch it up when faster rivals force change. All of the cars I tested controlled remarkably well, offering different ranges of finesse and crushing power. My biggest gripe with the game: The police sirens are grating. On any pursuit, my first instinct was to turn them off.
Ghost Games has crafted an exceptional experience that captures the classic battle of racers and police in a new light for next-generation machines. The shared world concept is the driving force, making it easy for players to switch factions, team up, and continue making progress in their campaigns. I can’t stress enough just how great of a multiplayer experience this is for friends.
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