Need for Speed Rivals Review
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On 11/22/2013 at 12:00 PM by Travis Hawks
Step on the gas, it's the fuzz!
For anyone who likes an arcade racer even a little bit.
I haven’t been into racing games the last few years, but instead focusing on first person shooters with emergent, interacting systems and hard core dungeon crawlers. Strangely, Need for Speed Rivals falls right in line with my current preferences and ties them together with gorgeous races and thrilling police pursuits. Set in an open world filled with unexpected events, using a system that makes you weigh the risk of each additional mile you drive, and teasing you with a massive list of vehicles and modifications to play with, Need for Speed Rivals is an arcade racer that will satisfy almost any sort of gamer out there.
Whether you choose to play as a cop or a racer, you’ll be driving around the same huge landscape and running into your opposition constantly. You can take part in formal events or just drive around looking for trouble. There’s plenty to see in this fictional locale that has a sunny coastline, a parched dessert, snowy mountains, and more. Just driving around and looking at the sights can be fun, but you’ll rarely be able to completely relax since, as a racer, cops are bound to chase you, and as a cop, your radio is constantly telling you of nearby ne’er-do-wells. You certainly don’t get bored traveling around with all of this conflict surrounding you, and if you want clearer objectives then you just drive up to any of the event starting lines and take off in an attempt to earn gold and the more important Speed Points (SP).
Most of the events are based on some sort of interaction with police, regardless of which side you’re on. The Hot Pursuits are like a race, but with all of the area 5-0 bearing down on the race participants. Interceptors pit a single racer against law enforcement to see if they can escape without getting busted. Rapid Response events force you to drive your police enforcer from point A to point B as quickly as possible without causing any damage. Having the police-involvement twist adds to the intensity, shakes up the standard racing formula, and gives you plenty of variety while driving as fast as possible.
Succeeding at these events (and other small accomplishments like drifting) will plop some SP into your account. If you’re driving as a racer and get wrecked or busted before returning to a hideout, all of your current SP disappears too. The trick is that the longer you drive, the higher the SP multiplier gets and the more SP you earn—all while the police become more and more intent on hunting you down. You constantly need to decide if it’s worth trying one more race and risk losing all of that sweet SP before heading back into hiding. Keep getting busted without banking your SP and paying off that flashy Lambo is never going to happen since SP is used to buy new vehicles and upgrades. This system had me occasionally feeling like I was heading out to grind in an RPG in order to upgrade my vehicles; something I never expected from this genre.
The only bummer about this SP system is that it doesn’t really apply to the cops. When you’re playing the blue, cars are unlocked and available as you advance and the only upgrades you can purchase are the “pursuit tech” items. There also isn’t that scary feeling of losing your SP by getting busted when you’re a cop. In fact, if you do want to just drive around and look at the sights, you’re much better off as the police than a racer since most random encounters can be avoided or ignored. Despite the lack of upgrades, there are nearly sixty police vehicles to unlock, so there’s still plenty to get excited about.
Unlocking a new vehicle or trying out new upgrades is a thrill almost every time. Even the cheapest of vehicle upgrades seemed to make a noticeable difference when I took them out for their first spin. Not to mention the satisfaction of trying out a new type of pursuit tech: the gadgetry that allows you to knock out or slow down opponents in various ways. Slamming a racer with an EMP and then ramming into him to complete a bust is deeply satisfying. The only time I didn’t like the pursuit tech items were when I’d get “blue shelled” right before getting gold in an event—which was rare, but did happen a few times.
Another irritating oddity pops up when you’re playing as a cop and pass by an A.I.-controlled racer. They will strangely stick just behind you until you come to a complete stop or turn around. It’s as if they are glued to your bumper until you perform the one maneuver that will let them have a better chance at escape. Maybe they are just that smart, but it looks completely fake and odd when you see it play out on the mini-map.
You’ll also meet up with real live humans driving around your map with you. The online capability of the game is a bit strange, but can be interesting. You’ll be placed on a map with five others and should you run into each other, you’re welcome to challenge each other to races or to bust them if you’re a cop and they’re a racer. The trouble is, running into other live players can be a bit tough. You can set a route to their location, but if they don’t know you’re looking for them, they’ll continue doing their own thing and you might never catch them before they head back to HQ and disappear from the map anyway. When you do meet up with them, it can make for some fun buddy-cop sessions and some of the most intense races in the game.
Even though there are a few imperfections here, there’s a great deal more to be excited about. As someone who isn’t a racing game nut, each of the random interactions I had and each of the pre-programmed events made me fall a bit more in love with Need for Speed Rivals. Somehow this title has gotten swallowed up in the talk of launch games for the two new consoles. Overlooking it would be a shame since it merges elements from completely disparate genres into a package that is addictive, endorphin-producing, and beautiful—both aesthetically and systemically.